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Scripture and Pluralism

Reading the Bible in the

Religiously Plural Worlds of the
Middle Ages and Renaissance
Edited by
and Thomas E. Burman

The Mediterranean and Western-European sphere in the
Ancient, Medieval and Early-Modern Periods was a world of
complex and deeply rooted religious Pluralism - Jews, various
sects of Christians, Muslims, and pagans all lived side by side
and interacted regularly. The essays in this volume explore
what happened when Christians read the Bible faced with the
challenges posed by this religious pluralisln. Topics covered
include early Christianity's use of the Bible under persecution,
Arab-Christian Biblical study within the Islamic World,
Jewish-Christian scholarly interaction in the Twelfth-Century
Renaissance, and the role of late-medieval vernacular editions of
the Bible in paving the way for the Reformation.
Thomas J. Heffernan, Ph.D. (1977, University of Cambridge) , is
Kenneth Curry Professor of the Humanities at the University of
Tennessee. He has published widely in the field of hagiography,
medieval religious literature, and is currently completing a critical
edition of the Passio Sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis . Some of
his other books are: Sacred Biography (Oxford University Press,
1988) and The Liturgy of the Medieval Church (2nd Edition; Western
Michigan University, 2005) .
Thomas E. Burman, Ph.D. (1991, University of Toronto), is Lindsay
Young Associate Professor of History at the University of Tennessee.
He is the author of Religious Polemic and the Intellectual History of the
Mozarabs, c. 1050-1200 (E.J. Brill, 1994) and, most recently, of Reading
the Qur'an in Latin Christendom, 1140-1560, forthcoming from the
University of Pennsylvania Press.
ISSN: 1573-5664
ISBN 90-04-14415-3
9 789004 144156
ROBERT J. BAST, Knoxville, Tennessee
SCOTT H. HENDRIX, Princeton, New Jersey
ERIC SAAK, Indianapolis, Indiana
BRIAN TIERNEY, Ithaca, New York
JOHN VAN ENGEN, Notre Dame, Indiana
Papers Presented at the First Annual Symposium of the
Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at
the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, February 21-22, 2002
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A C.LP. record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.
ISSN 1573-5664
ISBN 9004144153
Copyright 2005 by Koninklijke Brill NY, Leiden, The Netherlands
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Acknowledgements. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. vn
THOMAS E. BURMAN, Introduction ................................... .
THOMAS]' HEFFERNAN, Nomen sacrum: God's Name as Shield and
Weapon in the Acts if the Christian Marryrs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
SIDNEY H. GRIFFITH, Arguing from Scripture: The Bible in the
Christian/Muslim Encounter in the Middle Ages ................ 29
FRANS VAN LIERE, Andrew of St. Victor,Jerome, and the Jews:
Biblical Scholarship in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance ........ 59
MICHAEL A. SIGNER, Consolation and Confrontation: Jewish and
Christian Interpretation of the Prophetic Books .................. 77
CONSTANT]' MEWS, The World As Text: The Bible and the Book
of Nature in Twelfth-Century Theology ........................... 95
LESLEY SMITH, William of Auvergne and the Law of the Jews and
the Muslims ......................................................... 123
ANNE MARIE WOLF, Precedents and Paradigms: Juan de Segovia
on the Bible, the Church, and the Ottoman Threat .............. 143
ANDREW Gow, Challenging the Protestant Paradigm: Bible
Reading in Lay and Urban Contexts of the Later Middle Ages .. 161
E. ANN MATTER, Religious Dissidence and the Bible in
Sixteenth-Century Italy: The Idiosyncratic Bible of Lucia
Brocadelli da Narni ................................................. 193
BERNARD McGINN, Apocalypticism and Violence: Aspects of
Their Relation in Antiquity and the Middle Ages ................ 209
List of Contributors .................................................... 231
Index of Biblical and Qur'anic References ........................... 235
Index of Persons and Places ........................................... 239
Subject Index .......................................................... 243
'Of the making of many books there is no end' (Ecclesiastes 12.12):
nor is there any end to the debts that are piled up as all these books
are made. This volume began as a series of papers given in February
of 2002 at the first annual symposium of The Medieval and Renais-
sance Curriculum and Outreach Project (now The Marco Institute
for Medieval and Renaissance Studies) at the University of Tennessee.
Laura Howes and Teresa Whaley played nearly heroic roles in get-
ting that symposium off the ground and making it a lovely success.
Robert Bast has been both indulgently patient and endlessly helpful in
the preparation ofthe resulting book. Johanna Stiebert leant her exper-
tise in Hebrew. Scott E. Hendrix provided essential help in copyediting
and proofreading. Kelvin Massey was a diligent proofreader and irre-
placeable indexer. Maura Lafferty, as always, answered the hard Latin
June 13, 2005
Reading the Bible is a complicated business; reading it with an eye on
communities with other beliefs, or even other scriptures, is particularly
so. The essays in this volume all explore the complex act of reading the
Bible in the religiously plural worlds of the Middle Ages and Renais-
sance, and as a group they suggest that by teasing out the many threads
of this complicated act, modern scholars will gain irreplaceable insight
both into how one community's reading of the Bible shapes the ways it
thinks about outsiders, and into how interacting with another religious
community may well shape the ways the Bible itself is read.
Of course the reading of any book at any time is a complicated
matter, and coming to grips with the various practices and strategies
that inform reading at any given point in human history is certain
to shed valuable light on the broader cultural and intellectual world
within which that reading occurs. For reading is, as modern scholars
have recently been stressing, a learned set of behaviors that varies with
time and place. If, as Roger Chartier has urged, we pay close atten-
tion to the interworkings of three things-the texts that people read, the
material format in which those texts appear, and the ways that peo-
ple actually read those texts-we find that readers are both passive and
active. The texts themselves and the ways in which they are packaged
in the written manuscripts or printed books of a particular period do
force specific interpretations on their readers. But readers also, and not
uncommonly, 'turn the tables' on the texts in front of them and the
prepackaged ways of reading them, and impose new interpretations
on them.
As Anthony Grafton has shown, for example, the sixteenth-
century French humanist and lawyer, Guillaume Bude, was often deci-
sively influenced by the supplementary works that appeared in the 1488
edition of Homer that he carefully read and annotated-the pseudo-
Herodotean and Plutarchan lives of Homer, among others-, but just as
1 Roger Chartier, The Order qf Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the
Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Stanford: Stanford Univer-
sity Press, 1994), x, 2-3.
often he ignored them, finding rather different meanings in the Illiad
and the Odyssey than the ones they suggested.
But reading holy books is uniquely complex. As texts by means of
which whole communities attempt to understand themselves and the
world, and on the basis of which they do everything from praying to
regulating their societies, sacred texts are the focus of a sort of scrutiny
that is unparalleled elsewhere. Of this no other evidence is necessary
than the vast literature of Biblical commentary-to speak only of the
holy book of Jews and Christians-that came to surround the Bible.
Indeed, by the end of antiquity Biblical interpretation had become a
highly refined and self-conscious task, and one that would be taken
up by countless scholars over the following millennium. One of the
most important contributions of intellectual historians of the last two
or three generations has been making clear how dynamic this tradition
of Biblical scholarship was, scholars such as Beryl Smalley and, more
recently, Gilbert Dahan and Frances Young, laying bare the contours of
what really was the core intellectual discipline of much of the Middle
Throughout this whole period, however, the Bible was being read-
at least somewhere, and often in many places-in the face of the sharp
challenges of religious pluralism. Far from the homogeneous, Christian
society that older general works on the Middle Ages depicted, Europe
and the Mediterranean were in many ways a surprisingly mixed bag
when it came to religion, as indeed was the enormous Arab-Islamic
empire that was its principal rival, model, and interlocutor. Not only
did Greco-Roman, Germanic, Celtic, Slavic, and other paganisms live
on fairly far into the Middle Ages, but small Jewish communities en-
dured and often thrived in many parts of the West. In the high Middle
Ages, non-orthodox Christians-Cathars, Waldensians, Petrobrusians
2 Anthony Grafton, 'How Guillaume Bude Read His Homer,' in his Commerce with
the Classics: Ancient Books and Renaissance Readers (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan
Press, 1997), 135-183 at 161-168.
3 Beryl Smalley, The Study if the Bible in the Middle Ages, 3
ed. (Notre Dame:
University of Notre Dame Press, 1964); Gilbert Dahan, L'exegese chritienne de la Bible
en Occident medieval, xii'-xiv' siecle (Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 1999); Frances M. Young,
Biblical Exegesis and the Formation if Christian Culture (Cambridge, England: Cambridge
University Press, 1997).
4 The Petrobrusians were the followers of Peter de Bruys (d. c. II30) who rejected
infant baptism, the Mass, church buildings, and a number of other standard Catholic
teachings and practices. On them see M.D. Lambert, Medieval Heresy: Popular Movements
from Bogomil to Hus, 2
ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992),47-50.
with their own ways of reading the Bible, challenged Latin-Catholic
dominance in Europe, and often paid for their temerity in brutal ways.
In the Mediterranean basin Islamic civilization and Latin-, Greek-,
and Arab-Christian civilizations actually overlapped each other across
a wide band, Christians and Muslims living side-by-side, joined usually
by large Jewish communities, under both Islamic rule, and, especially in
the period from 1100 to 1500, under Latin-Christian rule as well. The
medieval and early modern world was perfectly familiar with religious
That the Bible was so often read in the context of religious pluralism
-in the mixed Christian and pagan society of the later Roman Empire,
in the medieval cities of Christian France and Germany inhabited by
large Jewish communities, in the Muslim-ruled cities of the Middle East
still home to vital Christian populations-complicated and enriched Bib-
lical study even further. The essays in this volume, many of which were
originally delivered at a symposium at the University of Tennessee in
February of 2002,5 each explore in detail some aspect of this complex-
ity. Thomas J. Heffernan argues, in his 'Nomen sacrum: God's Name as
Shield and Weapon in the Acts if the Christian Martyrs,' that a particu-
lar way of reading both the Old and New Testaments informed how
Roman Christians faced up to the most dire circumstance that religious
pluralism can create: murderous persecution. The accounts of the ways
that early Christian martyrs used the divine name 'illustrate how the
iteration of certain language, particularly some form of Christ's name,
and the modeling of one's behavior after the Gospel narratives, pre-
pares one through self-sacrifice to become an initiate with God, to be
filled with God' (p. 28). This early Christian way of reading the Bible
in the very moment of martyrdom both extended and transformed ear-
lier Hebrew practices. While, say, the Maccabean martyrs, who were
revered by early Christian martyrs, invoked the Lord's name at the
point of death, the later Christian martyrs 'use [d] the sacred name less
restrictively and as a part of the ritual of martyrdom' (p. 14). This freer
use of the divine name was itself the product of religious diversity. For
5 The symposium bore the same title as this volume, and was the first of what
have become a series of annual symposia sponsored by that university's Medieval and
Renaissance Curriculum and Outreach Project (MARCO), now the Marco Institute
for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. The essays by Heffernan, Griffith, van Liere,
Signer, Smith, Gow, and Matter were all delivered at that symposium.
the Stoics the logos was an active principle, and this key element of
one of the most lively traditions of ancient pagan philosophy, already
incorporated in the famous prologue to John's Gospel, combined with
Paul's 'proto-Trinitarian teaching' and early Christian reflection on the
mystery of the Incarnation (p. 14) so that '[b] y the time of Acts, it
appears that the utterance of the name was believed so powerful that
invoked by the faithful it could overwhelm nature' (p. 16). During the
great persecutions, 'a belief was emerging that a profession of faith-in
which the name was used in some fashion-during torment would shield
the one suffering from the pain' (p. 24).
While physical torment was one outcome of religious pluralism, it
was not the only-or even most common-one. More often different reli-
gious groups managed to live side by side over long periods of time, one
group usually with the upper hand, but allowing a sort of second-class
citizenship to those not of its faith, violence being necessary on rather
rare occasions to keep this structure intact.
In such environments, the
Bible often became the site of religious dispute. In his 'Arguing from
Scripture: The Bible in the Christian/Muslim Encounter in the Middle
Ages,' Sidney H. Griffith demonstrates that Christian-Muslim dispu-
tation in the eastern Mediterranean often became 'a conflict over the
proper understanding of the narratives in the [Christian] scriptures'
(p. 56). Moreover, in this conflict, ways of reading the Qur'an-on the
part of both Muslims and Christians-interacted with ways of read-
ing the Bible. One eighth-century Muslim author, Griffith points out,
attempted to legitimize the prophethood of Muhammad by appealing
to the Gospel of John. But the passage of the Gospel of John that
he cited to support Muhammad's prophethood-the famous discourse
on the Paraclete in verses 15.23-16.1-had to be suitably 'Islamicized'
beforehand. Jesus' three very Christian references to 'my Father,' for
example, have been changed to the more Qur'anic-sounding 'the Lord'
(p. 38). Here 'Biblicizing' Muhammad (arguing that the Bible foretold
Muhammad) and 'Islamicizing' the Bible (adjusting its text to make it
reflect Islamic beliefs) both work together in a Muslim reading of the
Christian scriptures, though as time goes on, Griffith argues, the lat-
ter process largely displaces the former. Arab Christians, on the other
hand, found that this encounter over the Bible meant that they had
6 I follow here the argument of David Nirenberg's influential Communities qf Violence:
Persecution qf Minorities in Medieval Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).
to adjust their ways of readings as well. The anonymous ninth-century
author of the most important Arab-Christian theological work, the
Summary if the Wtrys if Faith, found that while he could still argue for the
core Christian beliefs from the Bible in the manner already widespread
in the pre-Islamic Middle East, he nevertheless now had 'to counter the
Biblical claims made by Muslim writers' (p. 45). In the process, such
Arab-Christian writers discovered that their very religious language
had been strikingly remolded by living in a heavily Qur'anic world:
Jesus, the divine savior for them, was also the very Islamic 'Lord of the
Worlds' (rabb al- 'iilamzn) invoked so frequently in the Qur'an (p. 48).
But in the sustained religious pluralism of the medieval world, the
Bible could also become the site of interreligious collaboration that
could playa key role not only in changing how the Bible was read, but
in larger cultural transformations as well. With Sir Richard Southern,
Frans van Liere sees the much-discussed Renaissance of the Twelfth
Century as 'an information revolution' (p. 73), and sees the remarkable
Biblical studies of the Victorine Canons as a key part of it ('Andrew of
St. Victor, Jerome, and the Jews: Biblical Scholarship in the Twelfth-
Century Renaissance'). Like Gratian's intensive reworking of the ca-
non-law tradition, the Biblical scholarship of Hugh and Andrew of St.
Victor exemplifies how in the twelfth century 'texts were read, cate-
gorized, used, re-used and disseminated' (p. 60) in new ways suited to
a new scholarly world. Crucially, Andrew's extensive exposure to con-
temporary Jewish methods of reading the Hebrew scriptures played a
central role in how he revised Jerome's approach to the Christian study
of the Old Testament. While Andrew's own skills as Hebraist were lim-
ited, he had extensive personal contacts with disciples of Rashi among
the rabbis of Paris. These Jewish fellow scholars, van Liere suggests,
may well have 'helped to inspire one of the most important concep-
tual hermeneutical changes in Christian exegesis in the twelfth century'
(pp. 70-71)-the embrace of literal exegesis. The 'remarkable parallels'
(p. 71) in the emergence of literal exegesis among both twelfth-century
Jews and twelfth-century Christians in northern France indicate that
the information revolution in which Andrew was such a central player
grew in part out of an extensive Jewish-Christian encounter over the
Biblical text.
The next two essays make clear to us other dimensions of the Vic-
torine transformation of Latin-Christian ways of reading scripture, a
transformation whose centrality in the history of Biblical study in the
West all who have read Beryl Smalley's great book will under-
In 'Consolation and Confrontation: Jewish and Christian Inter-
pretation of the Prophetic Books,' Michael A. Signer makes clear that
there were real limits to the Jewish and Christian cooperative reading
of the Hebrew Bible. Although rabbis such as Rashi and priests such
as Andrew both insisted on literal interpretation as the foundation of
proper Biblical study, Signer points out, the literal interpretation that
they undertook was by no means identical. While both had similar pur-
poses in working out the historical meaning of the Biblical text, each
did so through 'profoundly conflicting hermeneutical lenses' (p. 93).
BothJews and Christians in this period wrote substantial commentaries
on the same prophetic books, but the literal meaning that they sought
depended ultimately on the larger meta-narrative, the larger story of
God's dealing with his people, that their different canons of scripture
told: 'to claim knowledge of the literal sense of scripture meant that the
passage under consideration supported either the Christian ... reading
of the Hebrew Bible as representing promises of Christ, or the Jewish
reading of the scripture, that God would redeem Israel from its exile
through the Messiah, son of David' (p. 83). This meant that, for exam-
ple, while Andrew consulted Jews repeatedly on the literal meaning of
the prophets, he was never persuaded to 'adopt fully a Jewish claim to
the true interpretation of a messianic passage' (p. 89).
Yet while the Victorines' interactions with the learned rabbis of Paris
strikingly shaped their new ways of reading the Bible, other key forces
were at work as well, as Constant J. Mews makes clear, especially a
renewed-and characteristically twelfth-century-reflection on one of
the central, but thoroughly non-Christian, strands of medieval Latin
thought. In his 'The World As Text: The Bible and the Book of Nature
in Twelfth-Century Theology,' Mews argues that the revived interest in
Nature that Haskins and Chenu have shown to be so characteristic of
that century's thought brought with it a conviction that Nature itself
served as a site of revelation alongside the Hebrew and Greek Bibles.
This conviction that Nature is capable of 'leading the mind to God'
(p. 107) was based ultimately on Platonic and Neoplatonic modes of
7 See Smalley, 83-195.
8 Charles Homer Haskins, The Renaissance qf the Twe1fth Century (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1927, 1993), 303-340; M.-D. Chenu, 'Nature and Man-The
Renaissance of the Twelfth Century,' in his Nature, Man, and Society in the Twe1fth Century,
eds. and trans. Jerome Taylor and Lester K. Little (Toronto: University of Toronto
Press, 1997), 1-48.
thought, some of which had already come to influence patristic writers
and, especially, John Scotus Eriugena. But it was particularly with
Hugh of St. Victor's discovery of Pseudo-Dionysius' Celestial Hierarchy,
a work which influenced him deeply, that this notion came to fruition
in the West. The very exegete, therefore, who played such a preeminent
role in advocating the study of the Bible's literal meaning, also asserted
that 'this whole sensible world is like a kind of book written by the
finger of God' (p. 99), a book that one must learn to read alongside the
scriptures in order to gain the fullest possible understanding of God.
Many later Bible readers followed Hugh's recommendation to read
the Book of Nature alongside the Book of Revelation, especially the
scholastic thinkers whose central intellectual project involved interpret-
ing the Book of Nature by means of the philosophical system of Aris-
totle. Yet scholastic intellectuals were also preoccupied with reading
the Bible alongside other books-including the sacred texts of other
religions-, as Lesley Smith indicates in her essay on 'William of Au-
vergne and the Law of the Jews and the Muslims.' Even as he followed
Hugh in studying the Book of Nature for theological purposes, and was
'the first or among the first to use Greek, Arabic and Hebrew sources'
(p. 124) to do so, William also perpetuated Hugh's concern with literal
Biblical exegesis, so much so that this approach to studying scripture
fundamentally shaped how he read the holy book ofIslam. In his De fide
et legibus William applies literal exegesis to both the Hebrew Bible and
the Qur'an, ultimately arguing that while the literal meaning of the for-
mer, despite its apparent absurdities, can be squared with reason, the
literal meaning of the revelation to Muhammad cannot. It may seem
odd that God should require sacrifices in the Hebrew Bible, William
observes, for '[h]ow ... can the death of an innocent animal be pleas-
ing to God (p. 131)?' Yet, strange as the sacrificial act is, it has a clear
purpose: to give honor and veneration to God. Things are very differ-
ent in the Qur'an, he asserts. If carried to its logical, literal conclusion,
the Qur'an's account of paradise, for example, with its fleshly humans
doing fleshly things for all eternity, must imply that the heavenly garden
is a vast dung heap.
Islam and its scripture were a perennially fascinating topic among
Latin-Christian intellectuals,9 but were particularly so in the years just
9 See most recently John V Tolan, Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), but also my 'Polemic, Philology, and
Ambivalence: Reading the Qur'an in Latin Christendom,' Journal if Islamic Studies
after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in I453. Anne
Marie Wolf shows in her contribution to this volume ('Precedents and
Paradigms: Juan de Segovia on the Bible, the Church, and the Ottoman
Threat') that the intriguing views of one of the most important theo-
rists of Christian-Muslim relations in this period were shaped by his
own somewhat unusual approach to Biblical study. Like William of
Auvergne and Hugh and Andrew of St. Victor, Juan de Segovia
(d. 1458) was interested primarily in the literal meaning of the scrip-
tures, but saw in that meaning what Wolf calls an 'operational hand-
book' (p. 149) for human affairs. What was done in the Bible was
important not in how it might be interpreted as, say, prophecy that
illuminated contemporary events, but rather in how it could be seen
as setting precedents for how humans should behave throughout the
rest of time. Jesus and Paul, therefore, in establishing the clear pattern
that the Gospel should be preached through peaceable means, rather
than force, established a pattern that the church must follow even when
it seemed to issue in no concrete results. Because of this way of read-
ing the Bible in search of precedents to guide human acts, Juan, unlike
most of his contemporaries, therefore unflinchingly opposed crusades
against the Turks, advocating instead that Christians and Muslims work
out their differences through amicable discussion that-Juan was equally
certain-would ultimately persuade Muslims of the errors of their ways,
and guide them toward baptism.
The Bible and Biblical interpretation were, of course, at the center
of the long disputes between Christians of the various post-Reformation
confessions, but the relationship between Bible reading and the Refor-
mation itself, Andrew Gow argues, is rather different from what the
traditional, Protestant accounts have long insisted ('Challenging the
Protestant Paradigm: Bible Reading in Lay and Urban Contexts of
the Later Middle Ages'). Luther asserted in many of his works that
in the pre-Reformation era, the Bible was essentially unknown among
the great mass of Christian people, and general accounts of the Ref-
ormation, especially in Protestant America, have repeated this view all
the way down to the present. Yet '[e]ven in Protestant-influenced schol-
arly circles' it has been well-known for two or three generations 'that
there had been many channels through which Biblical material reached
the laity and common people, and many printings of vernacular Bibles
15 (2004): 1 8 1 ~ 2 0 9 and my Reading the Qyr'an in Latin Christendom (forthcoming from
University of Pennsylvania Press).
before the Reformation' (p. 164). This wide, popular knowledge of the
Bible on the eve of the Reformation, the existence of which has so
strikingly failed to make its way into the standard narrative of Refor-
mation history, suggests, among other things, that rather than the Ref-
ormation giving the Bible to the masses, the common peoples' already
wide knowledge of scripture, derived from the vernacular Bibles that
the reformers so often distrusted, 'may have done more than anything
else to prepare the ground for a new, thoroughgoing Protestant Biblicism'
(p. 189).
But the sixteenth century brought forth a new Catholic Biblicism as
well, a Biblicism that E. Ann Matter examines in 'Religious Dissidence
and the Bible in Sixteenth-Century Italy: The Idiosyncratic Bible of
Lucia Brocadelli da Narni.' This Biblicism derived, she arges, from
a complex mixture of personal circumstances, emergent vernacular
women's spirituality, and, intriguingly enough, an awareness of contem-
porary Jews and their beliefs. Lucia Brocadelli, a Dominican Penitent
famous as a prophet in early sixteenth-century Italy, left behind her
a set of 'remarkably unmediated descriptions of [her] spiritual experi-
of her way of reading the the form of her Seven Rev-
elations (p. 196). Like Savonarola's Compendium if Revelation which influ-
enced Lucia in notable ways, her revelations include a tour through
heaven. Yet Lucia's account of this journey is distinctive, not least in
how she uses the Bible. Where Savonarola quotes the Bible repeatedly
and in profoundly liturgical ways, Lucia's use of the Bible is idiosyn-
cratic. She quotes none of the passages that Savonarola does, and her
citations are sometimes creative reworkings of the text in question.
'This is my son in whom I am well pleased' (Matthew 17.5), for exam-
ple, is transformed into a description of the Virgin: 'This is the Queen
about whom I have been always pleased' (p. 204). In their peculiarly
macaronic character-she cites the Bible now in Latin, now in Italian,
at least once in a mixture of both-they point to an intriguing vernac-
ular interaction with the Bible. Yet collectively these Biblical quotations
emphasize and defend Christ's power and divinity, and may, in their
content, have been intended to challenge the very different views of the
influential community of Jews who lived in her city, Ferrara.
The final essay in this collection, Bernard McGinn's 'Apocalypticism
and Violence: Aspects of Their Relation in Antiquity and the Middle
Ages,' treats a single theme over the whole period that the other esssays
in this volume cover collectively. In the apocalyptic tradition growing
out of both the Old and New Testaments, the cosmos is envisioned as
a battleground between good and evil, with good understood as the
eventual victor at the end of the age. The issue McGinn explores is
the extent to which Jewish and Christian adherents of apocalypticism
have been willing to march into this battle themselves, actually taking
up arms against religious opponents whom they see as siding with
the forces of evil. While making clear that throughout this period
there are instances when this happens-the second-century CE Bar
Kokhba revolt, for example, or the Anabaptist takeover of Munster
exactly fourteen centuries later-he demonstrates that by no means
are 'all apocalyptically inclined prophets, seers, and groups inherently
"revolutionary millenarians'" (p. 210). Indeed, the apocalyptic vision
in the book of Daniel expresses 'the dominant apocalyptic reaction to
violence directed against the faithful-the counsel to endure and to
wait patiently for divine deliverance' (p. 212), a view that shows up later
in the likes of the twelfth-century Calabrian prophet,Joachim of Fiore.
As a group these essays have many things to teach us about what
happens when the Bible is read in the face of religious pluralism. But
two lessons are worth mentioning here. Of course it is true, first of
all, that peoples of the book turn to their books in order to help
themselves make sense of people with other religious beliefs, but this
process itself is far more subtle and dynamic than we might imagine.
Secondly, and perhaps more unexpectedly, we find that when Christian
Bible readers encounter other traditions of Biblical reading-or indeed
entirely different holy books-their own traditions of Biblical study can
be intriguingly transformed.
On the IIth of July 2001 James Wilkens was executed by lethal injec-
tion in the Texas Death House. His last spoken words were, 'Thank
you Lord for giving me strength. Give them strength to forgive me ...
I ask you to touch each and every one of them. I am truly repentant.
In the name of Jesus Christ I love you.'! Although Wilkens, as a con-
victed murderer suffering punishment for a crime, is clearly not part
of the tradition of Christian martyrdom, his final remarks nonetheless
illustrate a point pertinent to my thesis about martyrs and the use of
the nomen Christi. Mr. Wilkens' heartfelt remarks represent a Christian
response to persecution that is indebted to a New Testament tradition
that acknowledges the authority of God, repentance, forgiveness for the
oppressor at the time of death and Christ as savior. What is not part of
the Gospel tradition in Wilkens' crie de coeur is his hortatory use of the
phrase 'In the name of Jesus Christ'. The use of Christ's name at or just
before the time of death has a most interesting history and is, as I hope
to show, a characteristic of the literature of Christian martyrdom. Such
use in this literature is indebted to the imitatio Christi trope as developed
by post-Apostolic writers. Christ's name appears to function rather
like a talisman and it figures prominently in those persecution texts
composed chiefly from the middle of the second century through the
persecutions of Diocletian, including the so-called 'Great Persecution'
announced in Nicomedia on February 23, 303.2 Why was the name
Jesus Christ' used so frequently in the Acta marryrii at the moment of
! executedoffenders.html.
2 On Diocletian's persecution see the Cambridge Ancient History, 12 (1939), chapter 19;
G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, 'Aspects of the "Great" Persecution,' Harvard Theological Review
47 (1954): 75-II3; WHo Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1965); T.D. Barnes, 'Legislation Against the Christians,' Journal
of Roman Studies 58 (1968): 32-50; T.D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1981), chapters 1-4, 8 & 9; P.S. Davies, 'The Origin and
Purpose of the Persecution of AD 303,' Journal of Theological Studies NS 40 (1989): 66-g4.
death, what was its likely source, what use was it intended to effect, and
what broader religious understanding can we attribute to such use?3
Calling on God in times of extreme crisis, particularly at life's end, is
a veritable cultural commonplace. Instances can be found in the oldest
texts in most literatures and survives in oral composition. It became so
popular that a subgenre for such narratives emerged in antiquity, called
by Pliny the exitus illustrium virorum, that was designed expressly for the
recording of instances of notable farewells, for example Plutarch's expo-
sition of Cato's death.
Examples also abound of famous last words
that invoke the otherworld, the god(s), examples as different as that
of Socrates' enigmatic request that Crito sacrifice a cock to Asclepius
and Christ's mournful lament on the cross (Mt. 27.46; Mk. 15.34). But
not all ancient peoples followed this custom. Some cultures believed
names were numinal, revelatory of personality and power, and hence
certain names, particularly divine ones, were only uttered with great
care. Judaism is the locus classicus of such a tradition that believed par-
ticular names are hallowed, powerful and to be avoided because of the
authority they invoke.
Our subject, the invocation of the sacred name
by Christian martyrs, that is some variant of jesus Christ' o.r 'Chris-
tian,' although indebted to the Hebrew tradition, constructs, within the
context of a persecuted cult, a new understanding of the nomen sacrum.
During the First Temple period the pronunciation of the name
YHWH-the personal and cultic name of God of Israel-was com-
monly used. However, readers of the Hebrew Bible regularly sub-
stituted :Adonai' for the Tetragrammaton from the beginning of the
fourth century BCE, save for the liturgical use by the Temple high
3 See H. Leclercq, 'Martyr,' Dictionnaire d'Archeologie Chretienne et de la Liturgie, eds.
F. Cabrol and H. Leclercq, 15 vols. (Paris: Librairie Letouzey et Ane 1907-1953; 1932):
ro, pt. 2, cols. 2359-2619; H. Delehaye, Les origines du culte des marryrs, 2
ed. (Brus-
sels, 1966); D. Wood, ed., 'Martyrs and Martyrologies,' in Studies in Church History
30 (Oxford, 1993); G.W Bowersock, Marryrdom and Rome (Cambridge, England: Cam-
bridge University Press, 1995); C. Butterwerk, 'Marryrium sucht' in der alten Kirchel Studien
;cur Darstellung und Deutungftiihchristlicher Marryrien (Tubingen, 1995); M.Van Uytfanghe,
'Biographie II (spirituelle),' in Reallexikonfor Antike und Christentum, Supplement-Band I
(Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 2000), 1171ff.
4 The term is found in Pliny's discussion of Titinius Capito (Episde 8, 12,4); see Der
Neue PaulY En;;;yklopddie der Antike, eds., H. Cancik and H. Schneider, 'Exitus illustrium
virorum,' 4: 344-345
5 Arthur Marmorstein, The Old Rabbinic Doctrine if God: The Names and Attributes if
God (London, 1969), 17-145.
6 Jean Danielou (1964): 147.
priest in the sanctuary.7 From this later period pious Jews, even during
periods of persecution, avoided the use of God's most intimate name
out of reverence and fear of the consequences of such behavior always
keeping green in their memory the teaching of the third command-
ment. Since the knowledge of God's name was also indicative of a righ-
teous individual in covenant with the Lord and one who had a certain
claim on God's mercy, its use was restricted by fidelity to the law and a
kind of pragmatic prudence (Ps. 9I.I4).
In those late classics of Hebrew martyr literature-so influential in
the development of the Christian ideology of martyrdom and indebted
to Hellenism and Stoicism-namely the tales of Eleazar and the Mac-
cabean mother and her seven sons, there is the beginning of a dimin-
ished avoidance of the name before the point of death (2Mc. 6.30ff.;
c. 124-64 BCE). Eleazar's last words before he is killed contain the
opening of a doxology where the Lord's name is used: 'To the Lord
belongs all holy knowledge / 'to xUQLm 'to 'tT]V ayLuv YVWaLv.' Although
the original Hebrew source of Maccabees is lost, it is generally agreed
that the use of 'Kurios' by the epitomist represented the translation
of the Hebrew 'Adonai' throughout these narratives.
2Maccabees be-
queaths a powerful and heady ideology to Christian martyr literature.
First, it gave public sanction to the idea that it is more virtuous for the
just to choose death over sin; second, such a life-or-death choice on the
part of the faithful will be vindicated by their resurrection; third, the
just will be gloriously restored to their bodies; fourth, such deaths have
expiatory value; and lastly, God will punish the wicked who will not
rise from the dead. Christians revered the Maccabean martyrs. They
are alluded to in Hebrews 11.35, celebrated in the Christian liturgy on I
August, praised by Sts. Gregory Nazianzus (sermon 15) and Augustine
(sermons 300-302) and believed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux to be the
equal of any Christian martyr. Their relics were housed in Rome's 'St.
Peter in Chains' until the late I930'S.9
7 G. Wigoder, ed., The New Encyclopedia qfJudaism (New York: New York University
Press, 2002), 306-307.
8 J.A. Goldstein, II Maccabees: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Gar-
den City and New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1983); see the introduction and
9 J.w. van Henten, The Maccabean Marlyrs as Saviours qf the Jewish People: A Study qf 2
and 4 Maccabees (Leiden & New York: Brill, 1997). S. James, trans., The Letters qf St. Bernard
qfClairvaux (London, 1953), 144-147-
Christian martyrs, unlike their spiritual ancestors, Eleazar and the
Maccabean martyrs, use the sacred name less restrictively and as a part
of the ritual of martyrdom. 10 The Christian tradition departs markedly
from Hebrew practice in its singular insistence on the proclamation and
identification with the name Christ. They reverse the Hebrew tradition
and proclaim the sacred name. They believed that uttering the name
of God was an act of piety, an invocation of God's power, capable
of literally releasing the martyr from suffering, guaranteeing salvation
and protecting the community from the unbelievers. It was intended
to sacralize their persons in the profane space of the court and the
arena. They knew that such a declaration, being forbidden at least
since Trajan's rescript to Pliny (II2 CE), was a necessary first step in
the legal proceedings that would lead to their death. 11 There is ample
evidence that a declaration of the creedal affiliation and, in particular
an acknowledgement that one was Christian through the utterance of
the name, was a capital offense in the late empire. For example, in his
disparagement of the Gnostic community of Lyons, Irenaeus states that
only '... one or two of them have occasionally along with our martyrs,
borne the reproach if the name and been led forth with them to death'. 12
Such a departure from the Hebrew tradition of reticence about
God's name has a complex history in early Christianity and is a likely
syncretism of Stoicism, John's Gospel, Paul's proto-Trinitarian teaching
and a developing understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation. A
10 An indication of the popularity of tales of heroic suffering in the early years of the
first century CE (ca. 19-54) is clear from 4 Mc. devoting three-fourths of its narrative
to the story of Eleazar and the Maccabean mother from 2 Mc. 6-7. 4 Me., a blend
of Platonism and Stoicism, was popular with the Christian community and there is a
Latin paraphrase, the Passio sanctorum Machabeorum (c. 4th cent.), extant.
11 W Williams, Pliny: Correspondence with Trajan from Bitlrynia: Epistles X (Warminster:
Aris & Phillips, 1990),70-71. Epis. 10.96. ' ... nomen ipsum, si flagitiis care at, an flagitia
cohaerentia nomini puniantur ... Interrogaui ipsos an essent Christiani. Confitentes
iterum ac tertio interrogaui supplicium minatus: perseuerantes duci iussi.' For a critical
edition of the correspondence see R.A.B. Mynors, C. Pliny Caecili Secundi. Epistvlarvrn
Libri Decem (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 338-340. See also Tertullian's response
to the letter of Trajan and Pliny where he notes that they were being killed for the
sound alone, 'and a sound alone brings condemnation on a sect and its author both,'
Apology, vol. III, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, eds. A. Roberts and]. Donaldson, vol. II, (New
York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925): 20, col. 2. For the Latin text see E. Dekkers,
CCSL, 'Apologeticvm,' (Brepols: Turnhout, 1954): III, 8: 'At nunc utriusque inquisitione
et agnitione neglecta nomen detinetur, nomen expugnatur, et ignotam sectam, ignotum
et auctorem uox sola praedamnat, quia nominantur, non quia reuincuntur.'
12 Irenaeus, 'Against Heresies,' in vol. 1 of 'The Apostolic Fathers' in The Ante-Nicene
Fathers: iV.33.9: 508.
brief sketch of such major features will help clarifY its use in the mar-
tyrologies. The Stoic understanding of the A6yor;, was that of an active
principle that represented itself in three distinct ways. The A6yor;, that
dwelled within humans was the generative logos, the A6yor;, GJtEQ[taLl1Wr;,.
The A6yor;, that resided as God's unspoken word or thought was called
the A6yor;, EvclLufr'tO, and, since it was not uttered, it remained pure
potential. Their last distinction, and important for our discussion, is the
logos verbalized, that which left the mind of God and manifested itself
as a verbal emanation, the A6yor;, JtQOCPOQLXOr;,. This Stoic idea of divine
utterance was part of the complex mix that underlies the Christian tra-
dition and appears to have influenced Paul and later commentators.
Ignatius of Antioch's remark on how God expressed and revealed
himself in Jesus Christ his son, who is the logos proceeding from silence'
is indebted to this Stoic teaching.
Paul's thinking on the utterance of
the name of Jesus, while typically enigmatic and complicated, may also
have been influenced by such Stoic thinking. In his earliest remarks
concerning the name Jesus,' he views the name Jesus' as a protean
verbal surrogate for the person of Jesus. He writes that the Christian
has been 'justified through the name of the Lord Jesus.' While it is
difficult to account for the many nuances that are associated with '<'lL-
xmwfrYI1;e1justified,' the verb 'bLxmomr;,' suggests being 'placed in a right
relationship to God.'14 Paul implies that such a relationship results from
an acceptance of the 'name' as a conjoined verbal and spiritual artifact,
emanating from God, that has freed the just from sin and made grace
and salvation possible. He says in the same verse that they have been
washed clean by the name. Does such Pauline justification' involve the
active intervention of the person and spirit of God, that is, the Para-
clete (I CO. 6.II)? Tertullian believed so and understood such presence
to be most palpable with the martyrs. Philippians, written a few years
after I Corinthians, and notably from prison, shows that Paul's under-
standing on the sanctity of the name has both deepened and broad-
ened. Here the name, qua name, has a cosmic identity and appears
as one with God, reminiscent of the A6yor;, EvbLufr'tOr;" while unex-
pressed, but once uttered becomes A6yor;, JtQOCPOQLXOr;,. Paul exclaims
13 K. Lake, The Apostolic Fathers, 2 vols. (London & New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons,
1912): 204-205, sect. viii, I, 2: Eanv airtoil anD nQoEA{twV.' See also
E. Ferguson, Encylopedia if Early Christianity, 2
ed., 2 vols. (New York: Garland, 1997): I,
14 The New Dictionary if Theolog;y, eds., JA. Kamonchak, M. Collins, and D.A. Lane
(Wilmington: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1988), 553-555.
that the name must be an object of veneration as it was given to Jesus
by God 'the name above all names' and that 'at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow ... and every tongue acclaim that Jesus Christ
is Lord (Kjrios) , . Paul proposes that the reverence given to YHWH and
his name is now transferable to Christ, lryrioS.1
Not only are the early
Christians not to rifrain from using God's name, but Paul would have
them such lordship (Ph. 2.9-II). Paul's soteriol-
ogy promotes the idea that witness of the name 'Christ' is a
constituent responsibility of the faithful.
The name of Jesus is also used as an appropriate substitute for his
person in the Gospels. Mark illustrates such use of Jesus' name. A
disciple is depicted using it to drive out demons: 'Teacher, we saw
someone driving out demons in your name.' Mark notes that when
John asked Jesus about the legitimacy of such action, Jesus responded,
'Do not stop him for anyone who performs a miracle in my name
will not be able the next moment to speak evil of me' (Mk. 9.38-39).
John's question highlights his understanding of the Jewish tradition of
reticence regarding numinal names. Jesus' response in Mark endorses
a departure from the tradition. Notice no censure is reported by Mark
in the use of the name as a tool of exorcism. Rather its use is seen
as a sign of righteousness. Both the anonymous miracle worker and
the subject are transformed by the name. In Acts, Luke reports the
disciples prayed, '0 Lord ... stretch out your hand to heal and cause
signs and portents to be done through the name of your holy servant
Jesus'. The prayer was efficacious as the next verse reads: 'When they
ended their prayer, the building where they were assembled rocked, and
all were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke God's word with boldness'
(Ac. 4.29-31). By the time of Acts, it appears that the utterance of
the name was believed so powerful that invoked by the faithful it
could overwhelm nature. In the eschatological passages of the seven
seals in the Apocalypse of John, there is an explicit and extended
narrative devoted to the hallowed dead (martyrs) who appear to have a
uniquely favored relationship with the deity. They are dressed in white
robes (symbols of victory) and give continuous praise at the throne
of God and the Lamb. The term 'lamb/ UQVLOV' is Christ's principal
title in the Apocalypse and used twenty-eight times (Ap. 6 & 7). Their
15 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, 'The Letter to the Philippians,' in The Jerome Biblical Com-
mentary, eds. R. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer and R.E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, New
Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1968), 251.
martyrdom has guaranteed them eternal rest, an idea that became a
virtual leitmotif in the Acta martyrii and that we shall illustrate below. In
Ephesians Paul urges his listeners to 'be imitators of God' -the explicit
model being the human person of Christ-so that one can witness
by professing his holy name (Ep. 5.r).
The doctrine of the Incarnation proposed that God took human
form and lived on earth. Discipleship required that the believer take
the figure of Christ of the Gospels as a life model. 16 Ritualized imitation
became obligatory and, a structural principle of the narrative of all
Christian martyr stories. But how do humans measure themselves?
How do they imitate a god figure? The answer is in the paradox of the
Incarnation itself The reality of God assuming human form made the
goal of human transcendence, as an ideology, practicable. Since Christ
could not be wholly bound by his humanity, the martyr, who imitated
Christ, who witnessed him by name, and thus participated in the vita
Christi was, because of that imitation, likewise less subject to the laws of
nature; for example, he enjoyed an apparent freedom from the pain of
torture, etc. The miracles of the Acta martyrii recall the creedal challenge
of the Incarnation and the legitimate belief in these supernatural events
through an appeal to God's all-powerful presence. Such miracles serve
as multivalent signs: they identify genuine sanctity, promote a particular
cult, proffer solace and hope to the besieged community, and promote,
amongst their members, a belief in the ineffectiveness of the persecuting
secular authority.
By the time we reach the middle of the second century the use of the
name of Christ, particularly in the mouths of the martyrs, has become
a necessary part of the armament against persecution that Paul urged
on his followers in Thessalonians and Ephesians (rTh. 5.8; Ep. 6.r3-r7
and see Is. 59.r7 and Ws. 5.r7-2o). For example, in one of the earliest
of the Acts if the Martyrs, the Martyrdom if Polycarp (c. r55-r60), we read
that immediately before his immolation Polycarp said that it was not
necessary to nail him to the stake as 'he who has given me strength
to endure the flames will grant me to remain without flinching in the
fire ... Christ Jesus'Y Polycarp died with the name on his lips. Pro-
fessing the name of Christ in the court proceedings that survive in
16 B. Hebblethwaite, The Incarnation: Collected Essqys in Christology (Cambridge Univer-
sity Press: Cambridge, 1987), 21-26.
17 Herbert Musurillo, The Acts qf the Christian Martyrs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972),
the commentarius of the cognitio extra ordinem was not merely a manifes-
tation of creedal identity but appears to represent an acknowledgement
of a complex emotional and physical identification with the person of
While it is difficult to understand fully what was in the mind
of the martyrs at such moments, at least part of their intention in such
declarations was an acknowledgement that they had shed their individ-
uality and had become members of a collective spiritual body. What
were the constituents of such a spiritual body? What sort of individual-
ity had they shed? Why was the utterance of the sacred name important
to such a process? While such large questions are beyond our scope, a
brief comment may help contextualize my argument. Men and women
of the beginning of the Common Era lived in a rigidly constructed
social system. The 'individual' was fully realized as he or she fulfilled
the expectations of defined responsibilities. 19 As Cicero argued, the state
had expectations and laws based on ' ... unerring reason and consistent
with nature which demands that people fulfill their obligations.'20 In the
late Empire the Roman idea of the self-fulfillment was an expression of
one's fidelity to one's civic duties.
Although there is considerable variety in ancient speculative thought
on the nature of the self, there are a number of disparate traditions
that identifY self and soul as one. Neither the Greeks nor Romans
had a nominal word for the self; such a concept was rendered by
the reflexive pronouns autos and ipse respectively, but they had many
words for spirit or soul, such as thumos, psuche, anima, spiritus, etc. Thus
in being dutiful to the mos maiorum-by the mid-first century CE this
required a public acknowledgment (typically in the form of a public
oath) of the genius of the emperor-one increased one's virtue and
thereby made manifest the virtue of the self! soul. To refuse to make
such an oath signaled to Romans that one had odium humani generis and
was an enemy of the state. For the Christian, however, such an oath,
and the acknowledgement of virtue implicit in the oath, was repug-
18 On the emergence of the cognitio see R.A. Bauman, Lawyers and Politics in tlu EarTy
Roman Empire (Miinchen: C.H. Becksche, 1989), 150-153; 0. Tellegen-Couperus, A Short
History qf Roman Law (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 90-93, 130-131; David
Johnston, Roman Law in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 121-
19 Kenelm Burridge, Someone, No One (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979): 3-
16, 63, 187; M. James C. Crabbe, From Soul to Self (London and New York: Routledge,
1999), 14-24, 49
20 Cicero, De Republica, 3.22.33.
nant. The most important philosophic understanding of the self that
Christianity inherited was Neoplatonist, and the Christian reworking
of Neoplatonic ideas strongly identified the self with the soup! Thus
when martyrs depicted in the Acta acknowledge to the prosecutor that
they are Christians and invoke the names Jesus' or 'Christ,' such an
acknowledgement endorses a profound change in the valorization of
their horizons, psychic, and physical. Their allegiance moves from mos
maio rum to mos Christianorum. Such an affective shift rapidly gave rise
to a mode of thinking that was a type of moral dualism: interior ver-
sus exterior virtue, private versus public acts, the sect over the state.
Thus this idea of the individual reflected in the Acta, was, to paraphrase
Louis Dumont, 'outworldly' as opposed to 'inworldly.'22 While in their
former lives they lived as members of the polity (in the world), martyr-
dom 'allowed' them the opportunity to realize the fullest expression of
self/soul (outside the world): the change is from duty to urbs to ecclesia,
from corpus Romanum to corpus Christi. Clement of Alexandria makes the
point pithily: 'For if one knows himself, he will know God; and know-
ing God, he will be made like God. '23 Martyrdom was the consequence
of such an illegal, albeit volitional, public declaration of a closer union
with an outlawed God and church whose message was strongly escha-
A classic statement of such an identity transformation exists in the
Passio Sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis (c. 203).24 This text, one of the
few credible historical Acta marryrii to survive, describes (in the first
person) the arrest, suffering and eventual execution of seven Roman
Carthaginian Christians. The principle protagonist is the twenty-two-
year-old well-born matron Perpetua. The narrator takes pains to point
out that she comes from the upper classes of Roman Africa, is well
educated (liberaliter instituta), speaks three languages, and therefore her
2! E.R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age if Anxiety (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 1965), 127-138.
22 Louis Dumont, 'A Modified View of Our Origins: The Christian Beginnings of
Our Modern Individualism,' in The Category if the Person, eds. M. Carrithers, S. Collins
and S. Lukes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 93-119; see also in the
same volume A. Momigliano, 'Marcel Mauss and the Quest for the Person in Greek
Biography and Autobiography,' 83-92.
23 'The Fathers of the Second Century,' in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2, 'The
Instructor,' 3.1.1. 271.
24 The text of the Passio is C.I.M.I. van Beek, ed., Passio Sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis
(Nijmegen: Dekker and Van de Vegt, 1936). The translation is mine and will be
forthcoming in the series Ancient Christian Writers.
judgements are to be seen as philosophically astute, and not viewed
through a prism bound by the expectations of her gender. The scene
I wish to focus on takes place in a villa where the converts have
been immediately taken after their arrest. The scene makes deft use of
punning and onomastic word play to make its point. Perpetua's father
has arrived at the home where his daughter and her young friends are
being held. Once there he attempts to dissuade his daughter from her
choice to become a Christian and persuade her to return to her senses.
'While,' she said, 'we were still with the prosecutors, my father, because
of his love for me, wanted to change my mind and shake my resolve.'
'Father,' I said, 'do you see this vase lying here, for example, this small
water pitcher (urceolum) or whatever'? 'I see it,' he said. And I said to him:
'Can it be called by another name other than what it is?' And he said:
'No.' 'In the same way, I am unable to call myself other than what I am, a
Christian (quod sum, Christiana).' Then my father, angered by this name (motus
hoc uerbo), threw himself at me, as if he would gouge out my eyes. But he
only alarmed me and he left defeated, along with the arguments of the
devil. (III, 1-3).
Here the issue of naming and identity is made clear. The urceolus cannot
be other than what it is called, a 'water pitcher.' Indeed its existence
and the father's and daughter's ability to recognize it are contingent
on its name. So too, Perpetua's identity is now subsumed into the
collective personality of 'Christian'. She is no longer Vibia Perpetua, a
well-to-do daughter of a member of the landed gentry (equites), recently
married with an infant son, but a Christian. The identification this
onomastic play asks us to understand is complete and suggests an
abandonment of her name, her past, including and most particularly
her family and, as it happens, her son. The transformation requires the
appropriation of a new self that realizes itself within a new community.
Her father's anger erupts at her calling herself 'this name' / motus hoc
uerbo. The intensity of his outrage makes it very clear that he knew the
social and psychological implications of such identification-isolation
from her participation in the Roman commonweal, and likely the
public shame that would be the lot of his family (ne me dederis in dedecus
hominum). He would have been well aware of the recent proscriptions
against conversion to Christianity or Judaism which were promulgated
by Septimus Severus, since she has been arrested for the same.
scene ends abruptly with her father's departure. It is notable that her
25 See J.M. Carrie and Aline Rouselle, L'Empire romain en mutation des Siveres a Con-
stantin (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1999), II2-12I; Susan Raven, Rome in Africa, 3
given name, 'Perpetua,' is sparingly used after this point in the story.
Her fellow converts refer to her through substitutes, such as 'Lady
sister' (Domina sorar) or the curious use of the Greek ('tExvov) 'child,'
thus avoiding her birth name.
Perpetua and her fellow prisoners explicitly reject the idea of the
individual who sought virtue through the practice of a responsible civic
life, who revered the ancestral gods and the genius of the emperor.
Such men and women who would be martyrs and saints understood
that they were called to renounce that praxis of virtue as the public
good. They substituted the imitatio Christi for the contribution which
they would otherwise have made to the welfare of the state. This was
not an ideology that recruited chiefly from the poor. If their members
were principally among the 'have-nots,' those with little stake in soci-
ety, such identification would require little sacrifice. Tertullian says that
Christians counted their members among all classes.
All the Acts qf
the Martyrs make this cultic mimesis central to the narrative. It was the
constitutive rhetorical principle of the genre. The Roman Christian,
living in bustling, prosperous Carthage, sought to live not so much in
the city contributing to its fortune, but in a parallel but noncontiguous
fellowship, the church of believers. The complex social reasons for such
attitudes are beyond the scope of this essay, as are the manifold reasons
why people were attracted to the communityY Scholars have proposed
that Christianity prospered as urban life grew more fragmented and
socially alienating, or because of its similarity to the mystery religions,
or due to its emphasis on the miraculous and wonder-working. Con-
temporaries, even antagonists, did however acknowledge their growing
reputation, present among all classes, of Christian bravery in the face
of torture, and their lack of fear of death.
What seems indisputable
(London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 151; A.R. Birley, The African Emperor Septimus
Severus (New Haven and Yale: Yale University Press, 1988), 154, 253; Louis Robert, 'Une
vision de Perpetue martyre a Carthage en 203,' in Comptes-Rendues Acad. Des Inscriptions
(1982): T.D. Barnes, Tertullian: A Literary and Historical Study (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1985), 71, 163, 263, and and T.D. Barnes, 'Pre-Decian Acta
martyrum', Journal qfTheological Studies n.s. 19 (1968):
26 Tertullian, 'Apologeticvm,' I, 6, p. 86, 'The outcry is that the state is filled
with Christians' / 'Obsessam uociferantur ciuitatem; in agris, in castellis, in insulis
Christian os; omnen sexum, aetatem condicionem, etiam dignitationem transgredi ad
hoc nomen quasi detrimento maerent.'
27 E.R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age qf Anxiety, 3.
28 J. Perkins, The Suffiring Self: Pain and Narrative Representation in the Ear[y Christian Era
(London and New York: Routledge, 1995), 24.
is that among second and third century Christians there was a shift in
values. If Roman ethics sought the good principally in a responsible
contribution to the pluralist fabric of the late empire, Christians located
the good in a shared creed that places personal gnosis above that of the
community. Such a shift may be indebted to Christianity's emphasis on
personal salvation. Somewhat later Athanasius of Alexandria attributes
this comment to Anthony of Egypt: 'The Kingdom of Heaven is within
you. Virtue, therefore, has need only of our will, since it is within us
and springs from us. '29 Such a remark suggests there is little need for
this group to invest in the public weal. The principle of the imitation of
Christ, witnessed by his name, actualized this heavenly kingdom within
and clearly was an ideology with little sympathy for the preservation of
the values of the state.
The presence of Jesus, if realized through invocation, was believed
salvific, nurturing, able to provide relief from suffering, and able to
guarantee one a place in paradise, and occasionally to serve as a
weapon. For example, there are instances in the Acta when the lan-
guage used in such an invocation is mantic-like, as the petitioner tries
to summon through invocation what Rudolph Otto has called the 'hal-
lowed presence' of God. I do not restrict 'mantic' to divination leading
to foreknowledge. Rather, I extend its application, employing it in a
Ciceronian sense, to utterances 'of some free and unrestrained emo-
tion' that operate under the 'influence of mental excitement' to invoke
the immanence of God with whose spirit the martyrs become one, and
who serves as their shield and witness before their death.
The victims'
self-sacrifice, as they call on God's presence, is an active effort to sacral-
ize their persons. It is worth noting that the Latin verb sacrifico has as
part of its etymological root 'holy, dedicated to a divinity'. The mar-
tyr's deliberate act was not a passive submission to death at the hands
of a stronger foe but, rather, as an active participant in a struggle for
redemption, a self-conscious sacrifice leading to salvation.
29 R.T. Meyer, St. Athanasius: The Lifo if St. Anthony, in Ancient Christian Writers,
vol. IO (New York: 1978), 37.
30 WA. Falconer, Cicero. De Senectute, De Amiticia, De Divinatione (London & New
York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1922): 'De Divinatione,' I, 18, 34-35: 262-265. See also
L.R. Martin, Hellenistic Religions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 42, who places
such an idea in the broader context of Rellinistic religion, suggesting that such natural
divination was 'not so much the prediction of a temporal future as it was a conquest of
ignorance concerning the cosmic or spatial order of things.'
While there are differences in the rhetoric and setting for these invo-
cations in the Acta, most highlight the scenes where the explicit iden-
tification of Christian is made. This naming-particularly in light of
Trajan's rescript to Pliny (see n. II) that made such identification a
capital offense-was the necessary precondition for a martyr's con-
demnation, execution and subsequent victory. Such identification, vol-
unteered freely before the questioning magistrate, became a necessary
and dramatic part of martyrdom and the ensuing narrative of the sac-
rificial ritual. It may have its ultimate source in Luke's presentation of
Stephen's use of the name as a refuge in his torment and as a blessing
on his killers (Ac. 7.59-60). The passage from Luke appears significant
in turning the name into a talismanic, protective cure by the early third
'The Letter of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne' (c. 177 CE), an
encyclical letter written to the churches of Asia and Phrygia from the
persecuted churches in Gaul, reports a violent outbreak of persecu-
The charges brought against the community are the traditional
ones of cannibalism (likely stemming from the sacrificial language of the
Eucharistic liturgy), Oedipal marriages, and incest.
The larger com-
munity's hostility was intensified by the presence of such a distinctively
foreign Christian community in Lyons. The letter, extant in Eusebius,
features the persecution of a young woman named Blandina. Her social
status is unclear. Our only clue is an aside in the narrative that identi-
fies her as having a worldly mistress, xu!' 1:fj OUQXLV11 bEOJtoLVl]-a
phrase suggesting that Blandina was a servant in this woman's house-
hold, possibly a slave. The letter promotes the idea that the name of
Jesus can serve as a shield from pain. The argument then goes on to
create an equation that links volitional submission to suffering as a nec-
essary means of acquiring triumphal power. Those who suffer voluntar-
ily in the name of Christ will be rewarded. Let me illustrate this idea
from the narrative. Blandina has just been subjected to such incredible
physical tortures that her tormentors themselves are exhausted from
their part in it. At this juncture, the narrator reports that Blandina
received 'renewed strength with her confession of faith: her admission,
31 Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina (Brussels: Socii Bollandiani, 1898-1899): I, col. 204;
Bibliotheca Sanctorum (Rome: Pontifica Universita Lateranense, 1963): III, cols. 202-203.
32 See Tertullian's discussions of such charges in his 'Apology' in The Ante-Mcene
Fathers, I: ii-iv: 18-2!. See Dekkers, 'Apologeticvm,' II, 4: 8T 'quando, si de aliquo
nocente cognoscatis, non statim confesso eo nomen homicidae uel sacrilegi uel incesti
uel publici hostis (ut de nostris elogiis loquar) contenti sitis ad pronuntiandum.'
"I am a Christian, we do nothing to be ashamed of ... .''' The confes-
sion (to MYELV O'U brought her refreshment, rest and insen-
sibility to her pain (xui. ltuQ TJflLV OMEV <pUVAOV YLvE'tm).33 There is a
temptation to read this as a metaphor underscoring her triumphant
witness over cruelty and thus offering the besieged community consola-
tion. However, the many instances of such an idea suggest that a belief
was emerging that a profession of faith -in which the name was used
in some fashion-during torment would shield the one suffering from
the pain. Indeed, one of the principal understandings that pagans had
about Christians was their apparent disdain for pain and death.
In his
Apology, Tertullian referred to Christians as a race who 'give thanks for
condemnation. '35
Aside from the characteristic bravado of the remark, so typical of
Tertullian, can we find parallels in the Acta that might shed light on
the rationale that promotes such thinking and behavior? What would
lead a sentient Christian of the time to believe that Blandina's torment
could provide the opportunity for refreshment? There is no easy answer
to this question but certain factors may provide some insight. The
great majority of the Acts qf the Marryrs are conversion narratives. Such
narratives typically treat extremes of conflicted behavior, pitting the
convert (the martyr) against an antagonist, typically the judge. The
genre displays little or no interest in speculative or reflective scenes.
The theoretical underpinning of the action has to be read out of the
action itself Occasionally, however, the major figures do reflect on their
behavior and provide a window into discussions that the community
was engaged in. One such exists in an anecdote in the Passio Sanctarum
Perpetuae et Felicitatis. The section I am excerpting is in the hand of
the redactor who some believe was Tertullian. While the identity of
the redactor is not important for my purpose, it is well to point out
that this anonymous individual was sophisticated, in sympathy with a
marked religious eschatology, and well versed in the currently accepted
orthodoxies as well as new ascetic movements like Montanism. I have
argued recently that he was likely a proto-Montanist.
33 Musurillo, 1. 19, 66-6r
34 R.L. Wilken, The Christians As the Romans Saw Them (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1983): 66. Perkins, The SUffering Self, 18,
35 'Apologeticum,' I, I, 12: 'Christianus uero quid simile? ... Si denotatur, glo-
riatur ... damnatus gratias agit.'
36 Thomas J. Heffernan, 'Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy: Religious Ide-
ologies in the Passio Sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis,' (paper presented at 38th Interna-
The Passio relates that the matron Perpetua was sentenced to death
with one Felicity, a woman who may have been her slave (et Felicitas,
eius conserua) and who was in her eighth month of pregnancy (cum octo
iam mensium uentrem haberet). Roman law forbade the killing of a pregnant
women because it would involve the death of the foetus (quia non licet
praegnantes poenae repraesentan). Accordingly her execution was postponed
until she delivered. Her fellow prisoners were so saddened by this news
(conmarf:Yres grauiter contristabantur) that they prayed intensely that she
be allowed to join them in their sacrificial deaths. The miracle was
accomplished and she gave birth with difficulty in her eight month
(et cum pro naturali dijficultate octaui mensis in partu laborans) to a daughter.
She was now free to die with her comrades. The narrative reports an
exchange between Felicity and her jailer that is important to my point
and I will quote it in full:
'A certain one of the assistants of the prison guards said to her: 'You
suffer so much now, what will you do when you are thrown to the beasts?
You thought little of them when you refused to sacrifice.'
She answered: 'What I am suffering now, I alone suffer. But then there
will be another in me who will suffer for me, because I shall be suffering
for him. (Modo ego patior quod patior; illic autem alius erit in me qui patietur pro
me, quia et ego pro illo passura sum). And she gave birth to a girl and a certain
sister raised her as her own daughter.' (Musurillo, xv, 5-7)
The guard's cruel taunt has a powerful logic to it, since bravery un-
tested is a fiction. Felicity's response is carefully constructed, imbued
with asceticism, and forces the idea of imitatio Christi to its ultimate
extreme; that is, the emptying of self is a precondition before full union
with the person of Christ can be achieved. Felicity's first response to
the guard acknowledges that the pain of childbirth is every mother's lot
and must be borne. However, she then goes on to distinguish between
types of suffering-the suffering common to all creation, and volitional
suffering for a cause. The latter idea was not novel to Christianity.
What was new and distinctly Christian was the coupling of suffering
for witness (J-tuQt1J) with salvation. The model for such Christian wit-
ness was Christ crucified. The theology of martyrdom claimed that in
times of trial Christ would literally be a fellow sufferer who would bear
tional Congress on Medieval Studies, 9 May, 2003); see also Christine Trevett, Mon-
tanism: Gender, Authoriry and the New Prophecy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1996), 176-183.
the brunt of the torment and reward his witness with eternal life.
Tertullian wrote in Ad Martyras, the redemption of the martyr actu-
ally begins before death. Once the journey towards sacrificial death
has begun, the martyr lives in a liminal state, and is capable of acts of
enormous power and being the recipient of such power.
The ascetical
theology of martyrdom, Felicity's theology, reverses the typical polar-
ities: fasting becomes feasting, pain becomes pleasure, death becomes
life. The birth of her daughter, unnamed, immediately after her last
remark to the guard, is a rebuke to the limitations of his taunt and his
worldview. It is her word that bears fruit.
Such a reversal of normative expectations can be found in other Acta.
The late third century Martyrdom if Pionius and his Companions illustrates
this most economically.39 The martyr Pionius is being interrogated by
the proconsul of the region who, frustrated at his obdurate belief, asks
him: 'Why do you rush towards death?' 'I am not rushing towards
death,' he responded, 'but towards life.'40 The rhetoric employed in
the Acta martyrii became fixed, and required, as I have been arguing,
the martyr to conjure God, to call on the help of Christ not simply
as a presence, but as a fellow sufferer in a literal sense. While we may
find it impossible to believe that Felicity's actual pain would have been
lessened through such an invocation, it seems clear that she and her
companions thought it did. She believed her choice was eternal life or
apostasy; membership in the ecclesia and the corpus Domini or the civitas
terrenis and the corpus Romanum.
The Christian martyrs of Lyons use the name Jesus' and or 'Chris-
tian' as a pneumatic (i.e., JtVEllf1ULOCPOgo) talisman shielding them from
further injury and mantic ally to invoke the terrible presence of God.
For example, Blandina's fellow martyr Sanctus, a Latin speaker, refuses
to answer all charges against him, refusing to even give his name,
nationality or anything else, and '... to all of their questions he an-
swered in Latin: "I am a Christian.'" Sanctus' steadfastness had the
37 Such a belief may owe something to Paul's remarks in Philippians 4.I3: 'I have
strength for anything through him who gives me power.'
38 Tertullian, Ad Martyras, ed. E. Dekkers in CCSL, I (Brepols: Turnhout, I954): 4:
'Quo vos, benedicti, de carcere in custodiarum, si forte, in translatos existemetis. Habet
tenebras, sed lumen estis ipsi ... Nihil interest, ubi sitis in saeculo, qui extra saeculum
estis.' See also his De resurrectione mortvorum, ed.J.G.PH. Borleffs in CSSL, II, 978-g79.
39 Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina, II, col. 996.
40 Musurillo, I62-I63.
desired effect. His mantra-like repetition also reversed the natural po-
larity of pain and pleasure and, like Felicity and Blandina, turned
his torment into well-being. The narrator notes that during Sanctus'
second trial 'by the grace of Christ proved to be not a torture but
rather a cure / CLlJ'tql yEvEO'tm.'41 The obvious extension of
such an ideology is that even death is defeated by the name. And this is
exactly what the narrator states towards the end of the letter. Here we
read that those few whose faith wavered and whose commitment was
in doubt were haggard, terrified and generally dispirited because they
had forfeited that 'glorious, honorable and lift-giving namelxm
JtQOO'l']YOQLUV.'42 The Marryrdom if Saints Montanus and Lucius, a north
African text from the mid-third century, promotes this same reversal
of expectations.
It celebrates their imprisonment rhapsodically: 'The
glory of being in bonds. The chains that were the objects of all our
prayers. Iron more noble to us than the finest gold.'44 The martyrs are
portrayed talking amongst themselves days before their death: 'Our
consolation was to talk of what was going to happen to us; but to
prevent us from dwelling on this pleasure (hac iocunditate), we were led
back and forth all over the forum by soldiers who did not know where
the procurator wanted to hear our case.'45
A notable characteristic oflate Hellenistic religious thinking-wheth-
er in Eleusinian mysteries, the cults ofIsis and Cybele, in varying forms
of Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Manicheism, and Christianity-was its
concern with the issues of alienation and integration. At birth humans
were separated from the divine. The soul! spirit, however, longed to
heal that primal break through return. How this rupture could be
healed, or ameliorated, became the task of the sentient, pious human.
This estrangement from God, from the source of good, from the light,
was taken up by the great narrative artists of the time. Apuleius mas-
terfully illustrates this integrative desire in nature in his retelling of
the Eros and Psyche legend and the wandering Lucius in the Golden
ASS.46 Virtually all these above-named groups, including some Chris-
tians, were strongly dualist-the material world was corrupt while the
spirit retained its spark of divinity. Can we see some of this spirit in the
41 Ibid., 68-69.
42 Ibid., 72-73-
43 Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina, II, coL 876.
44 Musurillo, 21 9.
45 Ibid., 218-219.
46 L.H. Martin, Hellenistic Religions, 18.
narratives of the Christian martyrs? I believe so. The Christian martyr
desired above all else to be joined to the physical presence of the risen
Christ from which the hostile material world separated him or her. Cre-
ation's primal break with God could be healed, but the cost was typi-
cally extreme, entailing a rejection of all existing attachments, including
life itself The late second century narrative of the Martyrdom if Saints
Carpus) Papylus and Agathonice, illustrates this drive for union. The martyr
Agathonice, just before being burned at the stake, acknowledged that
martyrdom for the name was her desired goal and her way to be made
whole: 'Agathonice said: do what you will. I have come here for this
purpose and I am prepared to suffer for Christ's name (ego autem hoc ueni et
in hoc sum parata ut pro 'nomine Christi) patiar).'47
The examples cited above from the Acts if the Martyrs illustrate how
the iteration of certain language, particularly some form of Christ's
name, and the modeling of one's behavior after the Gospel narratives,
prepares one through self-sacrifice to become an initiate with God, to
be filled with God (v1'tw). The narratives illustrate that the language
becomes increasingly ritual-like, liturgical, and thus transformative. If
the invocation is successful, the petitioner worthy, and grace granted,
the action reverses the expected experience of suffering and death and
replaces it with bliss and eternal life. The martyr is not a passive
victim but an active witness and participant in the spectacle. As such,
the public role of the martyr was of enormous importance to his
or her fellow-believers. It provided them with hope, with a sense of
solidarity, and instilled a confidence, as Durkheim suggests, that the
martyr's heroic behavior is a demonstrable proof of the groups' mettle
against oppressors and their ultimate redemption and vindication. The
narrative is told in a 'life,' a biography, since the transformation is
effected through the mantic iteration of tropes either borrowed from
or based on the scriptural accounts of the life of Christ.
47 Musurillo, 34.
I. The Peoples qf the Book
Even a brief perusal of the Qur'an is sufficient to convince anyone who
takes it in hand that the text presumes in its readers a ready familiarity
with the stories of the principal narrative figures of the Old and New
In it there are frequent references to episodes in the stories
of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Mary, and Jesus, son of
Mary, to mention only the most prominent of the Biblical characters to
be found mentioned there. Not infrequently in the Qur'an's discourse
there are elements in the telling of the Biblical stories that are not
familiar to readers of the Jewish or Christian Bibles. In some instances
these seemingly dissonant elements can in fact also be found in early
Jewish or Christian extra-canonical, apocryphal or exegetical lore; in
other instances, as far as our present knowledge extends, the apparent
novelties are unique to the Qur'an,2 reminding the modern reader of
the 'intertextual'3 character of the Biblical accounts. That is to say,
1 See Abraham I. Katsh, Judaism and the Koran: Biblical and Talmudic Backgrounds rif
the Koran and its Commentaries (New York: A.S. Barnes, 1962); K. Ahrens, 'Christliches in
Qoran,' Zeitschrififor die deutschen morgendliindisches Gesellschaji 84 (1930):15-68, 148-190.
2 There is a burgeoning scholarly industry in modern times involved in tracing
many of these 'dissonant' elements to now obscure Jewish or Christian sources. See,
e.g., for Jewish materials, the studies of Jacob Lassner, Demonizing the Qyeen rif Sheba:
Boundaries rif Gender and Culture in PostBiblical Judaism and Medieval Islam (Chicago: Univer-
sity of Chicago Press, 1993); Reuven Firestone, Journeys in Holy Lands: The Evolution rif
the Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis (New York: State University Press of New
York: 1990). Perhaps the easiest Christian example to cite involves the miracles ascribed
to Jesus in Q VIIO; there is no Christian record of Jesus' speaking from the cradle, but
the Protoevangelium rif James mentions the miracle of the clay doves. See in this connec-
tion the very interesting study of Suleiman A. Mourad, 'On the Qur'nic Stories about
Mary and Jesus,' Bulletin rifthe Royal Institutefor Inter-Faith Studies 1 (1999):13-24.
3 'Intertextual' in the sense seemingly first put forward by Julia Kristeva. See
Thais E. Morgan, 'Is There an Intertext in This Text?; Literary and Interdisciplinary
from a literary-critical point of view, and leaving aside any concerns
about 'orthodoxy' or historical veracity in any particular tradition, the
stories of the Biblical characters are really not completely presented
in any single scriptural tradition. This observation in turn highlights
the fact that the Qur'an comes into existence already in dialogue with
the Biblical traditions of the Jews and the Christians, whom the text
uniquely styles 'the People of the Book,' or 'Scripture People' (ahl al-
kitab, as in Q II.I05). Indeed, in the Qur'an itself, God says to the
Muslims: 'If you are in doubt about what We have sent down to you,
ask those who were reading scripture before you' (Q X. 94). Inevitably
then the Bible called for special attention in the encounter of the Jews,
Christians and Muslims from the very beginning ofIslamic history.
Already in the Qur'an the disparities between the interpretations of
the scriptural narratives between the several Peoples of the Book gave
rise to charges of the corruption of the text of the Bible, the alteration
of words, and the concealment of meanings (cf., e.g., Q III.78). From
the early Islamic period onward, in the arguments about religion that
proliferated from the beginning until well into the Middle Ages, the
charge and countercharge of corrupting the scriptures became a staple
item in the apologetic and polemical texts composed by Jews, Chris-
tians, and Muslims.
In the judgement of at least one prominent, mod-
ern scholar, this interreligious concern for the integrity and authenticity
of the Biblical text between Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Middle
Ages ultimately contributed to the rise ofthe modern science of Biblical
In the earliest Islamic religious literature outside of the Qur'an,
modern scholars have observed the construction of an Islamic salvation
history, often on the model of the typological readings of the Bible
already familiar from the discourse of the earlier Peoples of the Book,
notably the Jews and the Christians,6 as well as direct borrowings
Approaches to Intertextuality,' American Journal if Semiotics 3 (1985):1-40. An interesting
example of the use of this 'intertextuality' for the purpose of instruction in interreligion
is to be seen in John Kaltner, Ishmael Instructs Isaac: An Introduction to the Qyr'an for Bible
Readers (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1999).
4 See Jean-Marie Gaudeul & Robert Caspar, 'Textes de la tradition musulmane
concernant Ie a ~ r i f (falsification) des Ecritures,' Islamochristiana 6 (1980):61-104.
5 See Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined Worlds: Medieval Islam and Bible Criticism
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).
6 See J. Wansbrough, The Sectarian Milieu: Content and Composition if Islamic Salvation
History, London Oriental Series 34 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978).
from Jewish and Christian exegetical sources. A number of literary
genres in which these features are evident quickly developed in Islamic
circles. Prominent among them are the 'Stories of the Prophets'
al-anbiyii'),7 the Isrii'iliyyiit, allegedly Jewish lore about the patriarchs
and prophets,
and, most importantly, the szrah literature, that is to
say, the collections of biographical traditions relating to the prophet
In these Islamic texts one can observe a double appropriation at
work. On the one hand, in what John Wansbrough has so aptly termed
'the Sectarian Milieu' of the early Islamic period, the writers seem
concerned to claim the authority of the Bible to warrant the scrip-
tural authenticity of Muhammad, the Qur'an, and Islamic teaching
more generally; one may call it the process of 'Biblicizing' the Islamic
prophetic claims. On the other hand, given the concomitant Islamic
concern about the corruption of the earlier scriptures, as mentioned
above, and observing the consequent, divergent cast of many of the
Islamic presentations of the Biblical narratives, one may also speak of a
simultaneous process in these works of 'Islamicizing' the Biblical mate-
rial. 10 Brian Hauglid has recently called attention to these processes at
work in his insightful study of the Abraham narratives in the al-
anbiyii' of Al:tmad ibn Mul:J.ammad Abu ath-Tha 'labi (d. 1036).11
The Biblical interests of Muslim religious writers have undergone
a certain evolution over the centuries. In the earlier period, when
the concern was generally more to 'Biblicize' Islamic prophetology,
7 See Roberto Tottoli, I Prqflti Biblici nella Tradizione Islamica (Brescia: Paideia Edi-
trice, 1999); Brandon Wheeler, Prophets if the Qyr'iin (New York: Continuum, 2002). One
of the most popular texts in this genre has an English translation; see WM. Thackston,
Jr., trans., The Tales if the Prophets if al-Kzsa'i (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978).
8 See Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 'Assessing the Isrii'Zliyyiit; an Exegetical Conun-
drum,' in Story-telling in the Framework if Nonfictional Arabic Literature, ed. Stefan Leder,
(Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1998), 345-369; Roberto Tottoli, 'Origin and Use of the
Term Isra'iliyyiit in Muslim Literature,' Arabica 46 (1999):193-2IO.
9 See Wansbrough.
10 It is important to emphasize that the processes of 'Biblicization' and 'Islamiciza-
tion' are not exclusive; they often operate simultaneously in a text, albeit that one or
the other of them may be a more dominant concern for a given writer.
11 See Brian M. Hauglid, 'Al-Tha'labi's al-Anbiyii': Analysis of the Text, Jew-
ish and Christian Elements, Islamization, and Prefiguration of the Prophethood of
Mul:;tammad' (Ph. D. diss., The University of Utah, 1998-Ann Arbor, MI: UMI
Microform 9829755, 1998); idem, 'Ibn Isl:;taq's Biblicizing of Mul:;tammad and Tha'labi's
Islamization of Biblical Prophets,' (paper presented to the Islamic Studies section of the
annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Nashville, Tennessee,
to employ the taxonomy just described, some writers showed a keen
interest in the Biblical text familiar to Jews and Christians. In this
connection one might mention quotations, albeit often 'corrected' (and
therefore 'Islamicized'), allusions and paraphrases to be found in the
work of Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. 732),12 the Sirah of Abu 'Abd Allah
Mul.tammad ibn Isl.taq (d. c. 767), as transmitted by Abu Mul.tammad
'Abd aI-Malik ibn Hisham (d. 834),13 and somewhat copious quotations
in the works of Abu Mul.tammad 'Abd Allah ibn Muslim ibn Qutaybah
(d. 889)14 and Al;lmad ibn Abi Ya'qub ibn Ja'iar ibn Wahb ibn WaQil.t
al-Ya'qubi (d. 897),15 to name only the most prominent and well-studied
authors. By the tenth century, however, the interests of Muslim scholars
seems to have shifted away from quotations as such from the earlier
scriptures, however much they may have 'corrected' their wording,
and more toward the 'Islamicization' of whole Biblical narratives by
retelling them, with concomitantly less interest paid to the wording of
the texts familiar toJews and Christians, as in the work of Tha'labi and
other transmitters of the al-anbiyii' and the Isrii'liliyyiit.
The shift in emphasis around the eleventh century from 'Bibliciza-
tion' to 'Islamicization' on the part of Muslim writers may well have
been due to the pressures of the interreligious controversies, especially
between Muslims and Christians, that had come into full force in the
ninth centuryY As Christian writers in Syriac and Arabic strove to
12 See R.G. Khoury, Wahb ibn Munabbih: Der Heidelberger Papyrus PSR Heid. Arab. 23,
Leben und Hfrk des Dichters (Codices Arabici Antiqui, I; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1972);
idem, 'Quelques reflexions sur les citations de la Bible dans les premieres generations
islamiques du premier et du deuxieme siecles de l'hegire,' Bulletin d'Etudes Orientales 29
(1977): 269-278.
13 Mul;!ammad Mul;!yl al-Dln 'Abd al-I:Iamid, ed., Sirat an-nabzby Abu Mul;!ammad
'Abd al-Malik ibn Hisham (al-Qiihirah: Maktabat Mul;!ammad 'AlI 1963). See
the English translation by A. Guillaume, The Life if A Translation if Ibn Isbiiq's
Sirat RasulAlliih (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955).
14 See G. Lecomte, 'Les citations de l'ancien et du nouveau testament dans l'oeuvre
d'Ibn Qutayba,' Arabica 5 (1958):34-46. See now Said Karoui, Die Rezeption der Bibel
in der friihislamischen Literatur: Am Beispiel der Hauptwerke von Ibn Qytl.!Yba (gest. 276/889)
(Heidelberg: Seminar fur Sprachen un Kulturen des Vorderen Orients, 1997).
15 See Andre Ferre, 'L'historien al-Ya'qubl et les evangiles,' Islamochristiana 3 (1977):
65-83; idem, L'histoire des prophetes d'apres al-Ya'qubz; d'Adam a Jesus Etudes Arabes 96
(Rome: Pontificio Istituto di Studi Arabi e d'Islamistica, 2000).
16 See Hauglid; Tottolli.
17 On this broad theme see the studies of Jean-Marie Gaudeul, Encounters and Clashes:
Islam and Christianity in History (Rome: Pontificio Istituto di Studi Arabi e d'Islamistica,
1984); David Thomas, Anti-Christian Polemic in EarlY Islam: AbU 'isii al- Warriiq's ;Against
the Trinity' University of Cambridge Oriental Publications, 45 (Cambridge: Cambridge
prove that Christianity was the true religion, Muslim writers were more
strongly motivated to authenticate the 'signs of prophecy' (dala'il an-
nubuwwah) that testified to Muhammad's status as prophet and messen-
ger from God, in fact as the 'seal of the prophets' (QXXXIII.40). This
concern, along with the concomitant development of the doctrine of
the 'inimitability' (al-i)az) of the Qur'an,18 seems to have carried with
it a renewed Muslim interest in the topic of the corruption of the pre-
vious scriptures at the hands of Jews and Christians.
By the eleventh
and twelfth centuries, major writers, such as al-Ghazali (IOS8-IIII)20
and Ibn I:Iazm (994-1064),21 again to mention only the most prominent
names, were concerned to refute the arguments of Jews and Chris-
tians by demonstrating in great detail the unreliability of their scrip-
tures. Mter their time, and certainly after the time of Ibn Taymiyyah
(1263-1328),22 for the rest of the Middle Ages, Muslim authors seem
to have lost interest in any possible authoritative or probative value in
the texts of the scriptures of the Jews or Christians, as well as in any-
thing emanating from Jewish or Christian exegetical traditions. Rather,
the emphasis seems to have shifted in this period to demonstrating the
untrustworthiness of the Bible.
By way of contrast, in the forthrightly apologetic and polemical texts
about religion that were a feature of the Christian/Muslim encounter
in the ninth and tenth centuries, the Bible was an authority to which
the disputants on both sides could readily appeal. 'Arguing from scrip-
ture,' long a staple element in the Jewish/ Christian encounter, also
University Press, 1992); Sidney H. Griffith, Arabic Christianity in the Monasteries if Ninth-
Century Palestine (Variorum Reprints; Aldershot: Ashgate, 1992); Seppo Rissanen, The-
ological Encounter if Oriental Christians with Islam During Early Abbasid Rule (Abo: Abo
Akademis Forlag, 1993); Benedicte Landron, Chretiens et Musulmans en Irak: Attitudes Nesto-
riennes vis-a-vis de l'Islam Etudes Chn':tiennes Arabes (Paris: Cariscript, 1994); Samir
Khalil Samir & Jorgen S. Nielsen, Christian Arabic Apologetics During the Abbasid Period
(750-I258) (Leiden: Brill, 1994); David Thomas, ed., Syrian Christians under Islam; the First
Thousand Years (Leiden: Brill, 2001).
18 See R. Martin, 'The Role of the B a ~ r a Mu'tazilah in Formulating the Doctrine of
the Apologetic Miracle,' Journal if Near Eastern Studies 39 (1980):175-189.
19 See Camilla Adang, Muslim Writers on Judaism & the Hebrew Bible: From Ibn Rabban
to Ibn Ijazm (Leiden: Brill, 1996).
20 See Jacques Jomier, Jesus tel que Ghazali Ie presente dans al-Ilga',' MIDEO 18
21 See Theodore Pulcini, Exegesis as Polemical Discourse: Ibn Ijazm on Jewish and Christian
Scriptures (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998).
22 Thomas F. Michel, A Muslim Theologian's Response to Christianity: Ibn Taymiyya's al-
Jawab a l ~ a ~ l ~ (Delmar: Caravan Books, 1984).
claimed a place in the Christian/Muslim discourse. Among Muslims
it was in the texts dedicated to the 'Refutation of the Christians' (Radd
'alii that one the most readily encountered arguments from
scripture;23 among Christians it was in the defenses of Christianity as
the true religion, written in Syriac and Arabic by Christians living in
the Islamic world, that arguments from scripture found a place.
there is evidence that among these same disputants there was also a
certain hesitation about arguments based on one another's scriptures.
For example, in one text, now preserved only in Greek, Theodore Abu
Qurrah (c. 755-c. 830) recalled the challenge of his Muslim adversary
as follows:
Persuade me not from your Isaiah or Matthew, for whom I have not the
slightest regard, but from compelling, acknowledged, common notions.
Similarly, another Christian text in Arabic from the ninth century
has the Muslim interlocutor make the following declaration when the
Christian apologist proposes to substantiate his statements 'from the
scriptures of the prophets and messengers.' The Muslim says, 'We
do not accept anything from the Old [Testament] nor from the New
[Testament] because we do not recognize them.'26
And indeed it is the case that most of the apologetic and polemi-
cal texts of the period, be they Islamic or Christian, are dialectical in
character; they are exercises in a distinctive style of religious disputation
that in Arabic is called 'ilm al-kaliim, and its participants, mutakallimiin.
It is a very rhetorical, even rationalistic undertaking, and very often
the authors avoided the scriptures altogether, except when claims about
scriptural texts were themselves the subjects of controversy. Neverthe-
23 See Erdman Fritsch, Islam und Christen tum im Mittelalter (Breslau: Muller & Seif-
fert, 1930); Ali Bouamama, La litterature polbnique musulmane contre Ie christianisme de puis ses
originesJusqu'au XIIIe siecle (Algiers: Enterprise Nationale du Livre, 1988); Jacques Waar-
denburg, ed., Muslim Perceptions if Other Religions (New York: Oxford University Press,
1999); Lloyd Ridgeon, Islamic Interpretations if Christianity (New York: St. Martins, 2001).
24 See the discussions cited in n. 17 above.
25 Theodore Abu Qurrah, Greek Opusculum 24, PC, vol. 97, col. ISS6B.
26 Giacinto Bulus Marcuzzo, ed. & trans., Le dialogue d'Abraham de Tibiriade avec 'Abd
ai-Hashim! a Jerusalem veTS 820 Textes et Etudes sur l'Orient Chretien 3 (Rome:
Pontifical Lateran University, 1986), 342-343.
27 See Michael Cook, 'The Origins of Kalam,' Bulletin if the School if Oriental and
Afocan Studies 43 (1980):32-43; idem, Early Muslim Dogma: A Source Critical Study (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); J. Van Ess, Theologie und Cesellschofi im 2.
und 3. Jahrhundert Hidschra (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1991-1997); Binyamin Abrahamov, Islamic
Theology: Traditionalism and Rationalism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998).
less, it is precisely in this context, in some kaliim texts, and in some
other works with a marked apologetic or polemical agenda, both Chris-
tian and Islamic, that one does find whole sections dedicated to 'argu-
ing from scripture.' In the Islamic instance, a number of authors quote
from the Bible in an effort to substantiate the claims they are mak-
ing against the veracity of certain Christian doctrines.
In the Chris-
tian instance in this same context, 'arguing from scripture' was quite
often reactive, although in pre-Islamic times arguments from scripture
had always been a standard part of theological discourse. That is to
say, in works composed in the Islamic world, the sections on scripture
in Christian texts were as often as not designed to respond to chal-
lenges put forth by Muslim controversialists who had buttressed their
own arguments by appeals to the Christian scriptures. 29
From the Islamic perspective, two topics in particular were apt to be
developed by appeals to arguments from scripture. In the first place,
apologists from the earliest period were anxious to show that Muham-
mad's coming as a prophet had been foretold in the Bible. The Qur'an
says that bothJesus himself and the Gospel had foretold Muhammad's
coming (Q LXI.6; VII. 157). Secondly, it quickly became the practice
in the controversial literature for Muslims to argue from scripture that
Jesus, son of Mary, was, just like Adam, someone whom God had cre-
ated from the dust (QIII.59), and therefore he was neither God nor the
son of God. Appeals to passages in the Gospel according to St. John
were often put forward by Muslim writers in support of both of these
contentions. In what follows, by way of providing concrete examples of
'arguing from scripture' in the Muslim/Christian encounter in the early
Middle Ages, we shall examine first of all the claim by a Muslim writer
that the 'Paraclete' passage in John 15.23-16.1 is a clear prediction of
the coming of Muhammad. Secondly, from the Christian perspective,
we shall examine a chapter in an early apologetic work in Arabic in
which the author clarifies what he puts forward as the true interpre-
tation of a number of Gospel passages that adversaries have used to
undermine the Christian claim of the full divinity of Jesus.
28 See David Thomas, 'The Bible in Early Muslim Anti-Christian Polemic,' Islam
and Christian-Muslim Relations 7 (1996):29-38.
29 See Martin Accad, 'Did the Later Syriac Fathers Take into Consideration Their
Islamic Context When Reinterpreting the New Testament?' Parole de l'Orient 23 (1998):
13-32. Look for the forthcoming publication of Accad's Oxford D. Phil. thesis on the
scriptures in the Muslim/ Christian discourse of the early Islamic period, where an
abundance of information is provided on this theme.
II. The Prophet Foretold
Given the fact that the Qur'an insists that the 'Gospel People' should
make their judgements by reference to what God has revealed in the
Gospel (Q V.47), and also that both Jesus and the Gospel had foretold
the coming of the prophet Muhammad (Q LXI.6; VII.I57), it is not
surprising that the earliest Muslim biographers of Muhammad should
have provided references to Gospel passages that in their judgement
feature this prediction. The most popular passage for this purpose in
the early period was the 'Paraclete' passage in the Gospel according to
St. John, and here we shall study the presentation of it in the Sirah,
or 'biography,' of Muhammad by Abu 'Abd Allah Mul;tammad ibn
Isl;taq (d. c. 767), as it is preserved in the later biography of Muham-
mad by Abu Mul;tammad 'Abd aI-Malik ibn Hisham (d. 834).30 Along
the way we shall have the opportunity to observe in Ibn Isl;taq's work
the co-dependent relationship between the 'Biblicizing' and the 'Islami-
cization' processes mentioned above. The way in which he presents the
passage underlines the fact that while the overall tendency of the Sirah
is a 'Biblicizing' one,31 the quotation of the Gospel passage itself nev-
ertheless features a high degree of 'Islamicization' in the details of the
wording. 32
In the paragraph quoted below, Ibn Hisham presents Ibn Isl;taq's
reading of John 15.23-16.1, folded into his own comments about the
relevance of the passage to his larger purpose. The text says:
Ibn Isl}.aq said, 'Here is what has come down to me about the description
of God's messenger, God's prayer and peace be upon him, in whatJesus,
son of Mary, set down in the Gospel, for the people of the Gospel, which
came to him from God, as Yul}.annis the apostle established it for them
when he copied the Gospel for them at the commission of Jesus, son
of Mary, peace be upon him; he said: (15.23) "Whoever has hated me,
has hated the Lord. (15.24) Had I not performed in their presence such
works as no one has performed before me, they would have no sin. But
now they have become proud and they think that they will find fault
with me and even with the Lord."33 (15.25) However, it is inevitable that
30 See the bibliographical citations in n. 13 above.
31 See Wansbrough.
32 The material presented below is a revision of the discussion published in Sidney
H. Griffith, The Gospel in Arabic: An Inquiry into its Appearance in the First Abbasid
Century,' Oriens Christianus 69 (1985):126-167, especially 137-143.
33 For this rendition of the enigmatic Arabic word used here, viz., y- - z - w - n - n ~ , see
the explanation given below.
the saying concerning an-Niimfis will be fulfilled, "They have hated me
for nothing, i.e., in vain. (15.'26) Had al-Munaf;JJmiina, he whom God will
send, already come to you from the Lord, and the spirit of truth,34 he
who comes from God, he would have been a witness for me, and you
too, because you have been with me from the beginning. (16.1) I have
said this to you so that you may not be in doubt".'
'AI-Munaf;JJmiina in Syriac is Muhammad, and in Greek it is al-baraqlztZs.
God's prayer and peace be upon him.35
Both Anton Baumstark and Alfred Guillaume, the two modern schol-
ars who have most closely studied Ibn Isl;taq's quotation, have shown
that the Christian text that bears the closest resemblance to the quota-
tion is undoubtedly the so called 'Palestinian Syriac Lectionary.'36 Their
evidence for this conclusion is principally the appearance of the sin-
gular term al-munaMmiinfi, the 'Comforter,' in Ibn Isl;taq's quotation, as
a rendering of the original Greek term 'Paraclete.' The Aramaic term
is unique to the Christian Palestinian Aramaic version. Then there is
the phrase, 'the spirit of truth,' in verse 26, the original Arabic version
of which in Ibn Isl;taq's quotation betrays its debt to the same Chris-
tian Palestinian Aramaic textY Both scholars also mention a number
of other, smaller pointers to the Christian Palestinian Aramaic version
as the ultimate Christian source of Ibn Isl;taq's quotation.
The first thing that must strike the reader of this passage is the fact
that Ibn Isl;taq is quoting St. John's Gospel, albeit in a 'corrected' ver-
sion, as an authoritative, Gospel testimony to the future divine mission
of Muhammad. Indeed, in context in the Sirah the passage occurs at
34 Reading wa rill} al-qist with F. Wustenfeld, ed. In his Das Leben Muhammeds nach
Muhammed Ibn Ishak (Gottingen; Dieterischsche Universitats-Buchhandlung, 1858). See
the explanation below.
35 Ibn Hisham, Sirat an-nab!, I, 251; Wustenfeld, 149-150. See also the passage as
translated into English by Guillaume, The Lift rf Mul}ammad, 103-104.
36 See A Baumstark, 'Eine altarabische Evangelienubersetzung aus dem Christlich-
Palastinenischen,' Zeitschrifl for Semitistik und verwandte Gebiete 8 (1932):201-209; A Guil-
laume, 'The Version of the Gospels Used in Medina c. AD. 700,' Al-Andalus 15 (1950):
289-296. For the Christian Palestinian Aramaic text of the passage under discussion,
see Agnes Smith Lewis & Margaret Dunlop Gibson, The Palestinian Syriac Lectionary rf
the Gospels (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1899), 24, 187. For the situation
of Christian Palestinian Aramaic, also called 'Palestinian Syriac,' see Sidney H. Grif-
fith, 'From Aramaic to Arabic: The Languages of the Monasteries of Palestine in the
Byzantine and Early Islamic Periods,' Dumbarton Oaks Papers 51 (1997):II-31.
37 Wustenfeld, following a better MS, preserves the original wa rill}i l-qist. See Baum-
stark, 201. Ibn Hisham, Sirat an-nab!, 251, on the other hand, follows a later 'correction'
of the phrase to rill} al-qudus. See also Guillaume, 'The Version of the Gospels,' 293.
the end of the first part of the book, just prior to the accounts of the
first revelations to Muhammad, in company with a number of other
testimonies from Jews and Christians to Muhammad's prophethood.
Secondly, the reader readily notices that Ibn Isl).aq's idea of the Gospel
is the Islamic one, according to which the Gospel is a scripture that
God gave to Jesus (cf. Q V.46; LVII. 27). 38 Ibn Isl).aq says that the apos-
tle John had merely copied it down on Jesus' commission. Here Ibn
Isl).aq's 'Islamicization' preoccupations are already clearly in view. Fur-
thermore, with reference to any known Christian version of the Gospel
according to John, it becomes clear from what Ibn Isl).aq offers us here
that he must also have been convinced that John's text as Christians
have it has been altered. For in his quotation of John 15.23-16.1 there
are a number of telling 'corrections,' as we shall see. The three occur-
rences of the phrase 'my Father' in the passage as it appears in Chris-
tian texts have, in Ibn Isl).aq's rendition, all become 'the Lord.' Pre-
sumably the text has been 'corrected' in accordance with the Qur'an's
insistence that God has no son (Q CXII), and that Jesus, son of Mary,
the Messiah, is only God's messenger (QIY.I7I), whom the Christians
have called God's son (QIX.30-31). Ibn Isl).aq must have thought that
he had ample divine authority in the Qur'an thus to set matters aright
in his quotation from the Gospel of John. It is a good example of the
'Islamicization' of the Gospel text that the author is basically employing
to 'Biblicize' his presentation of Muhammad as a genuine prophet, in
the Biblical tradition. There are further examples of 'Islamicization' in
Ibn Isl).aq's quotation, that Baumstark and Guillaume had a tendency
to view as simple mistakes in the transmission of the text. However,
the examination of several of them in detail will show that far from
being evidence of 'mistakes' in textual transmission, they are rather tes-
timonies to how intricate the 'Islamicization' of a Gospel passage could
become in the early period, in an Islamic text in which the author is
'arguing from scripture' in what he presents as the authentic Christian
15.24b, 'But now they have become proud (batiri1) and they think that
they will find fault with me (y- '-z-w-n-n-y) , and even with the Lord.'
38 On this idea see Carra de Vaux [G.C. AnawatiJ, 'In4Jl1,' in Encyclopaedia if Islam,
new ed., III, cols. 1205-1208. See also Sidney H. Griffith, 'Gospel,' in Jane Dammen
McAuliffe, ed., Encyclopaedia if the Qyr'iin (Leiden: Brill, 2001-), II, 342-343.
Both Baumstark and Guillaume argued that Ibn Isl,taq's Arabic text
is mistaken in this verse. They correct the rare Arabic word batirii,
'they have become proud,' to na;;,arii, 'they have seen,' to agree with
both the Greek and the Christian Palestinian Syriac readings, and they
mention the easy mistake it would have been to confuse the consonants
of these two words in the Arabic script.
Further, Baumstark proposed
a fairly complicated double textual corruption in Christian Palestinian
Aramaic to account for the last part of the verse, specifically the word
y- '-z-w-n-n-y, involving the introduction into the original text of a form
of the Aramaic root ~ - w - b 'to be guilty,' which he then supposed was
subsequently misread to be a form of the root ~ - ~ - n 'to be strong,
to overcome,' yielding the final reading, 'They think that they will
overcome me,'40 which, in Baumstark's view, Ibn Isl:taq would then
have found before him. Both Baumstark and Guillaume, therefore,
understood Ibn Isl:taq's verb y- '-z-w-n-n-y to be a form of the root '-
z-z, and Baumstark offered what seemed to him to be a plausible
explanation of how a misunderstanding of the underlying Aramaic
word could issue in a mistaken Arabic version of John IS.24b.
Baumstark's and Guillaume's approach assumes that Ibn Isl:taq's
intention was accurately to produce an Arabic version of a Christian
Palestinian Aramaic text. But, considered from the perspective of the
process of 'Islamicization,' one can show that Ibn Isl:taq must rather
have intended accurately to quote what he thought of as John's text
of the Gospel as it would have been originally, when, in his expressed
view, God gave it to Jesus. He would not have wanted to reflect what
in his view would be instances of textual alterations introduced later
by the Christian community. Religious accuracy, and hence scriptural
accuracy, for Ibn Isl:taq, would have been measured by the Qur'an's
teachings, and not by Christian texts in Aramaic, Greek, or even in
Arabic. Accordingly, in Ibn Isl:taq's version of John IS.24b one should
look for the religious accuracy he meant to reflect.
The clues are to be found in connection with the very words Baum-
stark and Guillaume wanted to emend. The verbal root b-t-r, in the
sense of 'to be proud, vain,' appears twice in the Qur'an (Q VIII. 47 &
XXVIII.S8), and in both places it describes the state of mind of those
who have in the past turned aside from God's way, or who have rejected
His messenger. Clearly, this sense fits an Islamic understanding of the
39 Baumstark, 205; Guillaume, 'The Version of the Gospels,' 293.
40 Baumstark, 205-206.
context of John 15.24. Then, in the instance of y-'-z-w-n-n-y, if one
understands it to be a form of the verbal root '-z-w/y, it may be under-
stood to mean 'to charge, to incriminate, to blame,' in the first form,
and 'to comfort, to console' in the second and fourth forms.4l The first
alternative fits well with an Islamic understanding of the present verse;
the second meaning, as we shall see below, is perfect for the under-
standing of the important term, al-munaMmand in verse 15.26. In fact,
the ninth century Christian Arabic translator of St. John's Gospel chose
precisely the three root '-z-w/y to render the term in question. So the
presumption should be that Ibn Isl:taq has chosen his words knowingly,
rather than that he has made a mistake in rendering a Christian text.
15.25, 'The saying concerning an-Namils will be fulfilled.'
Reading from an Islamic perspective, it seems obvious that Ibn Isl:taq
would have understood an-Namils to refer not to the Torah, nor to any
'law' of Moses, but to the angel Gabriel, who, according to tradition,
brought the Torah to Moses. As at-Tabar! later put it, 'By an-Namils
one means Jibril, who used to come to Moses. '42 Therefore, one should
understand Ibn Isl:taq's reading of this verse as an Islamic 'correction'
of the usual Christian understanding of John 15.25: 'It is to fulfill the
word that is written in their law, "they hated me without a cause.'''
That is to say, Ibn Isl:taq thought that the Christian understanding of
the term 'law' (nomos, namusa) in this verse was a mistake, or obfuscation.
Baumstark attempted to explain Ibn Isl:taq's seeming textual inaccuracy
as the result of a misreading.
Guillaume clearly recognized that 'one
cannot escape the conclusion that the alteration is deliberate. '44
15.26, 'Al-MunaMmand, he whom God will send you.'
There are two subjects for discussion in this verse as Ibn Isl:taq
presents it, the identity of al-MunaMmand, and the identity of the one
who sends him. In both instances Ibn Isl:taq's Islamic construction of
the Gospel text is evident.
41 These are the possible senses of the verb in modern, literary Arabic. See
J.W Cowan, ed. & trans., Arabic-English Dictionary: The Hans Wehr Dictionary if Modern
Written Arabic, by Hans Wehr, 4th ed. (Ithaca, NY: Spoken Language Services, 1979), 715.
42 MJ. De Goeje, ed., Annales quos Scripsit Abu Djajar Mohammed ibn Piarir at-Tabari
(Leiden: Brill, 1882-1885), 1
series, III, lIS!.
43 Baumstark, 206.
44 Guillaume, 'The Version of the Gospels,' 294.
Both Baumstark and Guillaume have pointed out that the term al-
here is simply an Arabic transliteration of the Aramaic
term that is otherwise found only in the Christian Palestinian Aramaic
Lectionary to translate the Greek term 'Paraclete' in John 15.26. In
Christian Palestinian Aramaic the term means 'the comforter. '45 For
Chr.istians, the Paraclete, or the Comforter,46 is interpreted to mean the
Holy Spirit, or as the Gospel according to St. John calls him in this
passage, 'the Spirit of Truth' (John 15.26), whom Jesus promises to send
after his return to the Father.
For Ibn Isl:;taq the Christian interpretation of the term MunaMmiina
would surely have been an instance of the distortion that Christians
were thought by Muslims to have introduced into the understanding
of the Gospel, particularly at places where, according to the Muslims,
the coming of Muhammad was foretold. According to the report of a
Christian controversialist of the first 'Abbasid century, his Muslim inter-
locutor explicitly made this charge against St. John the Evangelist and
his disciples after Christ's ascension. The Muslim said to the Christian:
What you have said, you report only from your distorted Gospel and
your distorted scriptures. But we have the original Gospel. We have
gotten it from our prophet. John and his associates, having lost the
Gospel after Christ's ascension into heaven, set down what they pleased.
Our prophet Muhammad informed us of thisY
Ibn Isl:;taq knew very well, on the authority of the Qur'an itself, that
Jesus had announced a messenger named Al:;tmad who would come
after him (Q LXI.5). Consequently, according to Ibn Isl:;taq's way bf
thinking, what John must have originally written down of the Gospel
at Jesus' command could only have been in accordance with what
the Qur'an says. So Ibn Isl:;taq presented John 15.26 in an Islami-
cally correct fashion; it makes the Paraclete, the Comforter, a desig-
nation for Muhammad, as he says explicitly at the end of the long pas-
sage translated above. Ibn Isl:;taq is not troubled by any necessity to
45 The term is an adjectival noun from the root which means 'to give com-
fort'; in this sense it is unique to Christian Palestinian Aramaic, although it is compa-
rable to the Jewish Aramaic use of the same root. See Guillaume, 'The Version of the
Gospels,' 293.
46 The meaning 'comforter' for 'Paraclete' instead of the more likely 'advocate' poses
yet another lexical problem, but it need not detain us here. See J. Behm, 'Paraclete,'
in G.W Bromiley, trans. & ed., Theological Dictionary if the New Testament, G. Kittel &
G. Friedrich, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964-1976), V, 800-814.
47 Marcuzzo, 394-395.
explain the relationship between the names Al:tmad and 'Paraclete' I al-
His logic must have been something like this: the Qur'an
says that Jesus predicted the coming of Muhammad; John 15.26 says
that Jesus said that will come; therefore,
designates Muhammad.
As for who will send al-MunaMmiinaIMuhammad, it would have
been clear to Ibn Isl}aq that God is the one who sends His own mes-
sengers (Q XL.78: arsalnii rusulan, 'We have sent messengers'). There-
fore, according to Ibn Isl}aq's Islamicizing logic, the undistorted Gospel
must have described as 'He whom God will send,' and
not as one 'whom I (i.e., Jesus) shall send from the Father,' as the Chris-
tians have it, and so Ibn Isl}aq reports it. Baumstark's proposal that
Ibn Isl}aq's report in this instance was based on a corruption of the
Aramaic phrase for 'Whom I shall send,'49 once again, and not with-
out ingenuity, measures Ibn Isl}aq's quotation against Christian texts,
rather than against his own Islamic understanding of what the uncor-
rupted Gospel must have said in this instance.
16.1, 'So that you may not be in doubt.'
The Christian Palestinian Aramaic Gospel lectionary, along with the
original Greek, says, 'So that you might not be tripped up,' that is to
say, 'scandalized,' as the expression has universally been interpreted in
Christian circles. Ibn Isl}aq has simply supplied an easily understood
Islamic phrase here, the recognition of which removes the necessity to
follow Guillaume in his search for dialectical understandings of the root
sh-k-k to mean 'to limp,' or 'to fall.'50 In the Qur'an, the people to
whom prophets were sent, who have spoken against their prophets, are
often said to be 'ji shakkin ... mur'ibin,' i.e., 'in suspicious doubt,' as were
the people to whom was sent (Q XI.62), the people to whom
Moses was sent (QXI.IIO), and even the people to whom Muhammad
was sent (Q XXXIV.54). Ibn Isl}aq's Islamic understanding of John
48 Western scholars have long attempted to interpret AlJmad as a reflection of the
Greek term parakletos misread as periklutos. See, e.g., Theodor Noldeke, Geschichte des
Qgrans, 2
ed. (Leipzig: F. Schwally, 1909), I, 9, n. I. In all probability the Qur'an
passage makes no allusion to any particular Gospel passage. As for the relationship
between al-MunaMmiind and Mul;tammadl Al;tmad, one scholar has proposed that 'this
identification is based only on the assonance between the Aramaic word and the
name Muhammad, and seems to have been suggested by Christian converts to Islam.'
J. Schacht, 'AJ::unad,' Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., I, 267.
49 Baumstark, 206-207.
50 Guillaume, 'The Version of the Gospels,' 295.
16.1 is therefore easily intelligible, as are the apologetic reasons why
he searched out this whole passage from the Gospel according to St.
John and quoted it in his 'Islamicized' version.
It only remains to ask: where did Ibn Isqaq get the passage from the
Gospel according to John that he quoted in the 'Islamicized' way that
we have described? There are few mentions of Arabic Bible translations
in early Islamic sources.
As Baumstark, Guillaume and others have
shown, in spite of Ibn Isqaq's 'corrections,' in its text type the passage
from John 15.23-16.1 as he presented it is clearly related to the form
of the text found among Christians only in the Christian Palestinian
Gospel Lectionary. But the question is, did Ibn Isqaq himself translate
it from an Aramaic copy of this lectionary, or did he find it already
translated into Arabic, perhaps in pre-Islamic times,52 and all he had
to do was to 'correct' it? Alternatively, did Ibn Isqaq have an Arabic-
speaking Christian informant who furnished him with the text, allowing
him to adjust it in Arabic to suit his own Islamic understanding of the
proper meaning? These are questions to which it is difficult to provide
any definitive answers, and they come up in connection with almost all
of the quotations from the Christian Bible to be found in the works of
Muslim writers. But in Ibn Isqaq's case there are two bits of evidence
to indicate that he was aware of the Aramaic/Syriac provenance of
51 Waraqah ibn Nawfal, a Christian, and a cousin of Muhammad's wife, was re-
membered for his knowledge of the Gospel, and for the fact that he copied it in
Arabic/Aramaic. See Griffith, 'The Gospel in Arabic,' 144-149. Among the early
Muslims Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. 732) was renowned for his knowledge of the Bible.
See RG. Khoury, Wahb ibn Munabbih; idem, 'Quelques reflexions.' There is a report
in the Fihrist of Ibn an-Namm that one A4mad ibn 'Abd Allah ibn Salam translated
the Torah, the Gospel, and the books of the prophets and disciples into Arabic from
Hebrew, Greek, and Sabaean in the time of the caliph Harlin ar-Rashid (786--809),
and that it was available in the library of the caliph al-Ma'mlin (813-833). See Bayard
Dodge, The Fihrist if al-Nadzm (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970), II, 945; I,
42. Converts to Islam from Judaism and Christianity in the early period are also likely
sources of Biblical knowledge among the Muslims, as well as non-Muslim informants
from these same communities. See R.G. Khoury, 'Quelques refiexions sur la premiere
ou les premieres bibles arabes,' in T. Fahd, EArabie preislamique et son environnement
historique et culturel, Actes du Colloque de Strasbourg, 24-27 juin 1987 (Leiden: Brill,
52 There is currently no reliable documentary evidence for the translation of any
part of the Bible into Arabic in pre-Islamic times. See Griffith, 'The Gospel in Arabic.'
See also Irfan Shahid, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century (Washington, DC:
Dumbarton Oaks, 1984), 435-443; idem, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fifth Century
(Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1989), 422-429; Khoury, 'Quelques refiexions sur
la premiere ou les premieres bibles arabes.'
the passage he quoted. In the first place, in his version of John 15:25,
'They have hated me for nothing (majjiinan), i.e., in vain (biitilan),'53 Ibn
Isi).aq provided an Arabic gloss (biitilan) for the enigmatic Aramaic word
(maggiin) that he transcribes into Arabic as majjiinan. It is the Aramaic
word that actually appears in this passage in the Christian Palestinian
Aramaic Lectionary.54 Secondly, at the end of his quotation Ibn Isi).aq
says, 'al-MunaMmiind in Syriac (bis-siryiiniyyah) is Muhammad.'55
Ibn Isi).aq, like many Muslim writers after him in the early Islamic
period, actively searched out a Biblical passage that would help him
argue more persuasively, on the authority of the scriptures, that Mu-
hammad was a true prophet. Other Muslim writers, such as al-Ya'qubi
and Ibn Qutaybah, also quoted the Bible to reinforce the distinctive
Islamic prophetology that was in the process of elaboration in their
days. 56 Others, such as Rabban at-Tabari,57 al-Qasim ibn Ibrahim,58
'Abd al:Jabbar,59 and even al-Ghazali,60 quoted the scriptures to dis-
prove Christian doctrinal claims. While still others, most notably Ibn
I:Iazm in the early period,61 quoted the Bible to demonstrate what they
argued was its manifest textual corruption and falsification. In most
53 Ibn Hisham, Sirat an-nabz, I, 251; Wiistenfeld, 149.
54 Lewis & Gibson, The Palestinian Syriac Lectionary, 24 & 187.
55 Ibn Hisham, Sirat an-nabz, I, 251; Wiistenfeld, 150.
56 See nn. 14 & 15 above.
57 Rabban at-Tabari (d. c. 850) was a Christian convert to Islam. He quoted liberally
from the Bible to prove the authenticity of Muhammad's prophethood and the veracity
ofIslamic teachings. See A. Mingana, The Book if Religion and Empire (Manchester, 1922);
idem, Kitab ad-din wa-dawlah (Cairo, 1923). A considerable amount of controversy sur-
rounded the edition of this work. See now David Thomas, 'Tabari's Book of Religion
and Empire,' Bulletin if the John Rylands Library 69 (1986), 1-7.
58 Al-Qasim also quoted fairly accurately from the Bible to refute Christian claims.
See I. Di Matteo, 'Confutazione contro i Cristiani dello Zaydita al-Qasim b. IbrahIm,'
Rivista degli Studi Orientali 9 (1921-1922):301-304. See also W Madelung, Der Imam al-
Qflsim ibn Ibrahzm und die Glaubeslehre der Zaiditen (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1965); idem, 'Al-
Qasim ibn ibrahim and Christian Theology,' ARAM 3 (1991):35-44.
59 See S. Stern, 'Quotations from Apocryphal Gospels in 'Abd al-Jabbar,' Journal
if Theological Studies 18 (1967):34-57; idem, "Abd al:Jabbar's Account of How Christ's
Religion Was Falsified by the Adoption of Roman Customs,' Journal if Theological Studies
19 (1968), 128-185; S. Pines, 'Gospel Quotations and Cognate Topics in 'Abd al-Jabbar's
Tathbzt,' Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 9 (1987):195-278.
60 See n. 20 above. A refutation of the Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ
based on the Gospels is attributed to al-Ghazali. See R. Chidiac, ed. & trans., Al-
GhazZalz, RifUtation excellente de la divinite de Jesus-Christ d'apres les Evangiles (Paris: Leroux,
1939). The authenticity of the work is challenged in Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, Studies in al-
Ghazzalz(Jerusalem, 1975), appendix A.
61 See n. 21 above.
of these cases the same processes of 'Biblicization' and 'Islamicization'
can also be observed, to a greater or lesser extent. And in all of these
instances the same, seemingly unanswerable questions can be raised
about the provenance of the Biblical texts. In the ensemble they all also
testifY to the importance of 'arguing from scripture' for Muslim reli-
gious writers in the early Islamic period. They posed a challenge to
which the Arab Christian writers of the same period responded.
III. Jesus Christ, 'Lord qf the Worlds'
While most Christian apologetic and polemical literature in the early
Islamic milieu presented arguments from reason in defense of Christian
faith, after the manner of the 'ilm al-kaliim cultivated among the Mus-
lims themselves, nevertheless the texts often also included arguments
from scripture. An interesting feature in a number of these works is
that in addition to claiming the authority of the Bible for the positions
they espouse, some Christian writers also laid claim to the authority
of the Qur'an, both in support of the veracity of Christian doctrines,
and to plead for the positive regard of the Muslim authorities toward
Christian beliefs and practices.
Some writers went so far as to argue
that the 'canonical' text of the Qur'an, as the Muslims now have it,
has been distorted, and that the original, true Qur'an actually pro-
moted Christianity.63 But for the most part Christian controversialists
engaged in 'arguing from scripture' in the conventional manner of their
predecessors in pre-Islamic times, with this difference, that now they
were required to counter the Biblical claims made by Muslim writers.
Whereas Muslims normally claimed the authority of the scriptures in
behalf of the true prophethood of Muhammad, and against the divinity
of Jesus, Christians most often used the Bible to defend their doctrine
of the divinity of Christ, and their contention that Christianity is the
only true religion. They often did so within the framework of what
62 See Sidney H. Griffith, 'The Qur'an in Arab Christian Texts; the Development of
an Apologetical Argument: Abu Qurrah in the Majlis of al-Ma'mun,' Parole de l'Orient
24 (1999): 203-233.
63 See Sidney H. Griffith, 'MuJ::tammad and the Monk BaJ:rira: Reflections on a
Syriac and Arabic Text from Early Abbasid Times,' Oriens Christianus 79 (1995):146-174;
Barbara Roggema, 'A Christian Reading of the Qur'an: the Legend of Sergius-BaJ::tira
and its Use of Qur'an and Sirah,' in David Thomas, ed., Syrian Christians under Islam:
The First Thousand Years (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 57-73.
one might call the Qur'an's prophetology. That is to say, in the Islamic
milieu, Christ is presented by Christian apologists as the son of God,
whose scripture and message is superior to those of any other prophetic
claimant. This was clearly the structure in Theodore Abu Qurrah's
(c. 755-C. 830) Arabic treatise, 'On the Existence of the Creator and
the True Religion,'64 as well as in his treatise, 'On the Authority of the
Mosaic Law, and the Gospel, and on the Orthodox Faith. '65
Theodore Abu Qurrah enunciated the following principle regarding
the authority of the Bible for Christians in the Islamic milieu. He wrote,
Christianity is simply faith in the Gospel and its appendices,66 and the
Law of Moses and the books of the prophets in between. Every intelli-
gent person must believe in what these books we have mentioned say,
and acknowledge its truth and act on it, whether his own understanding
reaches it or not.
It is relevant to the Islamic milieu in which he wrote that Abu Qurrah
here presents the Bible succinctly by reference simply to the Gospel
and its appendices, and the Torah, along with the prophets between
it and the Gospel; the Qur'an refers to the Bible simply as 'the Torah
and the Gospel' (Q III.48; Y.IIO). What is more, as if in response to
the Qur'an's admonition to the 'People of the Gospel' to make their
religious judgements in accordance with what God sent down to them
(Q Y.47), Abu Qurrah further says, 'Were it not for the Gospel, we
would not have acknowledged Moses to be from God. . .. Likewise, we
acknowledge the prophets to be from God because of the Gospel.'68
And for Abu Qurrah the principal teaching of the Gospel is that Jesus
Christ is the son of God and Christianity is the true religion. In one
place he bundles together in the following sequence, verses from John
64 See Sidney H. Griffith, 'Faith and Reason in Christian Kaliim: Theodore Abu
Qurrah on Discerning the True Religion,' in Samir Khalil Samir &Jorgen S. Nielsen,
eds., Christian Arabic Apologetics during the 'Abbiisid Period (750-I258) (Leiden: Brill, 1994),
65 See Sidney H. Griffith, 'Muslims and Church Councils; the Apology of Theodore
Abu Qurrah,' in Elizabeth A. Livingstone, ed., Studia Patristica (Leuven: Peeters, 1993),
XXv, 270-299.
66 By the Gospel's 'appendices Uawiibi'ihz), Abu Qurrah means the New Testament
books, Acts to Revelations, which follow the Gospel according to the four evangelists.
Similarly, the prophets who come 'in between,' as he says in the next phrase, refer to all
the Septuagint books from Joshua to Malachi, which follow the Torah.
67 Constantin Bacha, Les oeuvres arabes de Theodore Aboucara, eveque d'Haran (Beyrouth,
68 Louis Cheikho, 'l'vfimar li-Tadurus Abj Qurrah fi wujud al-khaliq wa-al-dln al-
qawlm,' al-Machriq 15 (1912):837-
20.21, Matthew 28.19-20, John 11.25, John 3.18, and Mark 16.19-20,
to argue that all the peoples of the world have rallied to the truth of
Christianity He wrote as follows:
The verification of the truth of our position is that in the pure Gospel
Christ said to his disciples: 'As my father has sent me' (In. 20.21) to you,
'go to all peoples, make them disciples and baptize them in the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teach them
to keep everything which I have commanded you. And behold, I am
with you all days to the end of the world.' (Mt. 28.19-20) 'Whoever
believes shall live (In. 1I.25) and whoever does not believe is defeated
and abandoned.' (In. 3.18) And after Jesus spoke to them he ascended
into the sky and took his seat at the right hand of the Father, and they
went forth and preached in every place, while the Lord helped them
and confirmed their preaching with the signs and wonders which they
worked (Mk. 16.19-20) and because ofthese all the nations (cf. Mt. 28.19)
accepted them.
These quotations from the Arabic works of Theodore Abu Qurrah may
suffice to show in a general way the importance of 'arguing from the
scriptures,' and specifically from the Gospel, for Christians engaged in
dialogue with Muslims in the early Islamic period. Similar points could
be made from the works of other, contemporary Christian writers in
Arabic. But now, it will be more useful to examine the place of the
scriptures in a single Christian apologetic work from the late ninth
century, to show how the author shapes his interpretations to respond
to challenges coming largely from Muslims, who used many of the
same Biblical texts he discusses to support their own claims about
Muhammad, or to demonstrate the Islamic view ofthe mission of Jesus
The text was called by its author the Summary if the ~ s if Faith in
the Trinity if the Unity if God and in the Incarnation if God the Word from
the Pure Virgin Mary.70 In many ways it is the most exciting single work
69 Cheikho, 'Mimar li-Tadurus Abi Qurrah,' 840.
70 To date this text has not yet been published. It is available in its entirety in
London, British Library; MS Or. 4950, a text written in the year 877 by Stephen of
Ramleh. See Khalil Samir, 'Date de composition de la "Somme des aspects de la foi",'
Orientalia Christiana Periodica 51 (1985):352-387; idem, 'La "Somme des aspects de la foi",
oeuvre d'Abil Qurrah,' and Sidney H. Griffith, 'A Ninth Century Summa Theologiae
Arabica,' in Khalil Samir, ed., Actes du deuxieme congres international d'itudes arabes chritiennes
Orientalia Christiana Analecta 226 (Rome: Pontifical Institute of Oriental Studies,
1986), 93-121, 123-141; Sidney H. Griffith, 'Islam and the Summa Theologiae Arabica;
Rabi'I, 264 A.H.,' Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 13 (1990):225-264; Mark Swanson,
'Some Considerations for the Dating of Fi tathlzth Allah al-wiil}id (Sin. ar. 154) and
of Christian theology to be written in Arabic in the ninth century. It
stands complete in twenty-five chapters. In spite of its title, the Summary
rif the Ways rif Faith is not confined simply to a discussion of the doctrines
of the Trinity and the Incarnation. The subject matter of the chapters
ranges from definitions of highly technical theological terms to an Ara-
bic version of the conciliar and other canons governing the everyday
life of the church. There are chapters that include long lists of scrip-
tural testimonies to the Christian view of Christ's economy of salvation
as well as discussions of the proper manner of interpreting the Bible.
Distinctive features of the Summary are its obvious accommodation to
the religious diction of Muslims and the attention paid to answering
typically Islamic objections to Christian doctrines, as well as its recom-
mendations for appropriate Christian behavior in the world of Islam.
Throughout the work the author regularly appropriates for Christ, one
of the Qur'an's most exclusive epithets for God, 'Lord of the Worlds
(rabb al- 'alam'in)' (e.g., QI.2).
Two chapters in the Summary rif the Wqys rif Faith are devoted partic-
ularly to the Bible. The first of them, Chapter XIII, is a collection of
scriptural testimonies from the Old Testament and the New Testament,
presented by the author as attesting 'that Jesus the Messiah is God and
the Son of God, the one who precedes the worlds, by means of whom
and whose hand there is all that has come to be and all being. '71 The
outline and general program of the chapter is comparable to Theodore
Abu Qurrah's Arabic treatise, 'On the Authority of the Mosaic Law,
and the Gospel, and the Orthodox Faith,' mentioned above.72 The sec-
ond one is Chapter XVII/3 which is a collection of scholia on passages
from the Gospel relating to sayings attributed to Christ, or to particular
events in the life of Christ. It will be the focus of our special attention.
Chapter XVII is composed of thirty-three questions and answers
about as many passages from the Gospel. The author says at the outset
that the trouble in most instances has to do with the passages in ques-
tion being taken out of context. Meaningfully, he goes on to suggest
that the appropriate context is the larger, interpretive one of Christol-
wuffiih al-lmiin (BL Or. 4950),' in Samir Khalil Samir, ed., Actes du 4e congres
international d'etudes arabes chritiennes Parole de l'Orient 18 (Kaslik: Universite Saint-Esprit
1993), II5-141; Sidney H. Griffith, 'Arab Christian Culture in the Early Abbasid Period,'
Bulletin qfthe Royal Institutefor Inter-Faith Studies 1(1999):25-44.
71 BL MS Or. 4950, fo1. 76r. The full chapter is included on fols. 54"-76r.
72 See n. 65 above.
73 BL MS Or. 4950, fols. 96'-II4r.
ogy. He explains that difficulties arise when one hears 'Christ our Lord'
in the Gospel describing himself as God the Father's 'messenger' (rasil0,
when in fact he is himself God and the 'son of God.' The confusion
arises, the author says, when one fails to understand that in Christ God
took on human flesh out of compassion for human beings, to approach
them on their own level. And the author further reminds the reader
that on one occasion when the Jews wanted to stone Christ they said
they would do so 'because you make yourself equal with God; whereas
you are only a man of flesh' an. ro.3I-33). The author points out that
Christ never denied the allegation.
Right from this modest beginning, the reader is alerted to the fact
that the author is responding to what he regards as misguided readings
of the Gospel text in the Islamic milieu in which he lives. Several
times in this short, prefatory paragraph he mentions the Arabic word
rasill ('messenger'), the very term that the Qur'an uses when it insists
that jesus, son of Mary, is but a messenger of God' (Q IVI7I). Arab
Christian writers seldom if ever used this term to describe Christ; they
often used it for Christ's apostles. Moreover, the device of suggesting
that an essentially Islamic charge against the Christian view of Christ
is a Jewish one was a well-known ploy in Arab Christian texts in the
early Islamic period.
Writers such as the author of the Summary if
the Ways if Faith normally refer to Islam, the Qur'an, or the prophet
Muhammad only obliquely. One discerns the unmistakable references
and allusions to Islamic teachings or to Islamic, anti-Christian views
only in the distinctly Islamic, often Qur'anic vocabulary in which they
are phrased. 75
Many of the Gospel passages that the author of the Summary if the
Wqys if Faith discusses in chapter XVII are in fact the very ones that are
to be found quoted in Islamic refutations of the Christians. For the most
part they are sayings of Jesus recorded in the Gospel, mostly in the holy
Gospel according to St. John, that on the face of it bespeak his com-
plete humanity, even his creatureliness. The author explains in each
instance how he thinks they should properly be interpreted, consistent
with the church's teachings about the divinity and humanity of Christ.
A notable feature of the author's explanations of these passages is his
claim that they show Christ assuming a demeanor far inferior to his
74 See Sidney H. Griffith, Jews and Muslims in Christian Syriac and Arabic Texts
of the Ninth Century,' Jewish History 3 (1988):65-94.
75 In this connection see Griffith, 'Islam and the Summa Theologiae Arabica.'
rightful divinity out of love and compassion for the people with whom
he was interacting. Therefore, they cannot be interpreted to deny or
disavow his divinity. A few examples will serve to make the point more
It appears that the scholia in chapter XVII are addressed to Christian
readers; the author speaks of someone who is 'weak' (rja'if), who has
a question 'about our Lord, the Messiah's saying,' and he begins the
reply with the phrase, 'With the help of our Lord, the Messiah, we
say.'76 For example, in the first question, the 'weak' one asks about our
Lord's saying, 'My coming down from heaven was so that I might do
the will of the one who sent me' an. 6.38). In the reply the author
points out that no messenger, prophet, nor any human being except
Jesus has been sent down from heaven, and he is the 'messenger' (rasiil)
of his Father, with whom he is one in being. Therefore, the questioner
need not be baffled; 'The one coming down from heaven was true God,
who isJesus the Messiah, to whom be worship and praise forever.'77
Several times, when in the Gospel passage in question Jesus may
seem in his speech to claim a subordinate or creaturely position for
himself, beneath what Christian teaching claims for him, the author
reaffirms the teaching and then explains thatJesus' words were spoken
'out of courtesy on his part and in deference to his hearers.' An exam-
ple is Jesus' saying in John 5.19, 'The son cannot do anything on his
own, but only what he sees his father doing. '78 In this same context the
author then has Jesus say, 'You maintain that I have contrived a fabri-
cation (iftirii') because I said I am the son of God. If I have not done
the works of my Father, do not believe in me; if I have done his works
believe in me.' (C In. 10.36-38.)79 The Islamic flavor of the objection
betrays itself in the author's appropriation of the Qur'an's expression,
'to contrive a fabrication' (iftirii) in this connection.
In regard to the saying of Christ on the cross, reported in Mt. 27.46,
'My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?,' the author wrote as
At that time people were abandoned and their souls were in error, and
they had no means, nor any understanding by which to be guided to
76 BL MS Or. 4950, fo1. 96v.
77 BL MS Or. 4950, fols. 96v--97'.
78 BL MS Or. 4950, fo1. 97v.
79 BL MS Or. 4950, fo1. 98'. The Qur'an uses the verb iftirii' fourteen times in
the sense of 'contriving a fabrication' by inventing a falsehood against God, such as
ascribing a partner to him. See esp. Q4.48 & 6.21.
how to make an appeal or an entreaty to their creator for his good favor
toward them. So Christ our Lord became a human being and served
in every way in which servants used to serve their lords. And in his
manhood he spoke in behalf of manhood what was necessary for them.
So he said, 'My God, my God, why did you abandon me?' He did not
say this on his own behalf, but on behalf of the people who were left in
. their error .... I do not think that anyone of the believers would maintain
that the divinity of the Messiah withdrew from his humanity, neither on
the cross nor in the tomb, since it was united with it in the pure womb
of Mary: It never withdrew. Our Lord the Messiah's saying, 'My God,
my God, why have you abandoned me?' was in behalf of the people who
were disregarded, abandoned in their error because of their sins, and not
in behalf of himself To him be power and praise, and to his Father and
his Spirit forever, Amen!80
In this passage, the author is obviously responding to an opponent
who rejects the divinity of Christ on the basis of his own sayings as
recorded in the Gospel, the very method of the Muslim polemicists of
the early Islamic period. There is one verse in particular, John 20.17,
that in this same manner is the most often quoted Gospel verse in the
Christian/Muslim discourse of this period. The full text of the verse
is as follows; it reports what Jesus said to Mary of Magdala when she
encountered him after his resurrection: Jesus said to her, 'Do not touch
me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers
and tell them, "I am going to my father and your father, to my God
and your God.'" Martin Accad has shown that whereas in pre-Islamic
Biblical commentaries, Christian authors most often were concerned
with the first part of the verse; in the Islamic milieu it was inevitably
the second part that most often attracted their attention, because it was
cited by Muslims in support of their views about Jesus Christ.
It is
for this reason that the author of the Summary if the Wqys if Faith also
discusses the second part of the verse: 'I am going up to my father and
your father, my God and your God.'82
In the first place, the author makes the general affirmation that
Christ's description of himself in terms of his divine and human 'prop-
erties' (khawag) are both relative to his person s h a k h ~ ) and to his nature
(kunh). He goes on to invoke a favorite analogy that he uses elsewhere
in the same chapter, according to which he likens God's beneficence
in the Incarnation of his Son to a king who calls his servants his sons,
80 BL MS Or. 4950, [ols. 103'&v.
81 See Accad's work cited in n. 29 above.
82 BL MS Or. 4950, [ols. 105'&v.
while the servants themselves call the son their brother, without there
being any real doubt about the true identity of either father or son. So,
he explains, in the case of Jesus saying, 'I am going up to my father
and your father, my God and your God,' the phrase 'my God' is used
by Christ in virtue of his humanity and his brotherhood with his fellow
men. Therefore, 'it is no more reprehensible a saying than his descrip-
tion of his divinity as coming down from heaven into a created body,
or into bread to be eaten, as in his saying, "I am the living bread come
down from heaven. Whoever eats of it will not die" Gn. 6.51).'83 The
point the author wants to make clear is that Christ's words in John
20:17 cannot rightly be interpreted as a Gospel testimony in favor ofthe
Islamic contention that Christ is not truly the son of God, and hence
not divine, but only God's 'messenger' (rasu0. Rather, as the author
has shown before, it is one more instance of Christ speaking of himself
in human terms, in virtue of his Incarnation, out of consideration for
those who believe in him. On the other hand, the author concedes in
another place that because of Christ's birth from Mary in the flesh he
can also truly be called the 'son of Mary'84 (c QII.87), as the Qur'an
in fact calls him sixteen times.
An especially interesting case is provided by the author's discussion
of Jesus' saying in Luke 23.34: 'Father forgive them for they know not
what they are doing.' The author explains that with these words the
Lord meant to forgive the Romans, who did not know what they were
really doing when they crucified him. As for the Jews, the text says that
they were the guilty ones and that their guilt was unforgivable. Here is
how the author put it:
As for the Jews, they knew; they acted knowingly, out of their desire to
harm him and their jealousy of him, to make killing him inevitable. They
were killers even though they did not have the authority to kill him.
According to what our Lord, the Messiah, said to Pilate, 'The one who
handed me over to you has the greater sin' (In. Ig.Il) ... He had already
determined in regard to the Jews that he would never forgive them,
neither in this age nor in the next age (c Mt. 12.32) because they said it
was by the chief of satans he was driving out satans (c Mt. 12.24).85
On the face of it this passage could be seen as an expression of the
customary Christian, anti-Jewish animus of the time and place. But in
83 BL MS Or. 4950, fo1. 105
84 See BL MS Or. 4950, fo1. 107
85 BL MS Or. 4950, fols. liar-v.
the Islamic context there is another, anti-Islamic dimension to it.
also rebuts the claim in the Qur'an that the Jews neither killed nor
crucified Jesus. In the context of the preceding verses, the Qur'an is
listing the infidelities of the Jews, here calling them 'People of the Book.'
Among them is 'their saying, "We killed Christ Jesus, the son of Mary,
the messenger of God.'" The Qur'an goes on to say, 'They did not
kill him, nor did they crucify him. It only seemed so to them. Those
who differ about it are surely in doubt about it. They do not have any
knowledge about it, other than the following of opinion. They most
certainly did not kill him' (Q IVI57).87 While, on the one hand, the
Qur'an had its own reasons for denying that the Jews killed Christ,
the exculpation of the Jews in the affair was not among them, as the
context makes clear. The author of the Summary if the Wqys if Faith, on
the other hand, would have had at least two reasons to reaffirm the
charge that the Jews did in fact kill Christ. The first would have been
to reaffirm a traditional Christian charge against the Jews; the second
would surely have been to rebut the Qur'an's claim that the Jews did
not kill Christ.
There are some especially interesting passages at the end of chapter
XVII of the Summary if the Wqys if Faith about the character of the
Gospel, which was itself a point of contention between Christians and
Muslims. In the Islamic view, the Gospel was a scripture that had 'come
down' (nazala) from God to Jesus, in the same way that the Torah
had 'come down' from God to Moses, and the Qur'an had 'come
down' from God to Muhammad. The author of the Summary if the
Wqys if Faith supplied the Christian view of this matter, starting with
his answer to the question about why the coming of the Holy Spirit
was postponed until ten days after Christ's ascension into heaven. He
completed it with his answer to the final question in the chapter, about
why there are four Gospels, and not twelve or seventy of them, or not
just one.
As for the question about the delay in the coming of the Holy Spirit,
the author explained that it was so that the Gospel, which is the new
86 On the anti-Islamic dimension of much of the anti:Jewish language in Arab
Christian texts in the early period see Griffith, jews and Muslims.'
87 There is much commentary on this difficult verse in Islamic tcifsir literature. The
general consensus seems to be that the text is to be taken to mean, among other things,
that Jesus did not in fact die by crucifixion. See Mahmoud Ayyoub, 'Towards an Islamic
Christology, 2: the Death of Jesus-Reality or Illusion?' The Muslim World 70 (1980),
pp. 91- 121.
law, would come on the same day as the old law. His answer to this
question therefore stresses that the Gospel is one scripture, like the
Torah. He put it as follows:
Then the Spirit descended early in the morning onto the apostles (ar-
rusu!) on the feast day of the Jews called 'Pentecost' (al- 'aTl.!arah)88 as an
accommodation on God's part, so men could hear a new prophecy in
different languages among a people whose speech was Hebrew. This
would summon them to acknowledge the one producing this [phenome-
non] among them.
So the coming down ofthe new law (nu::;ill an-niimils
which is the Gospel, came about on the fiftieth day, just like the
day on which the Torah, the old law (an-niimils al- 'atfq), had come down,
so that on this account one might come to the conclusion that the Lord
(rabb) of the two of them is one and the same. The one speaking in the
first instance, on the Hebrew tongue of Moses, was the very one speaking
in the latter instance on the tongues of his apostles in different languages.
It was for this reason that the Spirit waited ten days after our Lord the
Messiah's ascension into heaven.
One readily recognizes in this passage how the author adopts Qur'anic
terms to speak about the 'coming down' of the Torah and the Gospel.
The one fulfills and supplants the other, 'coming down,' as the author
says, on the fiftieth day, 'Pentecost,' just like the Torah before it.
This neat, chronological symmetry implicidy excludes the Qur'an from
serious consideration as a revelation from God. What is more, the
author borrows a theme from the current apologetic strategies of Arab
Christian writers in his day by emphasizing the fact that whereas the
Torah was in Hebrew, the Christian Gospel is in many languages,
congruent with its universal mission to bring the truth to all peoples in
their own languages.
Nevertheless, the Gospel itself is one, guaranteed
88 This Arabic term derives from the Rabbinic Hebrew name for the feast,
generally translated as 'solemn assembly' or 'feast.' See Georg Graf, Verzeichnis arabischer
kirchlicher Termini CSCO 15T80 (Louvain: Imprimerie Orientaliste, 1954).
89 The author probably means to refer to Jesus by this phrase, 'the one produc-
ing this phenomenon' bihim dhiilika), since according to John 15.26 Jesus had
promised that after going to the Father he would send the Holy Spirit from the Father.
90 BL MS Or. 4950, fo1. II3
91 The Jewish feast of Weeks, Shavu'ot, in Rabbinic times celebrated the giving of
the Torah at Sinai. It was called 'Pentecost' in Greek because it commemorated the
theophany at Sinai, which was calculated to have occurred on the 50th day after
the Exodus. See LouisJacobs, 'Shavuot,' in The EnryclopaediaJudaica (Jerusalem: Keter,
1971), XIv, cols. 1319-1322.
92 This reasoning is also used to exclude the Qur'an from credibility. See Sidney
H. Griffith, 'Comparative Religion in the Apologetics of the First Christian Arabic
Theologians,' Proceedings if the Patristic, Medieval & Renaissance Co1?ftrence 4 (1979):63-87.
by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And this point brings up the final
question the author addresses in chapter XVII of the Summary if the
Wtrys if Faith, why then are there just four written Gospels rather than
more of them, or, alternatively, why would there not be just one of
The author's answer to the question about the rationale for the four
written Gospels evokes the requirement inJewish law (Deut. 17.6; and
Islamic law, QII.282) for two witnesses to verify a claim to the truth in
a legal proceeding. He says there are two written Gospels to testifY to
Christ's divinity, and two to testify to his humanity. He puts it this way:
We say that the four who committed themselves to writing the Gospel
were four witnesses to the two states of our Lord the Messiah; two
witnesses for his divinity, and two witnesses for his humanity, as was
acceptable among the sons of Israel. The first of the two witnesses to
his humanity was Matthew, in his saying in the beginning of his Gospel,
'The book of the coming to be of Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David,
the son of Abraham, the son ofIsaac, the son of Jacob, the son of Judah,
etc.' (Mt. I.I-2). The second of the witnesses to his humanity is Luke,
according to whom he (i.e., Christ) was, as they would think, the son
of so and so, the son of so and so, going back to Adam (c Lk. 3.23-
38). The first of the two witnesses to his divinity is Mark, in his saying
at the head of his Gospel, 'The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus the
Messiah, the son of God' (Mk. r.r). From the Father one reasons to the
Son; the Father is God, therefore the Son is God, true God from true
God. The second of the witnesses to his divinity is John, in his saying in
the beginning of his Gospel, 'In the beginning there was ever the Word,
and the Word was ever with God, and God was ever the Word' (Tn. r.r).
So the four writers of the Gospel are four witnesses to the two states of
our Lord the Messiah, two witnesses for his humanity, and two witnesses
for his divinity, to him be glory and power, and to his Father and his
Spirit, forever and ever, Amen!93
From just the quick survey we have been able to include here, it is clear
that in chapter XVII the author of the Summary if the Wtrys if Faith has
first of all undertaken to provide a reasonable defense for the Chris-
tian interpretation of those passages of the Gospels most often cited by
Muslim polemicists in the early Islamic period, in their efforts to argue
from scripture in refutation of the doctrines of the Christians. In addi-
tion, the author has also taken the opportunity this exercise provided to
present further arguments from scripture in behalf of Christian tenets
often challenged in his day by Muslims. He did this, according to his
93 BL MS Or. 4950, [ols. II 3LII4r.
practice in the whole book, without explicitly mentioning the Muslims.
He referred to them, and their beliefs and practices, only obliquely, by
way of his use of the diction of the Qur'an and other Islamic, technical
terminology in Arabic. The primary audience for his work would have
been the Arabophone Christian community among whom he lived,
who would have had a need to know that there were adequate Chris-
tian responses to the religious challenges customarily posed to them by
Muslims. Primary among them would have been the conundrums of
the Gospels themselves.
Iv. Christians and Muslims Arguingfrom Scripture
In a way the whole Christian/Muslim encounter in the early Islamic
period could be characterized as a conflict over the proper under-
standing of the narratives in the scriptures. Here by way of pertinent
examples we have reviewed the way a Muslim author in the eighth
century authenticated the prophethood of Muhammad by appealing
to a passage in the Gospel according to St. John, suitably corrected
and 'Islamicized' according to the Qur'an's teachings about the gen-
uine Gospel. And we have examined how a Christian Arab writer of
the ninth century defended the Christian interpretation of Gospel pas-
sages that Muslims customarily cited in support of the Qur'an's teach-
ings about Jesus, son of Mary; he used them in turn to justify Christian
teachings. The two enterprises highlight from both the Islamic and the
Christian perspectives how 'arguing from scripture' actually functioned
in the Christian/Muslim encounter in the early Islamic period. Many
other examples could also have been studied, but hopefully these two
concrete instances will convey an accurate sense of how the Bible was
an important point of reference for both parties. Both Muslims and
Christians considered it to be an authority worth citing in support of
the veracity of their own, often mutually exclusive, religious allegations.
Nevertheless, as time went on, as we mentioned in the first part of
our study, Muslims became increasingly wary of the probative value of
passages cited from the Bible in the on-going, interreligious controver-
sies. They turned their attention more to the demonstration of what
they regarded as the 'falsification' and 'corruption' of the Bible, par-
ticularly the Gospels. From the twelfth century onward 'arguing from
scripture' became increasingly rare in Islamic texts. Nevertheless, the
principal figures in the Bible's narratives, Abraham, Joseph, Moses,
David, Solomon, Jesus and Mary, to name only the most popular of
them, continued to be prominent in Islamic religious discourse, most
notably in stories and legends in the ~ ~ al-anbiyii' and the Isrii'iliyyiit
texts that bear litde if any resemblance to the Bible's accounts of them. 94
In the late Middle Ages, somewhere in the Iberian peninsula, someone
even produced an 'Islamicizing' Gospel under the tide of the 'Gospel
of Barnabas' that presents the story of Jesus in a way that accords com-
pletely with the requirements of the Jesus ofthe Qur'an.
These later developments in the history of the Islamic approach
to the stories of the Biblical characters, diverging more and more
as they do from the actual Biblical narratives, suggest that between
Muslims and Christians the Bible came eventually to be not only a
point of convergence but a point of estrangement as well. Modern
Muslim controversialists often cite the work of present-day, western
Biblical scholars who employ the historical! critical method in their
studies, in support of the Islamic contention that the Gospels as the
Christians now have them are composite documents, far removed from
the Gospel that the Qur'an affirms.96 But the irony is that even today,
as in the Middle Ages, whether for polemic or irenic purposes, the
study of the Bible is still a major component in the Muslim/Christian
encounter. Nevertheless, for all this attention to the scriptures, it is
also true, as Hava Lazarus Yafeh wrote, that in the world of Islam,
Biblical 'exegesis never became a literary genre on its own, nor did it
ever play an important role in Muslim medieval theology. '97 And as she
94 This is true even in regard to Jesus, who remained a popular figure in Islam.
See Roger Arnaldez, Jesus,fils de Marie, prophete de l'Islam (Paris: Desclee, 1980); Kenneth
Cragg, Jesus and the Muslim: An Exploration (London: George, Allen & Unwin, 1985); Tarif
Khalidi, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 2001).
95 The text of this work was discovered in an Italian manuscript in Amsterdam in
1709. The modern scholarly consensus has it that the Gospel of Barnabas was com-
posed in the western Mediterranean world (Spain) in the 16th century. See J. Slomp,
'The Gospel in Dispute,' Islamochristiana 4 (1977):67-ll2; M. De Epalza, 'Le milieu
hispano-moresque de l'Evangile islamisant de Barnabe,' Islamochristiana 8 (1982):159-
183; R. Stichel, 'Bemerkungen zum Barnabas-Evangelium,' Byzantinoslavica 43 (1982):
189-201; D. Sox, The Gospel qf Barnabas (London: Allen & Unwin, 1984). Since being
translated into "Arabic early in the 20th century, the Gospel of Barnabas has been
widely acclaimed by some popular Muslim writers as a more authentic record of Jesus ,
life than is offered in the four canonical Gospels of the Christians. See Kate Zebiri,
Muslims and Christians Face to Face (Oxford: One World, 1997), especially 45-46, 50-71.
96 See, e.g., Hugh Goddard, Muslim Perceptions qf Christianity (London: Grey Seal,
1996), especially 59--g4.
97 Lazarus Yafeh, Intertwined ftOrlds, llO.
further wrote, 'Ibn J:Iazm's systematic scrutiny of the Bible text is a rare
scholarly achievement, unparalleled in medieval Arabic literature. '98
But as we have shown, from the early Islamic period onward it has
been important for Muslims to argue from scripture that Muhammad
was a prophet foretold and for Christians in the Islamic milieu to argue
from the same scriptures that Jesus the Messiah is Lord.
98 Lazarus Yafeh, Intertwined TMlrlds, 135.
In II4I and II42, within a year of each other, two men died who were
perhaps most representative of the intellectual climate in twelfth cen-
tury Europe, Hugh of St. Victor and Peter Abelard. Hugh of St. Vic-
tor has been seen as the mastermind behind the essentially contem-
plative program of learning at the abbey of St. Victor, a program that
sought to bridge the gap between scientia, Man's inquisitive intellectual
power, and sapientia, the human mind seeking God. By contrast, Peter
Abelard was the rebellious scholar, and perhaps the most innovative
rationalist philosopher of the twelfth century, whose motto 'Nothing
can be believed unless it is first understood' seemed to express a nearly
unlimited optimism in Man's capacity to rely on his own rational fac-
ulties. The two men stood at opposite ends of the spectrum in their
visions of how knowledge could transform theology. They also exem-
plify the contrasting ways in which later scholars have interpreted the
intellectual achievement of the twelfth century. The time in which they
lived was one of the most exciting and formative periods in medieval
Europe. It saw the formation of a multitude of religious orders and
reform movements and the rediscovery of Europe's classical heritage
and of the power of Reason. Charles Homer Haskins referred to it as
the 'renaissance of the twelfth century.' I In describing this renaissance,
scholars have traditionally emphasized the rationalistic and humanis-
tic outlook of scholars in this period, the renewed interest in ancient
and classical learning, and the expression of individualism. No surprise,
then, that Abelard has commonly received more attention in surveys of
the twelfth-century renaissance than Hugh. Scholars have also tended
to assume, from this narrow definition of the twelfth-century intellec-
tual achievement, that this renaissance was waning, if not past, by the
end of the century. Frederick Artz, for instance, saw the twelfth-century
renaissance as terminated by the rise of scholasticism:
I Charles Homer Haskins, The Renaissance qfthe Twelfih Century (New York: Meridian
Books, 1957).
The humanism of the twelfth century ( ... ) showed a new awareness of
this world, and, through this awareness, it came to understand better the
world of Greece and Rome. But this humanistic movement was cut short
by the growing interest in dialectical and theological studies stimulated
by the recovery of Greek and Arabic learning.
Even David Knowles, generally more sympathetic to the achievements
of Christian theology, states that by the end of the twelfth century,
'literary, philosophical, scholarly humanism was dead.'3
This narrow definition of the twelfth century, however, neglects some
important aspects of the intellectual achievement of this period. It over-
looks the encyclopaedic character of its learning, and, in emphasizing
the Classics, it tends to downplay the influence that Jews and Muslims
may have had on the formation of intellectual culture. In other words,
in focusing on Abelard, it forgets Hugh of St. Victor. Richard South-
ern has offered a more helpful paradigm for this period by coining the
label 'scholastic humanism'; in his unfinished trilogy Scholastic Humanism
and the Unification qf Europe, Southern offers a broader evaluation of the
twelfth-century renaissance and its humanism, which he sees as a more
lasting achievement. Central to twelfth-century renaissance humanism
were, in his view, an optimistic outlook and confidence in human facul-
ties; a belief in the knowability of the world and the redemptive power
of human knowledge (both of which may be labelled 'humanism'); the
discovery and recovery of a body of transforming knowledge (in which
the recovery of classical antiquity did playa role but not an exclusive
one); the systematization of this body of knowledge and the formation
of scholarly disciplines; and, finally, the transmission of this knowledge
to a wider audience of the lay community of Christendom.
This essay
will argue that this broader conception of scholastic humanism is par-
ticularly well-exemplified in the Biblical commentaries of Hugh's stu-
dent, Andrew of St. Victor. They show how texts were read, catego-
rized, used, re-used and disseminated in a newly emerging scholarly
milieu. Ultimately, it is there, and not in a superficial taste for antiqui-
ties, that we have to seek the real achievement of the twelfth-century
2 Frederick B. Artz, The Mind rif the Middle Ages (New York: Knopf, 1953), 433.
3 David Knowles, 'The Humanism of the Twelfth Century,' Studies: An Irish Qyarter[y
Review 30 (1941): 57-
4 Richard William Southern, Scholastic Humanism and the Unification rif Europe. vol. I:
Foundations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995),3-4.
Andrew of St. Victor was the key figure in Beryl Smalley's The
Study qf the Bible in the Middle Ages, and she found him one of the most
remarkable Biblical exegetes of the twelfth century. In II42, Andrew
was probably still a young man, possibly in his thirties; his date of
birth is unknown, but we know he died in II75, as the respected abbot
of the Victorine daughter foundation Wigmore Abbey, in England.
Together with his teacher Hugh, Andrew has been seen as the great
renovator in medieval exegesis, the exponent of the 'Victorine exegeti-
cal revolution' in Biblical interpretation. Smalley characterizes Andrew
in almost Abelardian terms. She calls him 'a humanist, with a taste for
antiquities' and an 'instinctive, unreasoning rationalist,' which would
place him comfortably within the more narrow definition of twelfth-
century humanism mentioned above. In Smalley's view, it was above
all Andrew's willingness to set aside theological judgement in his inter-
pretation of the scriptures, and to consult Jewish sources for the literal
interpretation of the Biblical text and incorporate them in his com-
mentaries, which reflected his rational qualities.
More recent schol-
arship has added critical footnotes to Smalley's lyrical assessment of
Andrew. In examining Andrew's commentary on the books of Samuel
and Kings, Avrom Saltman concludes that Andrew 'has hardly done
justice to himself, certainly not to his great reputation as an exponent
of literal exegesis.'6 William McKane observes that Andrew's Biblical
humanism lies not in his 'powers as a Hebraist,' nor his technical excel-
lence as an exegete, or even his 'plundering of the resources of Jewish
exegesis.' Still, McKane admits that he did make a new departure in
the search for the literal sense, 'determined by the cast of his own mind,
rather than a copying of Jewish exegetical methods.'7 Andrew's contri-
bution in Biblical scholarship was, indeed, more innovative in method-
5 Beryl Smalley, The Study if the Bible in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Blackwell,1983), 119
and 172, respectively. Cf. Beryl Smalley, 'Andrew of St. Victor, Abbot of Wigmore: A
Twelfth Century Hebraist,' Recherches de theologie ancienne et medievale IO (1938):363, where
she calls Andrew 'the Abailard of Biblical scholarship.' The term 'Victorine exegetical
revolution' was coined by Amos Funkenstein, Theology and the Scientific Imagination.from the
Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 55.
6 Avrom Saltman, 'Pseudo:Jerome in the Commentary of Andrew of St. Victor
on Samuel,' Harvard Theological Review 67 (1974): 216. Note that Saltman's assessment
is based on a mistaken analysis of the manuscript tradition of Andrew's commentary
on Samuel and Kings. Cf. Avrom Saltman, ed., Pseudo-Jerome, Qyaestiones on the Book if
Samuel, Studia Post-Biblica 26 (Leiden: EJ. Brill, 1975), 39-49
7 William McKane, Selected Christian Hebraists (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1989), 50.
ology than in content. The cast of his own mind may have determined
it, but, as I will show below, in this methodological innovation, he did
owe a great debt to Jewish exegetes.
The abbey of St. Victor, founded in 1108 by William of Champeaux,
had developed in the twelfth century into a prestigious center of spir-
itual learning. In the environment of the emerging schools at Paris,
which would eventually give birth to the University, the school of St.
Victor played an important role. Exegesis of the scriptures had a promi-
nent place in the school of St. Victor.
In the medieval exegetical theory;
scripture, and especially the Old Testament, was read not primarily for
its literal, but for its figurative meaning. In its figurative or allegorical
sense, the Old Testament was seen as a foreshadowing of the myster-
ies of the Christian faith contained in the New Testament. Not infre-
quently, this allegorical interpretation had a polemical, anti-judaizing
tone. But the problem with allegory; or figurative interpretation, is that,
unless one grounds exegesis in a fixed canon of traditional allegoriza-
tions, there is no clear hermeneutical principle to establish the meaning
of a certain text. If nothing means just what it says, everything can
mean anything. One project of twelfth-century exegesis was to estab-
lish just such an allegorical canon, in the standard gloss to the entire
Bible, the Glossa ordinaria. At the same time, the School of St. Victor
proposed a different solution to the hermeneutical impasse. Accord-
ing to Hugh of St. Victor, Andrew's teacher, all allegory should be
grounded in a clear understanding of the literal, or historical, mean-
ing of the text.
Andrew continued along the same path. He restricted
himself to the primary; literal meaning. Andrew wrote commentaries
on the literal sense of most books of the Old Testament. His com-
mentaries consisted mainly of translating the difficult Biblical idiom
into comprehensible Latin, and explicating the meaning of a text by
grammatical analysis. Where possible, he related the text to its con-
text and identified historical persons and places. When the meaning of
the text was obscure because of textual corruption, he improved the
8 See Jean Ch.tillon, 'La culture de l'ecole de Saint-Victor du XIIe siecle', in
Entretiens sur la renaissance du XII' siecle, eds. Maurice de Gandillac and EdouardJeauneau
(Paris: Mouton, 1968), 147-160.
9 Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon de studio legendi, ed. C.H. Buttimer (Washington,
DC: The Catholic University Press, 1939), 113-117- See also Michael A. Signer, 'God's
Love for Israel: Apologetic and Hermeneutical Strategies in Twelfth-Century Biblical
Exegesis,' in Jews and Christians in Twe1fih-Century Europe, eds. Michael A. Signer and
John Van Engen (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001), 126.
text by textual criticism. He avoided theological and allegorical inter-
pretation as much as possible.
Andrew's limitation to the literal sense of scripture was exceptional
and, in this sense, his exegesis was innovative, but if from this one
expects his commentaries to be highly original, one will be disap-
pointed; it turns out that they are, for the most part, excerpts from
either the Glossa ordinaria or from the fifth century Biblical commenta-
tor Jerome. Our modern disposition may associate intellectual renewal
with originality of thought, but this idea is distinctly modern and alien
to twelfth century practice. In one of the few instances in which An-
drew reflects on his own activities as an exegete, in his prologue to the
Prophets, he tells us that he regards himself as a collector of exegetical
opinions pertaining to the literal sense; his commentary was a compila-
tion of exegesis ad litteram:
I have collected together what is scattered and diffused through them
(i.e., commentaries and glossed books), pertaining to the historical sense,
and have concentrated it, as if it were into one corpus.1O
Andrew might actually give himself too much credit here for 'collecting
what was scattered.' His materials were not scattered that widely; as
I have shown elsewhere, in his commentaries on the Heptateuch and
Samuel and Kings, Andrew excerpted mainly one source, the Glossa
ordinaria. 11 The same is true for his commentaries on the Prophets
(four Major Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel; and the twelve
Minor Prophets), which were chiefly excerpted from Jerome often
through the Glossa ordinaria. His Daniel commentary relies so heavily
on Jerome that at chapter eleven, Andrew ends his commentary with
the words 'The rest that follows until the end of the work is so dili-
gently explained by St. Jerome that it might be superfluous to add
anything to it ... '12 He might have well said the same for his com-
mentary on the Twelve Prophets. For the last three prophets, Andrew's
commentary is merely an excerpt from Jerome. 13 But his activity as
10 Smalley, 123 (cf. p. 375, quoted from Paris, Bibliotheque Mazarine, MS 175,
fo!' 93
11 Frans van Liere, 'Andrew of St. Victor and the Gloss on Samuel and Kings,' in
Media Latinitas. A collection if essays to mark the occasion if the retirement if L.] Engels, eds.
R.I.A. Nip, H. van Dijk (Turnhout: Brepols, 1995), 249-253.
12 Andrew of St. Victor, Expositio super Danielem, ed., M.A. Zier, CCCM 53F (Turn-
hout: Brepols, 1990), 113.
13 The commentary is forthcoming in CCCM 53G (Turnhout: Brepols, 2006); I have
used here Stuttgart, Wiirtembergische Landesbibliothek, MS HB.Iv.6, 43'-89
an excerptor deserves closer attention. It may show us how Andrew
defined his own exegetical activity in relation to the work of the ancient
interpreter. His commentary on Ezekiel is instructive here. We have
his commentary on Ezekiel in two manuscript versions: one consisting
mainly of Andrew's own comments, and one interspersed with lengthy
excerpts from Jerome. The editor, Michael Signer, is ambivalent about
the question whether this interlacing of Jerome and Andrew was actu-
ally done by Andrew or by an anonymous compiler of a later date, but
he admits that the interlaced version 'most likely represents the Exposi-
tio as Andrew envisioned it.'14 Reading Andrew's prologue to his Ezekiel
commentary, I think we can be quite firm about Andrew's 'authorship'
of the entire commentary, Jerome and all. Andrew says here,
Putting the historical exposition of the excellent doctor Jerome before
ours, as we did in our other works, with God's help and for the common
use of the reader, we gather together into one work all that the Lord
has willed to inspire and that could be obtained by our own diligence or
borrowed from elsewhere. 15
What was Andrew's attitude towards Jerome? Knowles observes that
the personal devotion to certain figures of the ancient world may be
typical of the twelfth-century renaissance,16 and, partially, Andrew dem-
onstrates such a devotion to Jerome. When medieval writers wanted to
describe their relation to the authors of classical antiquity, they had
two different metaphors at their disposal. They could use Bernard
of Chartres' famous image of modern authors as 'dwarves on the
shoulders of giants' or, in quite the opposite spirit, they might turn to
the fifth-century grammarian Priscian, saying 'quanto juniores, tanto
perspicaciores.'17 Young men simply can see more sharply, Priscian
claimed, alluding to the fact that the grammarians of his own period
wrote much more clearly than the authors of old. Both metaphors
suggest that knowledge and insight have progressed since times past,
but Bernard of Chartres gives more credit to the past, by contrasting
14 Andrew of St. Victor, Expositio in E;:;echielem, ed., Michael A. Signer, CCCM 53E
(Brepols: Turnhout, 1991), lxix.
15 Andrew of St. Victor, Expositio in E;:;echielem, 1.
16 Knowles, 49.
17 R. Klibanski, 'Standing on the Shoulders of Giants,' Isis 26 (1936), 4 7 ~ 4 9 ;
Priscianus, Institutiones grammaticae, ed., M. Hertz, in H. Keil, Grammatici Latini (Leipzig:
Teubner, 1855): II, 1 and 6--7.
modern 'dwarves' with ancient 'giants.' Priscian's dictum, on the other
hand, suggests a much more unequivocal belief in scholarly progress.
Hubert Silvestre and Mortimer Donovan, in a survey of the use of
this quotation in the twelfth century, have suggested that this phrase
of Priscian was quoted often and appreciatively for just this reason:
the twelfth-century renaissance valued originality and inquisitiveness.
But both authors also note that Andrew of St. Victor stands out as
something of an oddball among those who cited Priscian's famous
dictum in the twelfth century, in that he disagreed with him about the
respective visual acumen of ancients and moderns.
In his prologue to
Isaiah, Andrew comments that it is really superfluous to add to what
Jerome has already written on this book. He asks rhetorically:
Or do you think we could penetrate more perspicuously and sharply
there where he could not, as younger authors who can see more clearly
with a keen mind?19
Andrew puts his ancient authority clearly higher than himself, and
in his commentaries, he tells us, he does not presume to go beyond
what Jerome has already said; he states that he will 'follow Jerome on
unequal foot,'20 putting Jerome's commentary before whatever he may
have to say. Andrew's attitude towards the Fathers is more complex and
ambiguous than it first seems; why, after all, does he set out to write his
own commentary at all, if Jerome's is clearly superior?
Andrew may have borrowed extensively, but he also had a clear
selection principle, in that he only included literal interpretations in his
commentaries. In principle, Andrew omits Jerome's allegorical interpre-
tations, and when, on occasion, he does include an interpretation that
is not strictly literal, he offered alternative readings to Jerome's exege-
sis. Some examples: In his commentary on Joel 2.32 (=3.5): 'In mount
Zion and Jerusalem shall be deliverance,' Andrew includes Jerome's
comments: 'All these obviously refer tropologically to the time of the
passion and resurrection of the Lord, as Peter and Paul propose [in
the book of ActsJ.'21 In glossing Joel's prophecy about the coming of
18 H. Silvestre, "'Quanto iuniores, tanto perspiciatores"; Antecedents a la Querelle
des anciens et des modernes,' Publication de l'Universite Lovanianum de Kinshasa. Recueil
commemoratif du Xe anniversaire de la Faculte (Louvain, 1967), 231-255.
19 Smalley, 379.
20 Smalley, 379.
21 Hieronymus Presbyter, Commentarii in Prophetas Minores, ed., M. Adriaen, CCSL 76
(Turnhout: Brepols, 1969): I, 197. Cf. Ac. 2.16-21.
the Holy Spirit, Jerome explains that this prophecy is fulfilled ('impletus
est' or 'spiritualiter impleatur') on the day of the first Pentecost; this
against the Jews, who maintain that this event is still to come. 22 Jerome
did not, in fact, invent these allegorical interpretations; they were based
on scriptural allusions in the New Testament, in the sermons of St.
Peter in the book of Acts. For this reason, they might have carried more
weight than other allegorizations of the text. Although Andrew never
really took issue with a Christological reading of the Old Testament
text, he does offer alternative readings to Jerome's exegesis, introducing
them modestly with 'Vel sic,' or 'Aliter'. In the above-cited passages,
Andrew cautiously offers a more literal reading of the texts as an
alternative to Jerome: in Joel 2.32, Andrew offers that a remnant of
the Jewish people did stay in Jerusalem, to fulfil this prophecy in a
more literal sense.
He admits, against Jerome, that the effusion of the
Holy Spirit as described by Joel may indeed describe some events at the
end of times, not just those of Pentecost.
As Smalley observed, listing
his own interpretations as alternatives to, rather than corrections of
Jerome, 'shifted the responsibility of choice to the reader.' 'Since there
was no urgent need in matters of historical fact, as there was in matters
of faith, to decide between the "Yes and No," exegetes had evolved a
system of "Either, Or."'25 But at times, Andrew was not simply offering
an alternative reading, but actually refuting the exegesis of Jerome,
which he had just faithfully excerpted. He professed to follow Jerome
'on unequal foot,' but he certainly did not follow him slavishly.
In short, Andrew was offering an excerpt of Jerome with supple-
In this way, he was creating an essentially new type of text;
perhaps not new and original according to our ideas of valuable schol-
arship, which tend to dismiss excerpting texts as a boring and uno-
riginal activity, but certainly new in the scholarly milieu of the twelfth
century where a wide dissemination of written texts was not taken for
granted and in which a multiplicity of textual meanings could be bewil-
dering. Of course, Jerome's commentaries required some reworking to
fit Andrew's scheme. Jerome's commentaries were not a school text. He
wrote them to propagate the Christian faith and answer the doctrinal
22 Hieronymus, Commentarii in Prophetas Minores, I, 192.
23 Stuttgart, MS HB.IV6, fo!' 58'.
24 Stuttgart, MS HB.IV6, fo!' 57
25 Smalley, 128.
26 C( Smalley, 161.
questions of his own time; the commentary on the Twelve Prophets,
for instance, was largely a polemic against Marcionites and Valentini-
ans, two gnostic heresies that plagued the early Christian Church in
the Western Roman Empire. Occasionally, Jerome made a polemical
remark against Jewish interpreters of the text, especially when they
interpreted certain prophesies as referring to the coming of the Mes-
siah; prophecies that, in Jerome's view, already clearly had been ful-
filled. In contrast, Andrew was producing much more of a school text,
a literal commentary as abbreviation of Jerome with occasional alter-
native readings. In order to do this, Andrew had to 'reformat' Jerome
in some fundamental ways. Whereas Jerome took large pericopes, and
explained them in a running argument, Andrew's basic technique of
interpretation was to interpolate the text with brief glosses. Much more
so than Jerome, Andrew takes his reader by the hand, and leads him
through the text, the finger pointing to the significant words, and
explaining them as he goes along. Where Andrew does offer his own
original interpretation, his listeners or readers must have had to pay
close attention, for here Andrew had an uncanny talent for expos-
ing the 'aporia' in the Biblical text, and he offered challenging new
interpretations that were a model of 'perspicuity' and that showed that
the art of literal exegesis could indeed be an intellectually challenging
endeavor. Glossing was an important scholastic method of reading and
digesting authoritative texts, and Andrew's exegetical method was an
exciting exercise in close reading.
When Jerome, in Andrew's opinion, fell short in his exegetical analy-
sis, it was often a Jewish source that offered the conclusive explanation
for him. Smalley appreciated this as one of the most innovative aspects
of Andrew's commentaries: to suspend theological judgement in his
Biblical interpretation and to consult and incorporate Jewish sources
in his literal commentaries. But of course it never was Andrew's aim
to promote greater understanding between Christians and Jews, or to
facilitate interreligious dialogue. As Anna Abulafia rightly points out
about scholars like Andrew, 'for all their genuine fascination with the
Hebrew Bible, Hebrew, and even rabbinics, their ultimate aim was to
intensifY their own and their community's Christian understanding of
the text.'27 The discussion of Andrew's Hebrew scholarship has focused
on two questions: where did Andrew derive his Jewish sources, and did
27 Anna Sapir Abulafia, Christians andJews in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance (New York:
Routledge, I995), 94
Andrew know Hebrew? But ultimately, Andrew's most daring move was
not so much crossing the religious boundaries, or the incorporation of
Jewish materials, but introducing a new methodology for reading the
Biblical text. This, rather than the exegetical content, perhaps consti-
tuted Andrew's greatest debt to his Jewish colleagues.
As a Hebraist, Andrew's talents should not be overstated. We find
in Andrew's commentary the direct influence of some Jewish exegetes,
especially of the exegetes in Northern France who specialized in the
literal explanation of scripture. Among these were Rashi
Joseph Kara, who worked around and Andrew's contem-
poraries Joseph Bekhor Shor and Eliezer de Beaugency. Much of the
Jewish material in Andrew's commentaries was probably communi-
cated by personal contact, for there were no Latin translations of these
Hebrew commentaries available. Andrew must have had contacts in
the circles of Jewish scholars who were acquainted with the current
commentary tradition, and who were able to explain their views to
him. Mter all, the Jewish school in Paris was close to the cathedral,
and not far from the abbey of St. Victor. This very fact should cau-
tion us against trying to establish direct textual links between Andrew
and certain Jewish authors. Although Andrew frequendy quotes Rashi's
comments, it is not clear whether Andrew ever saw a commentary by
Rashi, and if he did, he probably could not have read it without some
A decisive argument to attribute Andrew'sJewish sources to
oral communication can be found in the evidence of one of Andrew's
most frequendy cited sources, the commentaries of Rabbi David Kimhi
(acronym Radak). There is no way Andrew could have known Kimhi's
commentaries, since Kimhi, who was born around rr60, wrote his
commentaries a generation after Andrew's. But Kimhi's commentaries
apparendy represent a tradition in Jewish exegesis, probably that of his
grandfather Joseph Kimhi, with which the Jews of Paris, and there-
fore also Andrew, were acquainted. In this way, the oral element in
the transmission of Jewish sources into Andrew's commentaries make
them a valuable link in the textual history of some twelfth-century Jew-
ish commentaries; they contain evidence of Jewish exegetical traditions
that were not committed to script (or at least, not in script that has
survived) until some twenty years later.29
28 Signer, in Andrew of St. Victor, Expositio in Ezechielem, xxi-xxvii.
29 Frans van Liere, ed., in Andrew of St. Victor, Expositio I!Jistorica in librum Regum,
CCCM 53A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996), xxxi.
Whether Andrew actually knew Hebrew is still the subject of much
debate. One of his severest medieval critics, Roger Bacon, admitted
that he probably did.
Modern scholars, such as Michael Signer, have
convincingly shown that much of Andrew's knowledge of Hebrew de-
rived from oral contact with Jews, and have more cautiously pointed
to Andrew's 'complete reliance upon his Jewish teachers for access
to the Hebrew text of scripture and the interpretations of words and
phrases.'3l His knowledge of Hebrew, as Signer pointed out, was more
a matter of recognizing Hebrew in comparison with Latin rather than
active reading skills. Although Andrew's knowledge of Hebrew attests
to the pioneering position Andrew must have had in the exploration
of the Jewish exegetical tradition and the linguistic difficulties he had
to surmount, later scholars would soon surpass his level of Hebrew
scholarship. Exegetes such as Herbert of Bosham (12th c.), Alexander
Neckam (d. 1217), and Nicholas of Lyra (d. 1349) really knew and
understood written Hebrew.
A large part of the Jewish material in Andrew's sources consisted
of new translations from the Hebrew Biblical text, and criticism of
the Latin translation by comparing it with the Hebrew 'original.' One
hypothesis for the provenance of this 'Hebrew' material, by D.S. Blond-
heim, posited that alternative Latin translations of the Hebrew Bible
But since no one has ever found any textual evidence for
these translations, the hypothesis does not seem to stand the test of
Ockham's razor. More likely, these were Andrew's own renderings of
the Hebrew Bible and textual criticism on the basis of the Hebrew
'original,' which must have been suggested to him by contemporary
Jewish scholars. In these cases, the boundaries between translation and
30 Roger Bacon, Compendium philosophiae, ed., ].S. Brewer in Opera quaedam hactenus
inedita, Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores IS, (London: Longman, Green,
Longman, and Roberts, 1859), 482.
3l Signer, in Andrew of St. Victor, Expositio in Ezechielem, xxvi.
32 See S.A. Hirsch, 'Early English Hebraists. Roger Bacon and his Predecessors,'
Jewish OJtarterTy Review 12 (1900): 34-88; Raphael Loewe, 'Herbert of Bosham's Com-
mentary on Jerome's Hebrew Psalter. A Preliminary Investigation of his Sources,' Bib-
lica 34 (1953):44-71, 159-192, and 275-298; eds. Philip D.W Krey and Lesley Smith,
Nicholas if Lyra, The Senses if Scripture, Studies in the History of Christian Thought 90
(Leiden: EJ. Brill, 2000).
33 D. S. Blondheim, Les parlers judeo-romans et la Vetus latina; etude sur les rapports entre
les traductions bibliques en langue romane des juifi au moyen age et les anciennes versions (Paris:
E. Champion, 1925). C Rainer Berndt, Andre de Saint-Victor (tII75j. Exegete et tMologien,
Bibliotheca Victorina 2 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1991), 160-163.
interpretation were sometimes vague. Often Andrew suggests that his
exegesis is a translation from the Hebrew, when in fact it is clearly an
interpretation, as in the example of I Samuel 7.2: 'The entire house of
Israel rested after the Lord.' The alternative translation Andrew gives
here of the Hebrew, 'started to desire the Lord', corresponds not with
the Biblical Hebrew but with the explanation of Radak on this verse. 34
The literal translation would be something like: 'The entire house of
Israel was drawn after the Lord.' Most probably, Andrew, listening to
an oral explanation, confused interpretation with translation here. Of
course, the boundaries between translation and interpretation are not
always clear even to modern translators. There is another good argu-
ment for attributing these exegetical translations to personal contacts.
Some of Andrew's observations on the Hebrew text are not entirely
correct, or simply wrong, such as on I Samuel 2.1:
The word quia, which is put here, is a completive conjunction and it
does not contribute anything to the meaning; it is not found in Hebrew
either. 35
The Hebrew text, however, clearly reads, 'because I have rejoiced in your
salvation.' In one of the manuscripts of Andrew's commentary, from
the Franciscan convent in Oxford, a gloss rightly reads 'falsum est,'
in the margin.
Someone in thirteenth-century Oxford evidently knew
Hebrew better than Andrew. In general, Andrew used Jewish sources
to explain what the text meant by giving alternative renderings of the
Hebrew in Latin, and by offering a different punctuation or by applying
textual criticism where the Latin did not make sense. These remarks
were much valued by later medieval scholars involved in the process
of editing and improving the text of Jerome's Latin Vulgate translation
into a standard Bible text. Their effort would eventually become the
so-called 'Bible of Paris,' the basis for the still commonly used Sixto-
Clementine Vulgate edition.
It is not just in his use of Jewish sources that Andrew's original-
ity should be recognized, however; the most innovative influence of
Andrew's contemporaries was not as much in content as in exegetical
methodology. There is an important conceptual link between twelfth-
century Jewish and Christian literal exegesis, and I think it is not too
far-fetched to suggest that it was Jewish exegetes who helped to inspire
34 Andrew of St. Victor, In Regum, 35.
35 Ibid., I4.
36 Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 3I5, fa!. 23

one of the most important conceptual hermeneutical changes in Chris-
tian exegesis in the twelfth century. In their commentaries, Andrew's
Jewish contemporaries distinguished between peshat, the plain meaning
of the text, and the derash, a form of inferential, homiletic interpreta-
tion. The derash, an unknown phenomenon in Christian interpretation,
was the form of exegesis predominant in Talmud and Midrash, and it
often provided legendary, narrative material, to fill in gaps in the Bibli-
cal narrative, or to resolve contradictions. By contrast, the literal exege-
sis of the peshat was distinctly more modern for the twelfth century. The
Northern-French branch of Jewish exegesis, starting with Rashi, had
specialized in the peshatY It fulfilled an apologetic purpose-to refute
the Christian, allegorical and christo logical interpretation of scrip-
ture-but in its concentration on the text itself, it also was meant to
provide a more stable hermeneutical principle for the more associa-
tive derash exegesis. There were remarkable parallels in the emergence
of the peshat and the Victorine project of literal exegesis.
Hugh's vision of the literal-historical foundation of exegesis was prob-
ably grounded in a theological concept of salvation history, Andrew's
idea of literal exegesis comes much closer to the peshat. In fact, the Jew-
ish peshat commentators may have provided the model for Andrew's
exegetical technique. Even the terminology Andrew employs is remi-
niscent of the peshat. Andrew often rejects an exegetical opinion with
the argument that the other interpretation is 'more simple.' Andrew
seems to prefer simplicitas in the literary interpretation of the Bible,
echoing Hebrew exegesis, which strove to find the peshat, that is, the
simple meaning. 39
Unwittingly, Andrew gave Christian readers sometimes more than
just the Jewish method of the peshat; he gave them some inkling of the
37 Cf. David Weiss Halivni, Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exe-
gesis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991); Sarah Kamin, Rashi's Exegetical Categoriza-
tion with Respect to the Distinction between Peshat and Derash Gerusalem: Hebrew University
Press, 1986) (in Hebrew); Raphael Loewe, 'The "Plain" Meaning of the Scriptures in
Early Jewish Exegesis,' in Papers qf the Institute qfJewish Studies University College London, ed.
J.G. Weiss Gerusalem: Pirsume Har-ha-Tsofim, 1964): 1,140-185.
38 Michael A. Signer, 'Peshat, Sensus Litteralis, and Sequential Narrative: Jewish
Exegesis and the School of St. Victor in the Twelfth-century' in The Frank Talmage
Memorial Volume, ed. Barry Walfish, (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1993)
I, esp. n. 2I.
39 Some examples from his commentary on Samuel and Kings include his com-
ments on ISm. 2.5; ISm. 2.33; and 2Sm. I.2I. Andrew of St. Victor, In Regum, 16,24,
and 7I.
midrashim as well. Although authors after Rashi were getting theoreti-
cally more purist about not including derash exegesis in the commen-
taries according to the peshat, in practice these two forms often merged
in their commentaries. We can see the same phenomen on in Chris-
tian exegesis dependent on Jewish sources. For instance, in 1 Samuel
15.3 God ordered Saul to take revenge on the tribe of Arnalek (who
had tried to destroy the people of Israel during their stay in the desert,
in Exodus), and God commands him to destroy not only all human
beings, but also their animals. Offering an explanation for this cruelty
against animals, Andrew, following Rashi, says:
There are some who say that God ordered to kill the cattle of the tribe
of Amalek as well, lest the Amalekites should change themselves into
cattle by sorcery, in which they were very experienced, and thus evade
the massacre.
If the Jewish exegetes were not always purist about distinguishing be-
tween the peshat and derash, how could one expect Andrew to keep them
Not surprisingly, Andrew's exploration of the Jewish exegetical tra-
dition sometimes caused frowns with his contemporaries, who saw him
as a )udaizer.' His long insertion of the common Jewish interpretation
of Isaiah 7.14, 'A virgin shall conceive and bear a son,' interpreting
'virgin' as 'maiden', alongside Jerome's more christological explanation,
without any apparent refutation of the Jewish position, provoked severe
criticism from Richard of St. Victor in his De Emmanuele.
Nicholas of Lyra criticizes Andrew in his commentary on Hosea 2.17,
'I will give [Israel] the vineyards she had, and the Valley of Achor as
a door of hope,' for offering a too literal interpretation of the 'Valley
of Achor' as an actual place close to Jericho. With only a slight hint of
irony, Lyra remarks that Andrew )udaizes' here more than Rashi, who
interprets Achor as 'humble repentance for one's sins.'43 Was Andrew,
in his literalist method of Biblical interpretation, really a )udaizer,,
that is, undermining the Christian Christ-centered interpretation of the
40 Andrew of St. Victor, In Regum, 54.
41 Cf. Gerry A.C. Hadfield, 'Andrew of Saint Victor: A Twelfth-century Hebraist.
An Investigation of his Works and Sources' (Ph.D. thesis, Oxford, 1971),267-268.
42 Richard of St. Victor, 'De Emmanuele,' ed., Jean-Paul Migne, PL 196:601-666.
43 Herman Hailperin, Nicholas qf Lyra and Rashi: The Minor Prophets (New York: Press
of the Jewish Society, 1941), 125.
Old Testament?44 Probably Andrew's aim in his exegesis was never
to undermine the basic fundamentals of Christian belief, but rather
to base them more strongly on a self-evident and rational method of
textual interpretation.
Andrew offered the reader a new methodology in reading the Bibli-
cal text, derived from the Jewish method ofthe peshat. This new method
had theological implications; it centered on the text and explained it
through intertextual comparison and close reading. Establishing the
meaning of the Biblical text was no longer a matter of reliance on
patristic tradition or pious reflection; it had become a rational activ-
ity. Ultimately, to quote McKane, Andrew's 'new departure in the
search for the literal sense' was the 'awareness that [the books of the
Old Testament] are historical documents which have a time, a place
and a setting, which were written by human authors and whose pri-
mary sense must be sought by bringing all these factors into play. '45
This method sought for the primary meaning within the text itself, and
expressed optimism in the human capacity for uncovering this mean-
ing. Thus it gave Biblical exegesis a basis of rational objectivity. With
Andrew's commentaries, Biblical exegesis had become a mature textual
discipline, with a reformatted Jerome as a starting point to rationally
examine the Biblical text. It had become distinct from doctrinal and
theological reflection, which now was treated in a systematic way along
the lines of theological themes of Peter Lombard's Sententiae, rather than
as a mystical exposition on the Bible.
The most innovative aspect of twelfth-century scholarship lies in
a new approach to written texts; the twelfth-century renaissance was
essentially an information revolution. With this in mind, we should per-
haps not try to fit Andrew's commentaries in one or the other category,
Hebrew scholarship or unoriginal excerpts. Rather, they are exam-
ples of creative reuse. His commentaries were not just running glosses
on the Biblical text; Andrew saw his own commentaries as a critical
reworking of and supplement to Jerome, whom he regarded as the
greatest literal exegete ever. This gives Andrew's commentaries a com-
plexity that matches the great methodological landmarks of the twelfth
century, such as Abelard's Sic et Non, Gratian's Decretum, and the Lom-
44 C( McKane, 49 and 74, and Hadfield, 266-267. Against Hadfield, McKane
contends that he was, but that he was blithely unaware of it.
45 McKane, 50.
bard's Sentences; all texts that may not have offered so much new mate-
rial as new ways to deal with the bewildering complexity of conflicting
ancient and modern traditions.
What was, in the long term, Andrew's legacy and influence? Andrew
gave Biblical studies a new direction and methodological foundation.
The Bible, of course, always had been the basis for the Christian faith
and the study of theology. But how was one to find one's way in the
bewildering multitude of explanations and textual duplicity? A new
attitude towards scripture was given by Hugh of St. Victor, taking the
literal meaning of the text as the decisive hermeneutical principle to
establish the true meaning of the text. For the literal meaning of the
text, Christian exegetes had always relied completely onJerome; it was
Andrew of St. Victor who put Jerome in perspective and enlarged this
scope by his discovery and translation of the Jewish peshat tradition in
exegesis. If Hugh meant by 'literal' mainly 'historical,' Andrew replaced
it with 'textual.' Some hundred years after Andrew, the Oxford Francis-
can Roger Bacon seemed to emphasize this point about Andrew. While
he complained that many Biblical scholars took Andrew on his word,
without honouring his original intent, Bacon said that,
Instead, we should go back to the original Hebrew text, and if Andrew is
right, we should believe the Hebrew, not him. But we have to commend
him greatly for pointing us to many dubious spots in our translation [ ... J,
and he refers us to the Hebrew, so that we may search for explanations
with greater certainly at the rootS.46
Modern, or rather post-modern, scholars might be sceptical about
Andrew's confidence that our rational abilities alone can establish the
meaning of the Bible beyond any doubt, but Bacon probably gave
Andrew the greatest compliment in saying that ultimately Andrew
encouraged us to search for the meaning of the Biblical text 'at the
roots,' which was a matter of our own critical acuity. Like other medie-
val scholars in Southern's definition of the twelfth-century renaissance,
Andrew offered confidence in the ability of the human faculties to
establish the meaning of the Old Testament text, because this text
itself was the product of a human environment. Andrew recovered and
organized Jerome's commentaries and made rabbinical commentaries
available for his scholarly audience, and systematized both in a new
way. This gave an important impetus to Biblical scholarship as a textual
46 Roger Bacon, Compendium, 482-483.
discipline, which eventually contributed to the establishment of a new
text of the Latin Vulgate in the Paris Bible. In the long run, although
it may be too long a stretch from Andrew to the historical criticism
of the nineteenth century, it is not far-fetched to draw a straight line
from Andrew's scholarship to the attitudes that would be characteristic
of later Renaissance Biblical scholarship.
The confrontation between the Jewish and Christian religious traditions
has focused on the centrality of whether Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the
messiah of Israel as promised in scripture. The New Testament offers
many examples of how Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. Particularly
striking is the passage in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus reads from
the 'scroll of the prophet Isaiah' and proclaims: 'Today in your hearing
this text has come true' (Luke The controversy among the
congregation in the synagogue adumbrates the arguments that have
resonated through the centuries. With the exception of the Gnostic
tendency to eliminate the first testament from the Christian canon of
scripture, the reading of the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible has
sought to ferret out the shadowy images and bring forth how their
message foreshadows Jesus Christ.
If we return to that synagogue scene in the Gospel of Luke and
imagine the descendants of the dissenters, it should not be difficult to
visualize that the congregation gathered again on subsequent Sabbaths
and continued reading from the Law and the Prophets. Within the
synagogues and the houses of study that constituted the institutional
context for the development of rabbinic Judaism the prophetic books
constituted a significant portion of the tripartite canon of the Hebrew
Bible, the TaNaKh. Passages in the Mishnah, the first literary record
of the oral tradition of rabbinic Judaism, indicate that the prophetic
scrolls were read along with the passages from the Torah. Liturgical
formulations for the ritual of blowing the ram's horn on the New
Year festival interleaved portions from the Torah, the Prophets, and
the Hagiographa.
Both Jews and 'Christians read the prophets within the context of
their own religious communities. However, the prophetic books them-
selves must have constituted a considerable challenge. They were, and
remain, complex literary compositions with difficult vocabulary and
syntax. They contained chapters that focused on the social inequities
of urban life in ancient Israel. Chapters of the prophetic books were
filled with condemnations of idolatrous worship both by Israel and the
nations that surrounded her. The prophets promised exile and punish-
ment as the result of these misdeeds. However, despite the clear mes-
sage that Israel would be punished and enter into a period of exile,
there were also clear announcements of consolation that God would
not abandon Israel and would restore her former glory. The books
of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah indicated that God had indeed
restored Israel from its Babylonian exile.
The Christian and Rabbinic movements of the early centuries inher-
ited the complex exegetical strategies of Second Temple Judaism. 1 The
apocrypha and pseudipigrapha, literature from Qumran, and other
Hellenistic texts indicate that their immediate ancestors were aware of
multiple strategies for appropriating the prophetic literature. The most
original contribution of this period seems to have been the develop-
ment of apocalyptic-an attempt to apply the prophetic confrontations
and consolations to contemporary tribulations and oppressions.
prophetic books held out hope for both Jewish and Christian com-
munities because both were in a period of crisis. Christ had died. He
had risen, and would come again. He was the one promised by the
prophets. Those prophets also told of the rebellious Israel who had
rejected their prophets. Early Christian texts such as the Epistle if Barn-
abas indicate how the promises of the prophets could be applied to the
nascent Church while the invectives were appropriated to the Jews who
had rejectedJesus.
For the growing rabbinic movement the prophetic
books offered consolation. Israel was once again in exile, but if they
remained loyal to God's Torah and obeyed the teachings of the rabbis,
they would be redeemed and restored to their land.
The development of Christian and Jewish exegetical traditions dur-
ing the patristic and classical rabbinic periods continues the schematic
outline I have put forward. Marcel Simon and many others have stud-
ied the development of the Christian Contra-Judeos literature. Scholars
of rabbinic literature such as Daniel Boyarin and Israel J. Yuval have
advanced the studies by Urbach and Baer on how the rabbis created
an apologetic to counter the claims of Christianity as the rightful inher-
1 James C. VanderKam and William Adler, eds., The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in
Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, I996).
2 See Bernard McGinn's article, 'Apocalypticism and Violence: Aspects of Their
Relation in Antiquity and the Middle Ages,' below in this volume, pp. 209-229.
3 James C. Paget, The Epistle qf Barnabas: Outlook and Background (Tubingen:
].C.B. Mohr, I994).
itor of the title verus Israel. This latter task is very subtle and requires
a nuanced reading of Hebrew texts that are deliberately vague due to
centuries of self-imposed and externally generated.
This paper will move in what I hope will prove to be a productive
new direction. Previous studies of the confrontation between Judaism
and Christianity have taken up their task in either a diachronic or
topical manner. Scholars have traced themes in the development of
Christian apologetics toward Judaism. In addition, there are studies of
the use of biblical citation in the Christological discussions. However, to
my knowledge there are very few investigations that examine the use of
a particular part of the Hebrew Bible in both Jewish and Christian
This is particularly the case for that period of the late
eleventh and twelfth centuries, known so frequently as the Twelfth-
Century Renaissance. That period bears careful scrutiny because it was
a period of innovation for both communities in methods of study and
in their rediscovery of the reality of the other tradition. In the twelfth
century both Jews and Christians who wrote biblical exegesis looked
back to their classical periods and emphasized the use of grammar and
language in their efforts to apply the tradition to their own situation.
My question in this essay will focus on how they 'read' that section of
the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament known as the Prophets.
It is clear that in classical antiquity the prophetic books were under-
stood to occupy a unique place in the Christian canon. In his list of
the books of the Hebrew Bible described in his introduction to the
books of Samuel/Kings Jerome lists the Ordo prophetarum with eight
books: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and
the Twelve Prophets.
For each, Cassiodorus describes how the bib-
lical books should be copied into nine volumes: I. Genesis-Ruth; 2.
4 Marcel Simon, Verus Israel: A Stu4J if the Relations Between Christians and Jews in
the Roman Empire, AD I35-425, H. McKeating, trans. (London: Valentine Mitchell and
Co. ltd., 1996); Daniel Boyarin, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making if Christianity
and Judaism (Stanford: Stanford Up, 1999); IJ. Yuval, 'Anti-:Jewish Violence and the
Place of Jesus in Christendom and in Islam: A Paradigm,' in Religious Violence Between
Christians and Jews: Medieval Roots, Modern Perspectives, Anna Sapir Abulafia, ed. (New
York: Palgrave, 2002); James G.D. Dunn, Jews and Christians: The Parting if the Wqys
AD 70 to I35: The Second Darham- Tubingen Research Symposium on Earliest Christianity and
Judaism (Grand Rapids: WE. Eerdmans, 1999).
5 Brevard S. Childs, The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture (Grand
Rapids: WB. Eerdmans, 2004) would be an example of such a study.
6 R. Weber, R. Gryson, et al., eds., Biblia Sacra Vulgata (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelge-
sellschaft, 1969, 1994), 364-365.
Six books of Kings; 3. The four major and twelve minor prophets; 4.
The Psalter; 5. Wisdom Literature; 6. The lives of the great men and
women: Job, Tobit, Esther,Judith, Maccabees, Ezra-Nehemiah; 7. The
four Gospels; 8. Pauline and Catholic Epistles; 9. Acts of the Apostles
and the Apocalypse.
A medieval reader would thus have been able to
visualize the prophetic books as a single volume within the complex of
scriptural books.
If the prophetic books had their independent place in the scriptural
canon, their content seems to have been described in more general
terms. In the introduction to his commentary on the prophet Isaiah,
Jerome indicates that
the present books contains the entire mystery of God (omnia sacramenta
del): Emmanuel's birth from a virgin as well as the maker of illustrious
works and signs; dead and buried and rising from the depths, even the
Savior of the whole human race is predicted (praedicetur).8
Jerome continues to praise the contents of the book as contammg
physics, ethics, and logic. It is clear that Jerome wanted to indicate
to his pagan readers that they would not lose their classical educa-
tions but enrich them by learning of the sacramenta dei. They would
become knowledgeable in litteras scripturarum so that they could read the
prophetic texts that were 'sealed' (signatus).9 In the De civitate dei, books
sixteen and seventeen, Augustine outlines the content of the prophetic
books and introduces the Christian reader into the relationship between
the content of the prophetic books and salvation history. Prophecy is to
be read as types of things done before (16:42).10 For Augustine these nar-
rations of things done in the prophetic age, from Samuel to the exile to
the return from exile, when considered from the perspective of the spirit
of God, foretell the things to come rather than relate things from the
past (17=1). The nature of the promises foretold becomes the subject of
the next section of the book. The history of biblical events becomes an
7 Cassiodorus, Institutiones !.I-8, ed. R.A.B. Mynors in Cassiodori Senatoris Institutiones
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), 11-34.
8 'cum uniuersa Domini sacramenta praesens scriptura contine at et tam natus de
uirgine Emmanuel, quam illustrium patrator operum atque signorum, mortuus ac
sepultus et resurgens ab inferis et Saluator universarum gentium praedicetur'
(S. Hieronymus Presbyter, Commentarium in Esiam, prologus, ed. Marcus Adriaen,
CCSL 73-74 [Turnhout: Brepols, 1963] 73=1).
9 Ibid., 2.
10 Augustine, De Civitate Dei, B. Dombart, A Kalb, eds., vols. 47-48, CCSL (Turnholt:
Brepols, 1955).
object of contemplation to discern how a three-fold schema of prophe-
cies constitutes the framework for Christian salvation history.
Later generations of Christian exegetes, such as Cassiodorus, Isidore,
and Bede, would adopt the basic lines of interpretation established
by Jerome and Augustine. The books of the prophets contained sacra-
menta-mysteries. Their historical content was to be studied for what it
might reveal about the actions of God within the human sphere leading
up to the advent of Christ.
When turning to the rabbis we observe that there is no continuous
commentary on any prophetic book during the classical rabbinic period
from the third to eighth centuries. Comments about the prophets and
their message are scattered throughout the Talmud and Midrashim. In
the list of canonical books the Major and Minor Prophets are listed
in an order that diverges slightly from the Masoretic text: Jeremiah,
Isaiah, Ezekiel and the minor prophets. II With respect to the content of
the prophetic books, we discern that the rabbis attempted to fill in some
of the ambiguities. They concentrated on establishing the historical
context in which the prophet lived. There are efforts to establish a
harmonization of contradictions extant between different parts of the
canon, such as the difference between the tabernacle in the Pentateuch
and the one described in the final chapters of Ezekiel. Furthermore,
the classical rabbinic texts tend to focus on the prophetic messages of
comfort and restoration of Israel, rather than on those passages that
recall Israel's disloyalty to God. The general ambiguity about the 'end
of days' in rabbinic literature is reflected in their efforts to prevent
speculation about when the messiah or deliverer of Israel would arrive.
In one passage RabbiJochanan claims that 'every prophet prophesied
for the days of the messiah, but as for the world to come no eye has
seen what God has prepared.'12
In both communities the transition from the period of the Fathers
and the Rabbis into the Middle Ages is difficult to locate. Who was
the last of the Fathers: Bede or Isidore? The literature about the redac-
tion of classical rabbinic texts indicates a long period from the fourth
through the ninth centuries. The rise of the Carolingian empire, how-
ever, with its educational reforms solidly established under the tutelage
II H. Goldwurm, N. Sherman, eds., Talmud Bavili (Brooklyn, New York: Mesorah
Publications, 1990), Baba Batra 15a.
12 Ibid., Berakhot 34a.
of Alcuin and his students indicates a point of demarcation in western
Christendom. There are commentaries written on the prophetic books
during this period that summarize and synthesize Patristic authors. On
the other hand, EuropeanJewry outside of the Iberian Peninsula seems
to have had a cultural flowering in the tenth century in Northern
Italy with the production of Midrashim, liturgical poetry (piyyutim) ,
and historical writings (Sifer Yossifln). We do have some commentary
on prophetic verses and books. However, it is only when we arrive at
the end of the eleventh century that we have sustained effort in both
communities, in the region of Paris and Champagne, to focus again on
a renewed effort to examine the prophetic books.
The region of the lle-de-France and Champagne became a signif-
icant center of Jewish and Christian biblical scholarship. In what fol-
lows, we shall focus on the School of St. Victor in Paris under Magis-
ter Hugh (d. II4I), Richard, and Andrew of St. Victor, and on Rabbi
Solomon b. Isaac of Troyes and his younger colleague, RabbiJoseph b.
Simeon Kara. The writings of Beryl Smalley, Ranier Brandt, and oth-
ers have emphasized the important innovations of the Victorines in the
history of Christian biblical exegesis. 13
Hugh and his younger colleagues concentrated their efforts on devel-
oping an approach to reading the scripture that emphasized the histor-
ical and contextual meaning of the Old Testament text as the basis for
theological speculation. Important work by Sara Kamin, Sara Japhet,
and Abraham Grossman has increased our knowledge of the efforts by
Rashi and his generation to develop the 'peshat' or 'plain meaning' of
the biblical text as a complement or even a substitute for the classical
rabbinic 'derash' or 'derived meaning' of the biblical text. 14
13 Beryl Smalley, The Study if the Bible in the Middle Ages, 3
ed. (Notre Dame: Uni-
versity of Notre Dame Press, I964); Rainer Berndt, 'Scientia' und 'Disciplina:' Wissentheorie
und Wissenschaftspraxis im I2. und I3. Jahrhundert (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, I999); idem,
Vernuriftig (Wurtzburg: Echter, 2003); idem, Andre de Saint- Victor (II75) Exegete et Theolo-
gien, Bibliotheca Victorina IT (Paris: Brepols, I99I); H.B. Feiss, P. Sicard, D. Poirel,
H. Rochais, eds., Eoeuvre de Hugues de Saint- Victor (Turnhout: Brepols, I997); Hugh of
St. Victor., Didascalicon, C.H. Buttimer, ed. (Washington: The Catholic University Press,
I939); Richard of St. Victor, La Trinite, G. Salet, ed., Sources Chretiennes 63 (Paris:
Cerf, I999); Richard of St. Victor, Les Douze Patriarches, J. Chatillon, Monique Duchet-
Suchaux, eds., Source Chretiennes 4I9 (Paris: Cerf, I997).
14 Sara Japhet, The Commentary if R. Samuel ben Meir, Rashbam, on Qgheleth (Leiden:
EJ. Brill, I985); Sara Japhet, Studies in the Bible Gerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew
University, I986).
The claim to understand the 'letter' of the biblical text had different
implications for each community. For the Christian tradition the letter
was a 'basis'-the foundation for the spiritual senses. Hugh of St. Vic-
tor revived the patristic image of the 'house' where the letter was at the
bottom and always required 'going beyond' or 'moving upward.' He
warned that to stay only with the letter would eventually lead one to
error. By contrast, Rashi and his colleagues understood the 'peshat' to
stand as an independent meaning that focused on the morphology and
syntax of scripture. 'Peshat' was an approach that provided a coherent
meaning to the passage under consideration based upon lexicographic
or contextual considerations.
'Derash' was not considered a 'higher
level' of meaning, but constituted a process of presenting or summa-
rizing the extrapolations of earlier rabbinic literature or an extension of
their methods.
It is possible to discern a similarity of purpose with respect to dis-
covering the literal sense even with these contrasts between Christian
and Jewish approaches. At both St. Victor and among the colleagues
of Rashi there was an interest in the nature of language and its func-
tion. The exegetical writings of both communities wanted to develop a
more coherent method for reading the scripture within its own context.
The overarching narrative of redemption promised in scripture pro-
vided that context. Therefore, to claim knowledge of the literal sense of
scripture meant that the passage under consideration supported either
the Christian-oriented reading of the Hebrew Bible as representing
promises of Christ, or the Jewish reading of the scripture, that God
would redeem Israel from its exile through the Messiah, son of David.
We have the mis-en-scene for a revival of the clash between the two com-
munities that began with the New Testament and its claims that Jews
were blind to the truth, read scripture through the veil, and simply
could not understand their own scriptures. The proliferation through-
out the twelfth century of tractates that were written contra Judaeos indi-
cates the increasing awareness by Christian scholars of the presence
of Jews and their traditions-and the danger posed by Jewish read-
ings of the scripture at the very same time that Christian theologians
and exegetes were' making claims to understand the scripture ad litteram.
This Christian dilemma brings us to the heart of the argument in this
15 Michael A. Fishbane, The Midrashic Imagination: Jewish Exegesis, Thought, and History
(Albany: State University of New York, 1993).
essay. How was it possible from the Christian perspective to read the
prophetic books of the Hebrew canon ad litteram?
Reading the prophetic books ad litteram or secundum hebraicam veritatem
in the manner of Jerome would also challenge the Jewish claim to
authority over the Hebrew prophetic books. Nearly a millennium had
passed since the destruction of the Temple. Jews had obeyed Torah
according to the teaching of the rabbis, yet the redemption had still not
come. They lived now in the lands of the Christians, known to them
in Hebrew as the biblical kingdom of Edom, one of the four empires
described in the book of Daniel. They experienced a relative security
and prosperity. Their rabbinic teachers had made it possible to live
according to their ancient tradition. However, the redemption seemed
ever more distant and by the final decades of the eleventh century the
new evangelical spirit of Christianity had resulted in some conversions,
a blood libel, and the massacres in the Rhineland. How would the
prophetic books provide them with consolation?
In order to examine the problem of the prophetic books and the
literal sense in the Christian community, let us turn first to Hugh
of St. Victor and his Didascalicon, a manual for Christian learning.
Hugh understood the reading of the Bible as pertaining to things of
this world rather than heavenly lifeY The canon of both the Old and
the New Testament was divided into three parts. The Old Testament
consisted of the Law, then the Prophets and Hagiographers. The New
Testament contains the Gospels, the Apostles, and the Fathers.18 Hugh
informed his reader that the order of the Prophets consisted of eight
books. This description of the canon is derived fromJerome via Isidore.
However, then Hugh continues and offers the following description of
the symmetry of the canons of both testaments:
16 Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon, ed. Charles Henry Buttimer, Didascalicon: De studio
legendi (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1939). For an illuminating essay on
the significance of this work see Ivan Illich, In the Vznryard if the Text: A Commentary to
Hugh's Didascalicon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).
17 'As we run through the series of the Old Testament and the New, we see that
the collection is devoted almost entirely to the state of this present life and to deeds
done in time, while rarely is anything clearly to be drawn from them concerning
the sweetness of eternal goods or the joys of the heavenly life. Yet these writings the
Catholic faith traditionally call Sacred Scriptures' (English trans. by Jerome Taylor
in his The Didascalicon if Hugh if St. Victor: A Medieval Guide to the Arts [New York:
Columbia University Press, 1961, 1991], I02; for the original text see Didascalicon 4.1, ed.
Buttimer, 70).
18 Didascalicon 4.2, ed. Buttimer, 72.
In these groups most strikingly appears the likeness between these two
Testaments. For just as after the Law come the Prophets and after the
Prophets the Hagiographers, so after the Gospel come the Apostles, and
after the Apostles the long line of Doctors. And by a wonderful ordering
of the divine dispensation, it has been brought about that although the
truth stands full and perfect in each of these books, yet none of them is
superfluous. 19
The prophetic books mirror the place of the apostles in the New Testa-
ment. They are at a midpoint between the Law and the Hagiographa
and play a role similar to the apostles between the Gospel and the
continuing wisdom of the doctors of the Church. To reinforce the
'completeness' of prophetic books, Hugh supplies his reader with the
names of the authors of the books. The major prophets wrote the books
inscribed with their names while the book of the twelve prophets is
inscribed with the names of its authors. They are called minor prophets
because their discourses are short and are therefore included in a single
Isaias, more Evangelist than Prophet, produced his own book, whose
every utterance is replete with eloquent prose. . .. Jeramias, too, pro-
duced his book, together with its Threnodies which we call Lamenta-
tions, because they are used on very sad occasions and at rites for the
dead .... Ezekiel has a very obscure beginning and end.
In each case, the prophet and something about the nature of his prose
composition is noted. However, for our purposes it is important to
underline that Isaiah was more evangelist than prophet (evangelista quam
propheta) because it speaks to Hugh's idea of the letter as foundation and
part of a broader canon of divine revelation. The prophet Isaiah, whom
Jerome also described as a theologian, is an 'evangelist' announcing the
coming of Christ. This description is consistent with the educational
program that Hugh designs for his students. He urges them to read
19 Didascalicon 4. 2, ed. Buttimer, 72: 'In his autem ordinibus maxime utriusque tes-
tamenti apparet conv'Cntia, quod sicut post legem, prophetae, et post prophetas, hagi-
ographi, ita post Evangelium, apostoli at post apostolos, doctores ordine successerunt.
Et mira quadam divinae dispensationis ratione actum est, ut cum in singulis plena et
perfecta veritas consistat, nulla tamen superflua sit' (trans. by Taylor, I04).
20 Didascalicon 4:3, ed. Buttimer, 73.
21 Didascalicon 4:8, ed. Buttimer, 79: 'Isaias, evangelista potius quam propheta, edidit
librum suum, cuius omne textum eloquentiae pros a incedit. ... Ieremias similiter edidit
librum suum cum Threnis eius quos nos lamenta vocamus, eo quod in tristioribus rebus
First you learn history and diligently commit to memory the truth of the
deeds that have been performed, reviewing from beginning to end what
has been done, when it has been done, where it has been done, and by
whom it has been done. For these are the four things that are especially
to be sought for in history-the person, the business done, the time, and
the place.
Hugh admonished the student that allegory could never be learned per-
fectly without learning history. The list of books to be read for history
by the student consists of Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Kings, Chronicles,
the four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles. Hugh called these books
historiographical, but he was willing to allow for a broader definition:
It is not unfitting that we call by the name 'history' not only the recount-
ing of actual deeds but also the first meaning of any narrative which
uses the words according to their proper nature. And in this sense of the
word, I think that all books of either Testament, in order in which they
were listed earlier, belong to this study in their literal meaning.
Ultimately for Hugh, history consists of the progressive revelation of
God's sacraments that provide humankind with the remedy for the Fall.
The student seeks this message by reading for allegory in the biblical
books according to an order prescribed by Hugh: the beginning of
Genesis on the works of the six days; the last three books of Moses on
the mysteries of the law, i.e. Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Isaiah;
the beginning and end of Ezekiel; Job; the Psalter; Song of Songs;
the Gospels Matthew and John; the Epistles of Paul; the canonical
Epistles; Apocalypse. The Epistles of Paul demonstrate by their very
number that they contain the perfection of the two testaments.
contrast between these two courses of reading is that they belong to
funeribusque adhibeantur .. ,. Ezechiel principium et finem obscuriora habet' (trans. by
Taylor, lO8-lOg).
22 Didascalicon 6:3, ed. Buttimer, II3-II4: 'Prius historiam discas et rerum gestarum
veritatem, a principio repetens usque ad finem quid gestum sit, quando gestum sit,
ubi gestum sit, et a quibus gestum sit, diligenter memoriae commendes. Haec enim
quattuor praecipue in historia requirenda sunt, persona, negotium, tempus et locus'
(trans. by Taylor, 135-136).
23 Didascalicon 6:3, ed. Buttimer, II5-II6: 'nullum est inconveniens, ut scilicet histo-
riam esse dicamus, non tantum rerum gestarum narrationem, sed illam primam sig-
nificationem cuiuslibet narrationis, quae secundum proprietatem verborum exprimitur.
Secundum quam acceptionem omnes utriusque testamenti libros eo ordine quo supra
enumerati sunt ad hanc lectionem secundum litteralem sensum pertinere puto' (trans.
by Taylor, 137-138).
24 Didascalicon 6:4, ed. Buttimer, 122.
two different categories. In Hugh's system history follows the order
of time, while allegory follows the order of knowledge. In that sense
the prophetic books that are to be read are Isaiah and the beginning
and end of Ezekiel-these belong to allegory and knowledge rather
than the order of time. The historical background and context of the
prophetic books, the fate of the Israelite people, may be gleaned from
reading the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. The divine plan
for restoring humanity is to be found in Isaiah the evangelist whose
parables, properly read, constitute knowledge of the saving acts of
God. That knowledge still must be properly gained by understanding
the words of the prophet. Hugh instructs his disciple to pay careful
attention to the message of the prophet:
You do not know what the Prophet wanted to say, whether he promised
good or threatened evil. For this reason it comes about that you think
the passage, whose literal sense you do not see, has to be understood
spiritually only. ... You find many things of this sort in the scripture,
especially in the Old Testament-things said according to the idiom of
that language and which although they are clear in that tongue seem to
mean nothing in our Own.
In the commentaries that we have from Hugh that focus on the literal
sense of scripture there are none with undisputed authorship. However,
the commentaries onJoel and Obadiah have certain affinities with the
Hugonian method. The commentary on Joel asserts that the 'word'
that came to Joel in its spiritual sense means that the fulfillment of
the prophecy belongs chiefly to the incarnation of the word. However,
it may be understood more correctly as referring to the siege and
depopulation of the city and territory of Joel.2
This comment follows
the Hugonian plan-first it speaks to the order of knowledge (the
prophecy of the Holy Spirit), and then it addresses the order of time
by indicating the historical background of the word that Joel delivered.
This is consistent with Hugh's plan in the Didascalicon: first, to read the
allegorical material in both testaments so as to have the appropriate
knowledge to understand the unfolding order of time, the historical
25 Didascalicon 6:10', ed. Buttimer, 127-128: 'Quid dicere voluerit propheta, bonum
promiserit an malum minatus fuerit, ignoras. Unde evenit ut spiritualiter tantum intel-
ligendum credas quod, qualiter ad litteram dictum sit, non vides .... Multa huiusmodi
invenis in scriptures, et maxime in Veteri Testamento, secundum idioma illius lingua
dicta, quae, cum ibi aperta sint, nihil apud nos significare videntur' (trans. by Taylor,
148- 149).
26 Smalley, 10 I.
senses. The two senses are joined together but the foundation can
only be properly set when the student has the overall picture of the
house. The author of the commentary then goes on to borrow from
Jerome and introduce an alternative interpretation based on Jewish
Everything that we have expounded about Christ's coming, and the
sending of the Paraclete, the Jews refer to their Messias, in whom, they
say, the worship of the Law is to be fully restored. The Jewish people
alone will receive him. They alone will call on him, and He will hear.27
In Hugh we observe a refined and focused revival of the Augustinian
and Hieronomian approach to the prophetic books. Interpretation of
the prophetic books is about the unfolding of the divine plan in Jesus
Christ, but the theologian dare not ignore the historical events that
shape the background to the prophetic message.
Andrew of St. Victor has left a legacy of commentaries on the
prophetic books unmatched since the time of Jerome (with the possible
exception of Hrabanus Maurus).28 His expositions of the prophetic
books follow the major outlines of Hugh of St. Victor. Andrew focused
his efforts at what Hugh considered the 'broader definition' of history-
the first meaning of any narrative that uses the words according to their
proper order. He does not neglect Christological reading so much as he
assumes that the teaching of the Fathers on doctrine remains firmly
established. Based on that foundation, he ventures out a bit further in
order to construe the words of the prophets within the limits of their
historical background. This is surely the case in his commentary on
the Emmanuel passage in Isaiah. Andrew indicates that there is no
point in refuting the interpretation of the Jews because Jerome has
already done so. Therefore he proceeds with a careful exposition of
the temporal conditions of Isaiah and Hezekiah that gave birth to
the words themselves. It was that firmly grounded assumption that
disturbed his colleague, Richard of St. Victor, whose lengthy treatise
on the Emmanuel passage moves entirely in the opposite direction. For
27 Quoted in Smalley, I03. The translation is hers; the original text can be found in
PL 125:358.
28 Andrew of St. Victor, Expositio hystorica in Librum Regum, Frans A. Van Liere, ed.,
CCCM, 53A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996); idem, Expostio in Ezechielem, Michael A. Signer,
ed., CCCM 53E (Turnhout: Brepols, 1990); idem, Expositio super Danielem, Mark Zier,
ed. CCCM 53F (Turnhout: Brepols, 1990); idem, Expositio super Heptateuchum, C. Lohr,
R. Berndt, eds., CCCM 53A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1986); idem, Expositiones historicas in
Libros Salomonis, R. Berndt, ed., CCCM 53B (Turnhout: Brepols, 1991).
Richard, the temporal conditions are an impediment to understanding
the passage. To put Richard's argument into the framework established
by Hugh: the prophecy of the Virgin belongs to the order of knowledge
rather than exclusively to the order of time. To combine, as theJews do,
the announcement of the birth in chapter seven with the birth of the
children of the prophet in chapter eight is to ignore the true meaning
of the word 'sign.' Richard indicates that Andrew's exposition has
wandered off the path by neglecting the 'historical' reading prescribed
for the Christian, which includes the reading of the Gospels. Once
he has firmly established his concordant reading of Isaiah with the
Gospels, Richard moves on to demonstrate that the sign in Isaiah
is consistent with the entire unfolding of the divine plan, ultimately
linking the passage in the prophetic books with the story of the Fall in
Andrew persisted in his methods despite the objections from Rich-
ard. His commentaries reveal a rich legacy of re-reading Jerome to-
gether with his own sensitivity to biblical language and context. His
introduction to the Isaiah commentary indicates his focus on the char-
acter oflsaiah as determined by his office and lineage. 30 The message of
comfort given by the prophet Isaiah in chapter IoU, 'there shall come
forth a rod out of the root of Jesse,' is to 'cheer with good hope the
fallen spirits of the two tribes.'3! God will restore them to their land.
He eschews discussions of the doctrine of original sin in the descrip-
tion of Jeremiah as known by God 'before he was formed in the belly
of his mother' Gr. 1.5). Andrew presupposes the interpretation that the
'belly' meant the synagogue and offers the possibility that 'while the
prophet was still a child, God instituted him prophet, to prophesy to
save nations and be given to his people. Hence God offers him faith
and surety.'32 One could multiply examples of Andrew's approach to
the prophetic literature that evoke the historical background of ancient
Israel to clarifY the biblical text. Even his multiple consultations with
Jews or his extensive use of Jerome's 'Hebraica' passages never moved
him to adopt fully a Jewish claim to the true interpretation of a mes-
sianic passage or the ultimate restoration of the Jewish people to its
29 Smalley, 156-157, 163, 174.
30 Smalley, 136.
3! Quoted in ibid., 138. The translation is Smalley's.
32 Quoted in ibid., 142. The translation is Smalley's.
The Victorine exegesis offers an alternative to the treatises written
during this period to refute Jewish claims. Many of them appealed to
reason, but without exception they offered few arguments that had not
previously been put forward during the patristic period. For the most
part the polemical treatises and 'dialogues' follow a set order and con-
centrate on a particular topic rather than following the order of scrip-
ture. They consider the literal reading to be exclusively a sign of Jewish
blindness rather than a source of Christian knowledge. Nonetheless,
the growing Christian consciousness of Jewish arguments seems to have
found a resonance in the commentaries written by Jewish authors dur-
ing this same period.
In his commentaries on both the Prophets and the Psalms, Rashi
presents a consistent theme. When the prophet David refers to the
'wicked' ofIsrael, Rashi interprets that as referring only to those in con-
temporary Israel who act wickedly or defY the community. He main-
tains that ultimately the prophetic message refers precisely to the Jew-
ish people who remain occupants of the house of study and who offer
their prayers in the house of study. Moreover, the punishment that the
prophets predict will befall the nations will indeed occur. But they will
occur to the nations who are the enemies of Israel. The enemies of
Israel are identified by the name of the biblical kingdom of Edam. The
identification of Christianity with Edom has a lengthy history in rab-
binic literature. However, both in Northern Europe and in mid-twelfth-
century Spain, the theme of Edom and its position as the final kingdom
before the redemption of Israel receives more attention. Israel J. Yuval
pointed out that this punishment of the nations, which he called 'venge-
ful messianism,' is one of the most important themes in eleventh- and
twelfth-century Jewish literature.
God will ultimately restore Israel and
the people will witness the punishment of those who have oppressed
them. In some of his commentaries, such as those on Isaiah 66,5 and
Zechariah 14.2, Rashi denies that God has any close relationship to the
gentile nations before the messiah, son of David, comes. This implies
that a closer relationship with God is possible for the non:Jews and we
observe that the idea of divine vengeance on behalf of Israel is joined
by a second theme: the conversion of the gentile nations at the end of
the world.
In his commentary on Isaiah 42, Rashi states that:
33 IJ. Yuval and A. Haverkamp, Pessach und Ostern: Dialog und Polemik im Spatantike und
Mittelalter (Trier: Arye-Maimon Institut fur Geschichte der Juden, 1999).
34 Avraham Grossman, Khachmei Tsarfat Ha'Rishonim (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, He-
He will bring forth judgment on the nations-as scripture states many
people will walk ... and learn from him. He will not raise his voice
because he will not need to rebuke and prophesy to the nations because
they will come of themselves to learn God's teaching ... all of them will
listen to God's Torah.
Aside. from these overarching themes Rashi offers specific refutation of
the Christian interpretation of individual verses with the introductory
phrase Teshuvah Ie-minim as a response to sectarians-meaning Chris-
tians. In a new edition of the Rashi commentary on Ezekiel we now
have the phrase, 'I responded to a certain sectarian (min echad).'
These statements in Rashi's commentary often do not effect the
overall direction of his commentary, but rather focus on a single word.
It is important to note that many passages in Rashi's commentaries
respond to Christian readings without any specific mention of a Chris-
tian interpretation. For this reason it is important to know the Christian
reading of particular prophetic passages in order to provide the appro-
priate background for Rashi's interpretation.
The writings of Rabbi Joseph Kara and their relationship to Chris-
tianity have received attention from Abraham Grossman. A new criti-
cal edition of his commentaries on Isaiah and Ezekiel also will provide
access to scholars who want to pursue his approach. Kara's commen-
tary on Isaiah reads like a sustained message of confrontation and con-
He writes to console Israel and to confront her enemies, the
Christians. In the first chapter of Isaiah he comments on the verse: 'If
your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.'
This mode of judgment works throughout the entire scripture. Where
you find a passage of rebuke the matter that follows is a passage of
comfort. You should not think that the gap in the verses between these
two messages separates them in any way. Rather, the passage below
comes to bind the break in the passage that was implied above. Isaiah
told the people, 'your hands are full of blood' and then concludes his
statement with a diversion in the text. Know and understand that the
comfort is joined to what is above and the break in the text is only a
break between rebuke and consolation. However, they truly are joined as
Ps. IlLS teaches: 'They are established forever and ever. They are done
in truth and righteousness. God has sent redemption to his people. His
covenant endures forever.'
brew University, 1996); Peirushei Rabbi Yosif' Qgra Li Nevi'im Rishonim, S. Eppenstein, ed.
(Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1972).
35 Mikraot Gedolot HaKeter: Isaiah, Menahem Cohen, editor (Ramat Gan: Bar Han
University Press, 1996).
Note how Kara uses the text from the Psalter to provide a literary
guide for the reading of prophetic passages. Rebuke and consolation are
always joined even when the text that stands before the reader contains
intervening verses.
Joseph Kara, like Rashi, believes that when Isaiah attacks the wick-
ed, as in Isaiah 50.1, these passages refer only to a small number of
Jews. Israel's property is now held hostage to the kingdom of Edom, the
Christians. The taxes that Jews pay to Christians will be removed from
them at the end of days, foretold in Micah 7.II-12. At one point Kara
literally turns his commentary into a fictive dialogue between Israel and
the gentiles. Isaiah 49.23 asks, 'shall prey be taken from the mighty or
the captives of the victorious be delivered?' One might suppose that this
would be the question in the mouth of the nations toward Israel, and
Kara begins his interpretation exactly in that manner:
The nations say to Israel warning them: Is it possible that prey will be
taken from the mighty? Can it really be taken from us that we have
exiled you? You have been justly put in captivity, is it proper for you to
escape? This is astounding. Furthermore, is it not written in your Torah
that 'God will scatter you among the nations?' (Deut. 28.64) Since the
captivity we have imposed upon you is a righteous judgment it is proper
that the decree has been declared. Can you really ftee?36
Kara responds in the following chapter, 50.1-2, that God has not given
Israel a bill of divorcement and that he will ultimately redeem them as
they return to him in penitence.
Both Rashi and Joseph Kara provide a reading of the prophetic
books that explicates the background of the biblical prophets and uti-
lizes their texts as a response to the challenge offered by the contem-
porary reality of the exile. At times one searches in vain, particularly
in passages like Isaiah 7.14, for a direct response to Christological read-
ings. However, a careful search of their commentaries reveals that they
are well aware of the claims to both the history of Israel and its deliv-
erance that are being made by the 'nations of the world.' It is also
interesting to note the paucity of references to peshat or peshuto shel miqra
in these prophetic commentaries. There are many references to rab-
binic literature, but the passages from the Talmud usually are those
that illuminate the biblical text with some form of rabbinic narrative
36 The above paragraphs and quotations follow Grossman, 145-206.
Interestingly, the mid-twelfth century also witnessed a new genre
in European Hebrew literature: the polemical manual. Two of these
manuals were produced in the southern regions of France during this
period. The Book qf the Covenant by Joseph Kimhi was written in Nar-
bonneY The Book qfthe Wars qfthe Lord by Jacob ben Reuben was com-
posed in Gascony.3a Both appear to be literary artifices, although Jacob
b. Reuben indicates that a learned Christian visited him. There exists
a rather extensive literature on these polemical manuals. I introduce
them only to consider their format. Joseph Kimhi's treatise is topical
and is most likely ordered along the lines of Gilbert Crispin's Dialo-
gus iudei et cristiani.
More interesting for our purposes is Jacob ben
Reuben's treatise that is ordered according to scriptural texts. Mter
a refutation of Christian arguments based on reason, he turns to the
'prophetic' texts in the Psalms, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Twelve Prophets,
and Daniel, before turning to refute the arguments brought from the
Gospel. A century later,Jacob b. Nathan, an official bailiff to the Bishop
of Sens, near Paris, would compose a treatise according to the same
order of scripture.
The only major difference is that Jacob b. Nathan
begins his treatise with a listing of the prophecies 'which have not yet
been fulfilled' in order to provide consolation and strengthening of faith
to those in exile.
We have described the reading of the prophetic books of the Hebrew
canon. BothJews and Christians utilized these biblical texts for similar
purposes, although with profoundly conflicting hermeneutical lenses.
The shape of the canon of the scripture determined the literal sense.
In a sense, 'history' and 'literal' serve both conjoining and conflicting
purposes. Neither community considered the biblical text an end in
itself. It was the desire to envision a glorious future-each for its own
community-that inspired scholars to analyze the biblical prophetic
texts as a source of both confrontation and consolation.
37 Joseph Kimhi, The Book if the Covenant if Joseph Kimhi, Frank Talmage, trans.
(Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1972); Perushim le-Sifer Mishle le-vet
Kimhim, Frank Talmage, ed. (Jerusalem:J.L. Magnes, Hebrew University, 1990).
38 Jacob ben Rellben, Milhamot ha-Shem,Judah Rosenthal, ed. (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-
Rav Kook, 1963); Avraham Grossman, 'Biblical Exegesis in Spain During the 13th_15th
Centuries,' H. Beinart, ed., Moreshet Sepharad I, Jerusalem (1992): 137-146.
39 Gilbert Crispin, Disputatio iudei et christiani, ed. Anna Sapir Abulafia
and G.R. Evans in The Works if Gilbert Crispin, Abbot if Wtistminster (Auctores Britannici
Medii Aevi 8) (London: Oxford University Press for the British Academy), I-54.
40 Jacob ben Nathan, Perushe Rabenu Yehuda bar Natan li-Ketubot, J.N. Epstein, ed.,
(Yerushalayim, 1933).
May the sacred page be a book for you, so that you may hear, may the
globe of the earth be a book for you, so that you may see; in these books
only those who know letters read these things; in the whole world, even
the fool can read.
While the Bible traditionally enjoys privileged status as a means for
learning about God, it is not our only means of instruction. This
remark of St. Augustine, made in the course of commentary on Psalm
45.6 ('when God shouts, the world disintegrates'), opens up a fascinat-
ing complement to the way in which the Bible was understood. While
learned people may listen to the Word of God through the Bible, the
uneducated may use their eyes to understand the book of creation. This
is an image with a long history. In his De trinitate Augustine asks for
God's grace to help him attain knowledge of God either through scrip-
ture or creation.
In practice, Augustine devoted much more attention
to the Bible than to the natural world. He was a rhetorician for whom
Christianity was primarily about God's self-revelation through the writ-
ten word, at least for the educated. While Christ may have proclaimed
that the lilies of the field are more magnificent than Solomon in his
glory (Mt. 6:27-28; Lk. 6:28), many Christian preachers have followed
Augustine in choosing to focus on the Bible as the privileged medium
through which God reveals himself, and through which humanity can
rise above the limitations of a corrupted human nature. In the twelfth
1 Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, Ps. 45.7, ed. E. Dekkers and J. Fraiponit,
CCSL 38 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1956), 522: 'Liber tibi sit pagina diuina, ut haec audias;
liber tibi sit orbis terrarum, ut haec uideas. In istis codicibus non ea legunt, nisi qui
litteras nouerunt; il} toto mundo legat et idiota.' This paper was originally delivered in
German at the conference held in April 2004 in Mainz, 'Bibel und Exegese im Skt.
Viktor, Paris, 12.-15.Jahrhundert.' I am grateful to Prof Dr. Reiner Berndt for permis-
sion to publish an English version of that paper.
2 Augustine, De trinitate 2 proernium, ed. W]. Mountain, CCSL 50 (Turnhout:
Brepols, 1968), p. 80: ' ... si me, ut precor et spero, deus defenderit atque muniuerit
scuto bonae uoluntatis suae et gratia misericordiae suae, non era segnis ad inquirendam
substantiam dei siue per scripturam eius siue per creaturam.'
century, growing awareness of the complexity of both patristic and clas-
sical tradition, promoted certain scholars, in particular Hugh of St. Vic-
tor, to accord attention not just to the historicity of scripture, but to the
natural world as itself as kind of divinely inspired book. In so doing,
they were developing a line of thought that Augustine had mentioned
only in passing.
In a famous essay, written some fifty years ago, Marie-Dominique
Chenu drew attention to the achievement of authors like William of
Conches, Bernard Sylvester, and Alan ofLille, all profoundly influenced
by Plato's Timaeus, in developing a new consciousness of Natura. 3 Tullio
Gregory was another great scholar who focused on the so-called 'school
of Chartres' in developing awareness of the natural world through
Plato's image of a soul that animated the world.
Such concerns were
not confined, however, to these 'Chartrian' thinkers. Peter Abelard did
not believe that Plato's anima mundi had a literal existence, but he saw
it as a metaphor of divine goodness, or the Holy Spirit, nurturing
Until recently, however, relatively little attention has been given to
Hugh of St. Victor in developing a new awareness of the natural
world. Hugh has often been considered a traditionalist, because he
became such a mainstream influence in medieval theology, quite unlike
Abelard-who perennially attracts attention as a critic of tradition and
a theorist of language. Yet in recent years, research teams based in
Frankfurt and Paris, directed by Rainer Berndt and Patrice Sicard
respectively, have helped promote new interest in Hugh's theological
achievement. While Hugh and other Victorines are becoming better
known for their awareness of the linking between historical and spiri-
tual senses of scripture, it should not be forgotten that Hugh also helped
disseminate an awareness of the natural world as a medium through
which all people, both the learned and the uneducated, could learn
about God.
3 Marie-Dominique Chenu, 'La Nature et l'homme. La Renaissance du XIIe sie-
de,' in Chenu, La thiologie au douzieme siecle (Paris: Vrin, 1957), 19-51, based on an essay of
the same title in Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littiraire du moyen age 19 (1952): 39-66; trans.
Jerome Taylor and Lester K. Little, Nature, Man and Sociery in the Twelfth Century. Essays on
New Theological Perspectives in the Latin West (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968),
4 Tullio Gregory, Anima Mundi. La Filosofia di Guglielmo di Conches e la Scuola di Chartres
(Florence: G.C. Sansoni, 1955). Olaf Pedersen reviews the history of Christian attitudes
towards natural science, but with little attention to the twelfth century in The Book qf
Nature (Vatican City: Vatican Observatory, 1992).
I. Hugh if St. Victor and the Book if the World
The treatise in which Hugh of St. Victor develops the image of the sen-
sible world (mundus sensilis) as like a book, through which we learn about
the power, wisdom, and benignity or goodness of God, is one of his
earliest works, the De tribus diebus, for many centuries transmitted simply
as the seventh book of the much more famous Didascalicon, a manual on
the seven liberal arts.5 Hugh's use ofthe image was noted by Ernst Cur-
tius within his broader study of the medieval roots of rhetorical imagery
often associated more with the Enlightenment and Romanticism than
with earlier periods.
Hans Blumenberg also mentioned Hugh's contri-
bution to shaping this image within a panoramic study, Die Lesbarkeit der
Welt (1981), exploring the long history of the metaphor of readability
as a device through which we impose order on the world. Develop-
ing ideas he had previously raised in Arbeit am Mythos (1978), Blumen-
berg argued that contemporary scientific discourse about 'reading the
genetic code' effectively prolonged the image of creation as a kind of
sacred text.
While Blumenberg documented only a limited number of
medieval sources for the image, Friedrich Ohly devoted more detailed
attention to identifying the persistence in the medieval and early mod-
ern period of the image of 'the book of nature' topos.a None of these
5 Didascalicon, PL 176: 8IIC-846C; it was not included within the edition of the
Didascalicon prepared by C.H. Buttimer, reprinted in T. Offergeld, ed., Hugo von Sankt
Viktor. Didascalicon, Fontes Christiani (Freiburg: Herder, 1997).
6 Ernst Robert Curtius, Europaische Literatur und Lateinisches Mittelalter (Bern: Francke,
1948), 306-352, esp. 324, recapitulated his earlier study, 'Schrift und Buchmetaphorik
in der Weltliteratur,' Deutsche Vierteijahrsschriflfor Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte
20 (1942): 359-4II; European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. WR. Trask (New
York and Evanston: Harper & Row, Harper Torchbooks / The Bollingen Library,
1953), 302-347, esp. 320. Other authors, besides Blumenberg and Ohly (nn. 6-7) and
Herkommer (n. 15), who draw on this work of Curtius include Leo Koep, Buch III
(metaphorisch und symbolisch) in Reallexikon for Antike und Christentum 2 (1954): 717-724,
and Jean Leclercq, 'Aspects spirituale de la symbolique du livre au XIIe siecle' In
L'homme devant Dieu, Melanges riffors au Fere Henri de Lubac, voL 2. Du Moyen Age au siecle des
Lumieres (Paris, 1964), 63-72. Rolf Engelsing focuses on the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries in 'Das Buch-Gleichnis,' Archiv for Kulturgeschichte 60 (1978): 363-382. Jacques
Derrida draws on t):1is discussion of Curti us in De lagrammatologie; Of Gram mato logy, trans.
G. Spivak (Baltimore, 1976), 14-18.
7 Hans Blumenberg, Die Lesbarkeit der Welt (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1981), with discus-
sion of Hugh of St. Victor on 51-52; see also Blumenberg, Arbeit am 1vfythos (Frankfurt:
Suhrkamp, 1979); trans. Robert M. Wallace, Work on 1vfyth (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT
Press, 1985).
a Friedrich Ohly, 'Typologische Figuren aus Natur und Mythos,' in Formen und
Funktionen der Allegorie, fiymposion Wo!fonbiittel 1978, ed. Walter Haug, Germanistische
scholars, however, gave more than passing attention to Hugh of St.
Victor, except as someone who repeats what they presume to be a pre-
existing intellectual tradition.
This situation changed with the publication in 2002 of Dominique
Poirel's critical edition of the De tribus diebus and accompanying study,
Livre de la nature et debat trinitaire au Xlle siecle.
In this immensely thor-
ough study, Poirel focuses, not on the image of the book of nature (as
the title might suggest), but on the origins of Hugh's formula that cre-
ation reveals God's power, wisdom, and benignity. This triad of divine
attributes, never formulated in precisely this form prior to the twelfth
century, suddenly emerges in the early twelfth century in two treatises,
very quite different in character: Hugh's De tribus diebus and in Peter
Abelard's Thealagia 'Summi bani', condemned at the council of Soissons
in II2I.1O Poirel reverses the traditional assumption that Hugh must
have written the treatise in the mid II20S, having borrowed the formula
from Abelard, and argues that it was devised by Hugh before II20, and
that Abelard subsequently borrowed it from Hugh. Before resolving this
question, we need to consider Hugh's argument more closely.
In the De tribus diebus Hugh argues that the immensity, multitude, and
size of creation, indicate divine power; its beauty, situation, arrange-
ment of place, time, and parts, movement, form, and quality, reflect
divine wisdom; its usefulness, he claims, reflects divine goodness. Hugh
Symposien Berichtsbande 3 (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1979), 126-166; 'Zum Buch der Natur'
in Ausgewiihlte und neue Schrifien zur Literaturgeschichte und zur BedeutungifOrschung, ed. Uwe
Ruberg and Dietmar Peil (Stuttgart-Leipzig: S. Hirzel Verlag 1995), 727-843. Also in
this volume are studies by Ohly originally published in 1981, 'Das Buch der Nature
beiJean Paul' (pp. 845-888) and in 1987, 'Die Welt als Text in der Gemma magica des
Ps-Abraham von Franckenberg' (pp. 713-725); Ohly discusses the witness of Johannes
Chrysostomus, Avicebron (Salomo Ibn Gabirol), Herbert of Bosham, and Luis de
Granada, in 'Neue Zeugen des Buchs der Natur aus dem Mittelalter,' in Iconologia Sacra:
Mythos, Bildkunst und Dichtung in der Religions- und Sozialgeschichte Alteuropas. Festschrifi for
Karl Hauck zum 75. Geburtstage, ed. Hagen Keller and Nikolaus Staubach, Arbeiten zur
Friihmittelalterforschung, 23 (Berlin: de Gruyter 1994), 546-568. English translations of
some of his major writing occur in: Friedrich Ohly, Sensus Spiritualis: Studies in Medieval
Signijics and the Philology qf Culture, ed. Samuel P. Jaffe; trans. Kenneth J. Northcott
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).
9 De tribus diebus, ed. Dominique Poirel, CCCM 177 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2002);
Dominique Poirel, Livre de la nature et debat trinitaire au XIIe siecle. Le De tribus diebus de
Hugues de Saint- Victor, Bibliotheca Victorina 14 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2002). I hinted at
some of the ideas in this paper within a review of Livre de la nature, published in Speculum
79 Ganuary 2004): 255-257-
10 Peter Abelard, Theologia 'Summi boni', ed. ConstantJ. Mews, CCCM 13 (Turnhout:
Brepols, 1987), 85-201.
speaks of the three days, not in a chronological sense, but as three
phases by which we come to understand God's nature: divine power
generates fear, wisdom, truth, goodness, love. Abelard, by contrast, is
interested in the meaning of words used about God, and draws on his
profound knowledge of Aristotle to argue that these divine attributes
have been glimpsed not just by prophets, but also by pagan philoso-
phers, who used different words to express the same underlying insight.
While Abelard's theology is about words, Hugh's theology is more
experiential in character, in being based on aesthetic awareness of cre-
ation, leading to three phases in awareness of God.
2. The De tribus diebus and Its Irifluence
In the De tribus diebus Hugh speaks not about the book of nature but
about the sensible world (mundus sensilis) as like a book:
For this whole sensible world is like a kind of book written by the finger of
God, that is created by divine strength, and each creature is like a kind
of letter, not established by human convention, but instituted through
divine judgement to demonstrate and in a kind of way to signify the
unseen wisdom of God. For just as an uneducated person might see
an open book, look at the shapes, but does not recognise the letters,
thus a foolish and animal person, who does not grasp those things that
are of God, sees a form in these external visible creatures, but does not
grasp reasoning; a spiritual person however can discern all things, in that
from the outside he considers the beauty of the work, but from within he
grasps how wonderful is the wisdom of the Creator. I I
Hugh transfers a scriptural image about God's finger writing the Ten
Commandments (Ex. 31.18) to the sensible world. The key stimulus
here is the statement of St. Paul in Romans 1.20, about the Invisibilia
Dei being revealed to all creation, through what has been made. St.
II Hugh of St. Victor, De tribus diebus, ed. Poirel, CCCM 177, pp. 9-10: 'Vniuersus
enirn mundus iste sensilis quasi quidam liber est scriptus digito Dei, hoc est uirtute
diuina creatus, et creaturae quasi figurae quaedam sunt, non humano placito
inuentae, sed diuina arbitrio institutae ad manifestandam et quasi quodammodo signif-
icandam inuisibilem Dei sapientiam. Quemadmodum autem si illiteratus quis apertum
librum uideat, figuras aspicit, litteras non cognoscit, ita stultus et anirnalis homo qui
non percipit ea quae Dei sunt, in uisibilis istis creaturis foris uidet speciem, sed non
intelligit rationem; qui autem spiritalis est et omnia diiudicare potest, in eo quidem
quod foris considerat pulchritudinem operis, intus concipit quam miranda sit sapientia
creatoris. '
Paul was arguing that the Gentiles had the capacity to absorb divine
truth, without the benefit of scripture, but fell back on their own desires.
This left open the question of whether pagans can still learn about God
through creation, or whether their minds were so clouded that they
are totally dependent on God's grace to gain spiritual insight. The issue
was hotly contested in the early twelfth century. Some preserved Augus-
tine's emphasis in later writings on the corruption of human nature,
and our need for grace; others sought to relate Christian doctrine more
closely to classical ideals about the capacity of human beings to lead
an ethical life and to gain spiritual insight through the visible world.
Hugh of St. Victor's strategy was to steer a path between these two
poles, both drawing on and transforming the tradition he received from
3. The Image if the Book in Scripture and the Fathers
Isaiah 34.4 uses the image of a scroll to describe, not the sensible world,
but the firmament. The image serves not to praise divine order in the
world, but to imagine a situation of physical cataclysm, provoked by
the fall of the armies of Edom: 'The heavens are rolled up like a scroll
and their armies all drop like leaves, like vine leaves falling, like falling
fig leaves' (et tabescet omnis militia caelorum et conplicabuntur sicut liber caeli et
omnis militia eorum drfluet sicut difluit folium de vinea et de fico). This image
of cosmic destruction, imagined as the closing of a book, recurs in
Revelation 6.14: 'the sky disappeared like a scroll rolling up, and all
the mountains and islands moved from their place' (et caelum recessit sicut
liber involutus et omnis mons et insulae de locis suis motae sunt).
Certain of the Greek Fathers, shaped by Platonic tradition, used the
image of the book to speak with more confidence about the divine
origin of cosmic harmony John Chrysostom (347-407) is particularly
eloquent on the beauty of creation as a vehicle for perceiving God's
attributes of power, wisdom, and beauty 12 Similar ideas are invoked
by Basil the Great (330-379) in his commentary on the Hexaemeron,
12 Ohly, 'Neue Zeugen des Buchs der Natur aus dem Mittelalter,' 547-552, quoting
from Chrysostom's Homiliae in Epistolam ad Romanos 3.2, PG 60: 412D, and on Psalms 9,
147, 148, PG 55: 123-124,480,486; Homiliae in Genesim 22, PG 57= 301.
translated into Latin by Eustathius.
Basil holds that the world (kosmos)
is 'a school where reasonable people could be guided by visible things
to reflect on what was invisible'; namely his power, wisdom, and good-
St. Ambrose, much influenced by Basil, develops the image of
the saints having their names written in heaven as if it were an open
book (strictly speaking a codex); elsewhere he comments that although
animals can see this book, only man has the capacity to understand it.15
Augustine is familiar with the scriptural image of the heavens as like
a scroll, and does refer once in his writing to the world as like a great
book: 'look above and below, reflect, read.'16 He comments in one of his
Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the heavens,
question the arrangement of the stars, question the sun shining on the
day with its brightness, question the moon softening the darkness of the
subsequent night with its gleam, question the animals which move in the
waters, which dwell on earth, which fly in the air, clear bodies hiding
souls, visible things to be governed, governing what is unseen; question
these things, they all reply to you: 'see we are beautiful.'17
13 Dominique Poirel, Livre de la nature et dibat trinitaire au XIIe siecle. Le De tribus diebus de
Hugues de Saint- Victor, Bibliotheca Victorina 14 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2002), 349-350.
14 Basil, Homelies sur l'Hexamiron, Sources chretiennes 26 (Paris, 1949), p. II6, quoted
by Poirel, Livre de la nature, pp. 349-350. Poirel also identifies the parallel passage in the
translation of Eustathius,.
15 Ambrose, In Hexameron 1. 5. 18, ed. C. Schenkl, CSEL 32.1 (Leipzig, 1897), p. 15,
and 1. 6. 21, IT 'Extenditur enim uel quasi pellis ad tabernacula, habitationes sanc-
torum, uel quasi liber, ut plurimorum scribantur nomina, qui Christi gratiam fide
et deuotione meruerunt, quibus dicitur: Gaudete quia nomina uestra scripta sunt in
caelo;' In Hexameron VI. 9. 67, 255: 'Erigit et bucula ad caelum oculos, sed quid spectet
ignorat, erigunt ferae, erigunt aues, omnibus est liber aspectus, sed soli inest homini
eorum quae aspiciat affectus interpres.'
16 Augustine, Sermo 68, in Sancti Augustini Sermones post Maurinos reperti, ed. G. Morin,
in: Miscellanea Agostiniana, vol. I (Rome, 1930), 360: 'Est quidam magnus liber ipsa
species creaturae: superiorem et inferiorem contuere, attende, lege.' Ennarrationes in
Psalmos, Ps. 8:7, CCSL 38, 51: 'dictum est autem etiam de ipso moyse a magis regis
pharaonis, cum ab eo superati essent: digitus dei est hic; et quod scriptum est: caelum
plicabitur sicut liber, etiam si de isto aethereo caelo dictum est, congrue tamen ex hac
eadem similitudine in allegoria librorum caeli nominantur.'
17 Augustine, Sermo 241, PL 38: II34: 'interroga pulchritudinem terrae, interroga pul-
chritudinem maris; interroga pulchritudinem dilatati et diffusi aeris, interroga pulchri-
tudinem coeli, interroga ordinem siderum, interroga solem fulgore suo diem clarifi-
cantem, interroga lunam splendore subsequentis noctis tenebras temperantem, inter-
roga animalia quae mouentur in aquis, quae morantur in terris, quae uolitant in aere;
latentes animas, perspicua corpora; uisibilia regenda, inuisibiles regentes: interroga
ista, respondent tibi omnia: ecce uide, pulchra sumus.' See also a similar passage in
Sermo 141, PL 38: 776: 'interroga mundum, ornatum coeli, fulgorem dispositionemque
Yet while Augustine does speak occasionally about learning from
creation, he never develops a fully fledged theology of 'the book of
nature' as comparable to the book of scripture.
His comment that
reading nature is for the unlearned, while the Bible is for scholars,
reveals his scholarly elitism. Augustine's originality is above all as a
theorist of text, rather than of the physical world. In the De civitate Dei,
he speaks not about nature, but about the city. Pagans are those who
dwell outside the city of God. When Augustine does draw on analogy
in the De trinitate, he looks not to the physical world but to memory,
intelligence and will as an image or trace of God as Trinity.
Augustine's trinitarian theology reflects his sense that there is a vast
gulf between what he identifies as 'fallen human nature' and God.
Only in Christ has the sinfulness of human nature been overcome.
The primary role of the Holy Spirit he sees, not as God's love for
creation (as in Greek patristic thought), but as the mutual love (caritos)
shared between God the Father and God the Son. Augustine's high
Christology had such influence in the Latin West that in the fifth
century the phrase filioque was added to the Latin version of the Nicene
Creed, to explain that the Holy Spirit emanated not just from the
Father, but also the Son. This emphasized the eternal divinity of Christ,
while accentuating the gulf between Latin and Greek perspectives on
the Holy Spirit. Augustine's growing concern in later life with what he
describes as original sin, and our need for grace, made Latin theology
focus much more on divine revelation to sinful humanity through God's
Word in the Bible, rather than through the natural world.
Latin theology could never easily escape Augustine's profound focus
on the psychology of sin. Boethius sought a different path by using
siderum, solem diei sufficientem, lunam noctis solatium: interroga terram fructifican-
tern herbis et lignis, animalibus plenam, hominibus exornatam: interroga mare, quan-
tis et qualibus natatilibus plenum: interroga aera, quantis uolatilibus uiget: interroga
omnia, et uide si non sensu suo tanquam tibi respondent, deus nos fecit.'
18 This claim for Augustinian inspiration of the theme of the book of nature is
made by Heribert M. Nobis, 'Buch der Nature' in Histomches Wiirterbuch der Philosophie I
(1971): 958-g59, referring to Augustine's De Genesi ad litteram. This claim is repeated by
Hubert Herkommer, 'Buch der Schrift und Buch der Natur im Mittelalter, mit einem
Ausblick auf ihren Wandel in der Neuzeit,' Zeitschrifi for schweizemche Archaeologie und
Kunstgeschichte 431r (1986): 167-178. It seems to be based on a misunderstanding of
Augustine's reference in this work to the liber creaturae caeli et terrae; Augustine is here
referring to a distinct part of the book of Genesis, not to creation as a book, distinct
from the Bible, De Genesi ad litteram 5.3, 55, 5.Il, 5.23, ed. J. Zycha, CSEL 28 (Vienna,
1894), 139-140, 147, ISS, 168.
Aristotelian insights into language to reflect on words used about God,
and thus to create a theologia (a term that Augustine had associated with
pagan talk about the gods, with no value compared to the authority of
the Bible, reliable talk about God). In the twelfth century, the De trinitate
of Boethius provided both Gilbert of Poitiers and Thierry of Chartres
with an alternative authority to Augustine as a basis on which to build
theology. Abelard disagreed with Boethius' interpretation of Aristotle,
but still imitated Boethius in composing a De trinitate, focused around
the different words that we use for God or the supreme good. Abelard
only changed the name of his treatise from De trinitate to Theologia
Christiana after the Council of Soissons had condemned its original
version. By using the terms, theologia and theologi rather than divinitas and
divini, Abelard was signaling his desire to provide a Christian theology,
based not just on the Bible, but on the testimony of reason.
The other great early medieval theologian to distance himself from
Augustine also benefited greatly from direct knowledge of Greek
thought, but in a very different way. The linguistic capacity of John
Scotus Eriugena (fl. 850-870) was such that he could draw directly on
various of the Greek Church Fathers, notably Gregory of Nyssa, Basil,
Maximus, and above all that mysterious fifth-century theologian imag-
ined to be Dionysius the Areopagite, a philosopher converted by St.
He does not seem to have had direct access to Plato's Timaeus.
Building on St. Paul's statement in Romans I.20, the Areopagite had
presented knowledge of God as a journey through a symbolic universe,
from that which was known and visible, to that which was beyond
knowledge and the human mind. Eriugena expanded these Neoplaton-
ist themes into a brilliantly original notion of Natura (or Pf?ysis in Greek)
as the basis for all that is, beyond human definition. Whereas we think
of 'nature' as separate from God, he sees it as the foundation of all that
is, divine and created. Eriugena also uses the word universitas to evoke
19 There is a large literature on Eriugena. See, for example, EdouardJeauneau, Qya-
tre themes erigeniens (Montreal: Institut d'etudes medievales Albert-Ie-Grand, 1978); John
J. O'Meara, Eriugeria (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988); Dermot Moran, The Philosophy qf
John Scottus Eriugena. A Study qf Idealilm in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 1989); Eriugena: East and West: Papers qf the Eighth International Colloquium
qf the Society for the Promotion qf Eriugenian Studies, Chicago and Notre Dame, I8-20 October
I99I, ed. Bernard McGinn and Willemien OUen (Notre Dame: University of Notre
Dame Press, 1994); Deirdre Carabine, John Scottus Eriugena (New York: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 2000).
the unity of God and creation.
His philosophical system, little con-
cerned with sin, is based around awareness of God as beyond linguistic
definition, and as the source of all nature, revealed in manifestations
called theophaniae. His writings attracted limited attention between the
ninth and thirteenth centuries, and fell under a cloud after being con-
demned by the University of Paris in 1210 and 1225.21 They did not
attract wide notice until the early nineteenth century, when Schopen-
hauer and Hegel became fascinated by what they saw as Eriugena's
pantheist tendencies.
In his Periphyseon or 'About nature,' Eriugena adopts a more pos-
itive image towards nature than Augustine. He extends the Johan-
nine statement about all things being created by the Word of God
into a vision of all creation as the speech of God.
In his commen-
tary on St. John, Eriugena develops the idea of the two shoes (cal-
ceamenta, i.e., 'foot-coverings') of Christ, namely physical creation and
Through the covering of Christ, visible creation and Holy Scripture are
signified: in these he fixes paths like feet. The disposition (habitus) of
the Word is visible creation, which preaches him openly, showing his
beauty to us. Scripture has also been made its disposition, scripture,
which contains his mysteries, and thinks of itself as the corrector of all
things, that is of creation and of the letter as unworthy to resolve subtlety.
There are two feet of the Word, of which one is the natural reasoning
of visible creation, the other is spiritual understanding of Holy Scripture.
One is covered with the sensible forms of the sensible world, the other
with the covering of divine mountain tops, namely of the scriptures.
Commentators on the divine law introduce the incarnation of the Word
of God in two ways. One teaches his incarnation from the Virgin, in
which he links human nature to himself in the unity of substance. The
20 On his understanding of physis and universitas, see Moran, The Philosophy if John
Scottus Eriugena, 24I-268.
21 Honorius Augustodunensis culled extensively from the Periphyseon in his Glavis phys-
icae, ed. P. Lucentini (Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, I974), and thus provided
an important medium for the influence of Eriugena's ideas after Eriugena's condemna-
tion by Pope Honorius IlIon 25 Jan I225, Epistola ad archiepiscopos et episcopos, PL I22:
439-440; E.Jeauneau, 'Le renouveau Erigenien du XIIe siecle,' in Werner Beierwaltes,
ed. Eriugena redivivus: zur Wirkungsgeschichte seines Denkens im Mittelalter und im Ubergang zur
Neuzeit (Heidelberg: C. Winter, I987) and L. Sturlese, 'Zwischen Anselm undJohannes
Scotus Eriugena: der seltsame Fall des Honorius, des Mbnchs von Regensburg,' in
B. Mojsisch and 0. Pluta, eds., Historiae Philosophiae Medii Aevi (Amsterdam, Philadel-
phia: Gruner, I99I), 944-945.
22 Donald F. Duclow, 'Nature as Speech and Book inJohn Scotus Eruigena,' Mediae-
valia 3 (I977):I3I- I40 .
other asserts that the Word is incarnate, that is made thick in letters
through the forms and orders of visible things.23
Eriugena's allusive language, utterly different from the Aristotelian logic
preferred by Boethius, is not easy to understand, but it reflects his desire
to place the world and the Bible on an equal, rather than hierarchical
The writings attributed to the Areopagite, although translated by
Eriugena, had relatively little influence in the Latin West until the
Celestial Hierarchy was discovered by Hugh of St. Victor. It is impossi-
ble to be certain about exactly when and where Hugh came across
the writings of Pseudo-Denis, whether it was in Germany, before he
came to Paris in 1l15, or whether it was in a French abbey. Most of
the annotated manuscripts of Eriugena's translation are from abbeys
in the Holy Roman Empire. Paradoxically, while a Greek manuscript
of mystical texts was kept at the library of St-Denis, no Latin trans-
lation was known to Abelard, who conducted important research into
what he could find out about St. Denis while working in its library. 24
Abelard, who had a wide knowledge of sometimes rare Church Fathers,
never quotes from the Areopagite or Eriugena. Hugh certainly refers to
the writings of Dionysius in his Didascalicon.
From his earliest writings,
23 Commentaire sur l'evangile de Jean, ed. Edouard Jeauneau, Sources chretiennes 180
(Paris: Cerf, 1972), p. 156 [PL 122:307AB]: 'Potest etiam per calceamentum Christi
visibilis creatura et sancta Scriptura significari; in his enim vesitigia sua veluti pedes
suos infigit. Habitus quippe Verbi est creatura visibilis, quae eum aperte praedicat,
pulchritudinem suam nobis manifestans. Habitus quoque ejus facta est Scriptura, quae
ejus mysteria continet, quorum omnium, id est creaturae et litterae corrigiam, hoc est
subtilitatem solvere indignum se praecursor existimat. Duo pedes Verbi sunt, quorum
unus est naturalis ratio visibilis creaturae, alter spiritualis intellectus divinae Scripturae.
Unus tegitur sensibilis mundi sensibilibus formis, alter divinorum apicum, hoc est
scripturarum superficie. Duobus quippe modis divinae legis expositores incarnationem
Dei Verbi insinuant. Quorum unus est qui ejus incarnationem ex virgine qua in
unitatem substantiae humanam naturam sibi copulavit, edocet. Alter est qui ipsum
Verbum quasi incarnatum, hoc est, incrassatum litteris rerum qui visibilium formis et
ordinibus asserit.'
24 On the library of Saint-Denis, see Donatella Nebbiai-Dalla Guarda, La Bibliotheque
de l'abbaye de Saint-Denis en France du IXe au XVlIIe siecle (Paris: CNRS 1985), 29-35;
Abelard, Letter II', ed. Edme Smits, Peter Abelard. Letters IX-XIV (Groningen: [privately
published], 1983), 249-255; he quotes Dionysius only from a statement of Gregory the
Great in Sic et non, 49.7, ed. B. Boyer and R. McKeon (Chicago, 1976-1977), 223. I am
indebted to Ralf Stammberger for information on the manuscript tradition of Ps-Denis.
25 Hugh, Didascalicon 4.14, ed. Buttimer, reprinted in T. Offergeld, ed. Didascalicon,
p. 89: 'Dionysius Areopagita, episcopus ordinatus Corinthiorum, multa ingenii sui
uolumina reliquit.'
Hugh was interested in the writings attributed to the Areopagite as pro-
viding authority for his theological system, comparable to that played
by the writings of Aristotle for Abelard.
Hugh gives more concrete examples, however, than either the Are-
opagite or Eriugena, in speaking about how the mind can move from
the visible to the invisible, such as when he speaks about how the
crocodile moving along the ground, the salamander surviving fire, the
ant surviving winter, the spider with its web are all-in Hugh's phrase-
'witnesses to the wisdom of God.'26 Whereas Pseudo-Denis emphasizes
that God is beyond human statement, Hugh dwells on the way concrete
realities lead to the mind to God. There is a close parallel between what
he says here and the central theme of the bestiary, that birds and ani-
mals in creation can instruct us in higher moral and allegorical truths.
While medieval bestiaries all derive from a second-century text, they
only start to become popular as visual encyclopedias in the twelfth
century, combining moral instruction with entertainment. 27 Hugh of
St. Victor effectively legitimizes a literary genre that would become
immensely popular among readers, not well versed in Latin Biblical
exegesis, but fascinated by the visual images that so often accompany
the medieval bestiary.
Hugh's frequent reference to the sensible world (mundus sensilis) as
like a book is based not on Augustine, for whom mundus always has a
negative connotation, but rather on a key phrase of Plato, as translated
and commented on by Chalcidius, for whom the mundus sensilis is the
work of God.
Plato never specifically compares the world to a book
in the Timaeus, but he does emphasize that the universe is rationally
constructed, not by the random will of the gods, but by the Demiurge,
according to principles of order and form. While Hugh never explicitly
identifies Plato (or indeed any other author) by name in the De tribus
26 De tribus diebus 376-382, ed. Poirel, p. 24, with images culled from Isidore's Etymolo-
giae xn (43; 39; 5. 2).
27 On the literary development of the bestiary, see Florence McCulloch, Mediaeval
Latin and French Bestiaries, rev. ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1962)
and Nikolaus Henkel, Studien zum Physiologus im Mittelalter (Ttibingen: Max Niemeyer,
1976), as well as papers in Beasts and Birds if the Middle Ages: The Bestiary and Its Legacy, ed.
Willene B. Clark and Meredith T. McMunn (philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Press, 1989). For a modern English translation see MichaelJ. Curley, Physiologus (Austin,
London: University of Texas Press, 1979).
28 Timaeus a Chalcidio translatus, ed. J.H. Waszink (London: Warburg Institute, 1962),
21; Chalcidius, Commentarius I. 23, 74: 'Et mundus sensilis opus dei; origo igitur eius
causatiua, non temporaria.'
diebus, his persistent allusions to the world as mundus sensilis and as a
simulacrum of the invisible declare his familiarity with the Timaeus.
Hugh speaks much more warmly about Plato than Aristotle in his
Hugh does once refer to Plato to support his claim that
philosophers by natural reason were able to gain some understanding
of God as Trinity in what they had to say about tagos and anima mundi
in his Sententie de divinitate, lectures delivered perhaps in the mid-to-late
I120S. In later writings, however, perhaps conscious of its potential for
controversy he avoids such explicit claims. 31 Hugh effectively provides
a Platonically inspired philosophy of natura as leading the mind to
God, argued like the Monologion of St. Anselm, without reference to
any written authority, but by reason alone. He is presenting not a proof
for God's existence, but a meditation on the natural world.
4. Hugh qf St. Victor and philosophical debate III5-II25.
To appreciate the originality and significance of Hugh's subtle fusion of
Platonic theory and natural theology, we need to understand the inten-
sity of debate about the value of studying pagan authors in the late
eleventh and early twelfth century, as well as the unusually wide educa-
tional background that Hugh himself enjoyed. Hugh came to the newly
founded abbey of St. Victor in Paris, with his uncle, the archdeacon of
Halberstadt, in around I115, just two years after William of Champeau x
had left St. Victor, to become bishop of Chalon-sur-Marne. Thanks
to the recent discovery by Julie Hotchin of a Kassel manuscript of
Hugh's De arrha animae, in which the addressee is identified as Gun-
ther, canon Hamersleben before becoming provost of Lippoldsberg in
I138, we have good grounds for thinking that Hugh was educated at
Hamersleben, founded in 1107/8 by bishop Reinhard of Halberstadt
(II07-I123) as the first house of reformed regular canons in the north
of Germany. Hugh's uncle, with whom he went to Paris in I115 (via
Marseilles, to obtain the relics of St. Victor), was archdeacon of Hal-
29 De tribus diebus 547, with extensive notes by Poirel, CCCM 177, 34.
30 Didascalicon 3. 2, ed. cit., 220, 226.
31 Sententie de divinitate,part 3, ed. A.M. Piazzoni, Studi Medievali 23 (1982): 912--955,
esp. 853: 'Nee mirum si ratio per se potuit hanc trinitatem deprehendere, quia etiam
philosophi gentium, naturali tantum ducti ratione, hoc idem perceperunt, ut Plato, qui
dixit esse "noema," "tagos" et "anima mundi.'"
While we do not know exactly how old Hugh was in IllS,
the speed with which he established himself as a teacher at St. Victor,
suggests that he may have been over twenty years old when he went
to France. He had clearly already formed strong ties to the commu-
nity at Hamersleben, where the library was richly endowed with sec-
ular as well as sacred authors.33 Hugh may have gone with his uncle,
the archdeacon of Halberstadt, from Hamersleben to St. Victor, at the
suggestion of Conan of Praeneste, papal legate in Germany, friend of
William of Champeaux and also an Augustinian canon.
Not all Augustinian canons were as open as Hugh to the study of
pagan authors. In the ro8os, Manegold of Lautenbach wrote his Liber
contra Wo1felmum, to criticize the abbot ofBrauweiler, for being too eager
to harmonize the teaching of Macrobius with Christian doctrine. 35
Manegold's hostility was heightened by his perception that Wolf elm
was more loyal to Henry IV than to Pope Gregory VII (ro73-ro8S).
32 Kassel, Landesbibliothek, MS 8
theo!. 3. In most manuscripts of the De arrha
animae, Gunther is identified simply as dilecto fratri G., PL 176: 951B. For this insight,
and commentary on the relationship between Hammersleben and Lippoldsberg, I am
indebted to the important paper by Julie Hotchin, 'Women's Reading and Monastic
Reform in Twelfth Century Germany: The Library of the Nuns of Lippoldsberg, , forth-
coming in Manuscripts and Monastic Culture: RifOrm and Renewal in Twelfth-Century Germany,
ed. Alison Beach and Maria-Christina Lutter (Turnhout: Brepols). On Hamersleben,
see Walter Zollner, Die Urkunden und Besitzaujzeichnungen des Stifts Hamersleben (IIo8-1462)
(Leipzig: St. Benno Verlag, 1979).
33 Gustav Becker erroneously dated the catalogue to the eleventh century, Cata-
logi Bibliothecarum Antiqui (Bonn: Max Cohen, 1885), no. 56, 140-142; more recently
edited by Hartmut Hoffinann, 'Die Schulbucher von Hamersleben' in his Handschri.fien-
funde, MGH Studien und Texte 18 (Hannover: Hahnsche, 1997), 51-60, with addi-
tions by Udo Kuhne, 'Zum Hamerslebener Schulbucher-Verzeichnis,, Deutsches Archiu
for Eiforschung des Mittelalters, 53.2 (1997):s63-566. Becker incorrectly ascribed the cata-
logue to the eleventh century. As Hotchin observes, even though this catalogue is from
the thirteenth century, the last dated item is from the twelfth century, and gives us some
idea of the cultural vitality of Hamersleben in this period.
34 The papal legate in Germany and France during these years, Cuno of Palastrina
(Praeneste), was himself an Augustinian canon from Suabia, and a close friend of
William ofChampeaux. On Cuno (also known as Conon of Palestrina), see Chronique de
Morigny, ed. L. Mirot (Paris, 1909),33,42,65-67, and R. Hiestand, 'Legat, Kaiser und
Basilieus. Bischof Kuno von Praeneste und die Krise des Papsttums von IIII/III2,' in
Aus Reichsgeschichte und Nordischer Geschichte. Karl Jordan zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. H. Fuhr-
mann, H.-E. Mayer, K. Wriedt, Kieler Historische Studien 16 (Stuttgart: E. Klett,
1972), 141- 152.
35 Liber contra Wo!filmum, ed. Wilfried Hartmann (Weimar, Bohlau, 1972); there is
much valuable commentary on this text in Manegold if Lautenbach, Liber contra Wo!filmum,
trans. Robert Ziomkowksi, Dallas Medieval Texts and Translations I (Leuven: Peeters,
Manegold was himself author of important commentaries on Cicero's
De inventione and the Rhetorica ad Herennium and recognized that much
pagan teaching about the virtues, was wholly compatible with Christian
doctrine, but argued that Plato and Macrobius should not be relied on
uncritically.36 Manegold's response to monastic enthusiasm for pagan
learning was one of caution. Hugh of St. Victor, on the other hand,
was less troubled by drawing on pagan authority. In the Didascalicon, he
explains to young novices how they could read Plato and Macrobius, as
well as many other pagan authors in a meditative way that harmonized
fully with the study of scripture without warning against their errors.
Not all canons and monks in Germany followed the cautious atti-
tude of Manegold. William of Hirsau, who inspired monastic and edu-
cational reform throughout Germany in the late eleventh century, was
himself a distinguished authority on the curriculum, and was less trou-
bled by reading pagan authors than his friend, Otloh of Emmeram.
Inevitably there was disagreement about exactly what attitude should
be taken to the study of pagan authors in general. Some writers empha-
sized monastic teaching about the world (mundus) as a place of tempta-
tion, and interpreted scripture in a highly allegorical fashion, as teach-
ing how the mind rises above the distraction of the flesh to the realm
of the spirit. Others, like the abbot of Brauweiler, read what Plato and
Macrobius had to say about the world (mundus) in a much more positive
There are also parallels between what Hugh of St. Victor has to say
about the material world as a simulacrum of the divine, and the writings
of an equally prolific, but much less well-known German author, a
monk of Hirsau identified by Trithemius in the late fifteenth century
(from sources that are lost to us) as Conrad. We know only that he was
a disciple of William of Hirsau (d. 1091), was called Peregrinus in the
twelfth-century library catalogue of Hirsau, and that he had completed
his most famous composition, the Speculum virginum by 1140. Conrad
strongly supported the study of pagan authors in his Dialogus super
auctores, as fully consistent with a monastic vocation. Conrad drew on
the Accessus ad auctores, written by Bernard of Utrecht in the late eleventh
century. Conrad's fundamentally positive attitude to pagan learning
contrasts with that of Manegold of Lautenbach. The vigor of debate
between these two attitudes comes out in his Dialogus de mundi contemptu
36 Liber contra Wolfe/mum, xxii, trans. Ziomkowski, 62.
vel amore, written as a debate between a monk and a matricularius, or
secular canon. The monk opens the dialogue by affirming that it is
ancient monastic tradition, going back to the words of the Apostle,
that the world (mundus) is a place of danger and temptation, and that
it is only through having contempt for the world that we may reach
our eternal endY The cleric, brought up on philosophical studies, puts
forward equally compelling arguments that we should not try to go
beyond our capacities or reject philosophy 'because nothing is lacking
to those, namely, who possess all things in Christ.' 'Human nature,
needful of its necessities, is obliged to attend to what is evident to
the eyes, and has no experience to go further.'38 Through the dialogue
that unfolds, Conrad of Hirsau puts forward an argument sola ratione
that God has created human nature, and that it is through correct
appreciation of the visible things of the world, that we learn about
God. Using the Augustinian distinction between use and enjoyment,
the teacher develops the argument that while we may use the world,
our hearts must be directed to God.
Conrad is much more interested
in moral and ethical issues than in the physical structure of the world.
He recognizes the validity of the cleric's criticisms of contemporary
monasticism, but insists that whether monks have a black or grey habit
(an early allusion to the Cistercians, before they became known as
white monks) what matters is the purity of their intention.
The cleric
eventually arrives at an understanding of the cloister as a 'school of
heavenly discipline,' in which the monk considers the visible world
as a pathway to inner purification. In the De ftuctu carnis et spiritus, a
widely copied treatise printed among the works of Hugh of St. Victor,
Conrad develops further this theme of correct cooperation between the
world of the flesh and the world of the spirit. He takes this argument
even further in the Speculum virginum, a dialogue about the spiritual life
37 Dialogus de mundi contemptu vel amore (Louvain: Nauwelaerts, 1966), ed. R. Bultot,
38 Dialogus, ed. Bultot, 43: 'Sed uires nostras pondus istud excedit, nec est temporis
huius rebus abiectis philosophandi, quia cui nihil deest utpote in christo omnia possi-
denti et nulla supra naturam cupienti, iam philosophatur, et magis de communi quam
de priuato gloriatur.' Ibid, 44: 'Ipsa enim humana natura necessariis suis indiga, quod
oculis subiacet cogitur attendere, inexperta uero pretergredi.'
39 Dialogus, ed. Bultot, 45.
40 Dialogus, ed. Bultot, 58: 'Numquam uero sanis monachorum intellectibus huius
imperitiae notam ascribas, ut soli presumant de christi presentia, cuius sancta conscien-
tia locus est. Siue ergo pauci uel plures, grisei uel nigri uel cuiuscumque coloris habiti,
monachi sancti sunt si dominum sancta intentione querunt.'
between Peregrinus and an articulate nun, Theodora. Of particular
significance is the way that Conrad uses visual images as a medium
of instruction, taking to a new stage the Pauline argument about our
capacity to learn about the invisible things of God from the material
While there are many parallels between Hugh and Conrad in the
way that they emphasize the transition from the material to the spiri-
tual world, it is difficult to say whether one writer influences the other.
Hugh's Didascalicon is more elaborate than Conrad's Dialogus super auc-
tores, and could be an attempt to provide an improved manual. Hugh
shares Conrad's mystical inclination, but also admires the zeal for
systematic synthesis promoted in France by teachers like Anselm of
Laon and William of Champeaux. Hugh never studied directly under
William of Champeaux, and never gained any profound familiarity
with the writings of Aristotle, like Peter Abelard. Nonetheless, Hugh
absorbed-perhaps from Gilduin, the first provost of St. Victor-a
driving theme in William's teaching, that grammar, dialectic and rhet-
oric are all part of logica, and that the arts of logica served philosophy.41
William of Champeaux has often been perceived by scholars simply as
a traditionalist both in dialectic and theology. To summarize research
that I have published elsewhere, it is increasingly evident that William
played a significant role in developing the study of the trivium as a
Abelard's picture of William in the Historia calamitatum as a tra-
ditionalist in his understanding of universals is misleading. William's
major contribution to dialectic was not in universals, but in study of the
topics or principles that underpin all argument. Unlike Abelard, who
in early life was interested solely in dialectic, William had authority
in both dialectic and rhetoric, and in speculative grammar as well. In
the Didascalicon, Hugh of St. Victor extends this emphasis of William of
Champeaux in the trivium as a whole to a broader vision that includes
study of the quadrivium, about the physical world, as leading to phi-
losophy. Conrad of Hirsau never synthesized this encylopedic vision of
learning, being much more interested in moral and spiritual growth
than theological synthesis.
41 On this theme, see my paper 'Logica in the Service of Philosophy: William of
Champeaux and His Influence', in Schrijt, Schreiber, Schenker. Studien zur Abtei Sankt Viktor
zu Paris und zu den Viktorinern, ed. Rainer Berndt, Corpus victorinum. Instrumenta I
(Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2004), forthcoming.
42 Ibid.
When Hugh came to France in I1l5, opinions were divided about the
study of pagan authors. Peter Abelard, fresh on the heels of repudiating
the authority of Anselm of Laon (d. IIl7), embodied a bold confidence
in pagan learning. Between 1115 and IIl7 he engaged in an intense
relationship with Heloise, in which he endeavored to respond to her
questions about the nature of love and friendship in a way that brought
together the ideas of Ovid, Cicero and the Bible. Students, like Heloise,
raised on the study of pagan authors, had little time for the theological
arguments espoused by Anselm of Laon, reported by students as speak-
ing much more about original sin and its consequences, and on Christ's
mission to redeem humanity from the devil's dominion, than about the
material world.
Baudri, abbot of Bourgueil, openly proclaimed the
authority of Ovid in writing about love. Anselm of Laon, revered as an
authority on the Bible, never cites pagan authority in this way. He knew
about the practice of the Greek Church (followed by St. Ambrose) of
honoring certain saints who came before Christ, but affirms the Latin
teaching that all who came before Christ were in hell, until freed by
Christ.44 Unlike St. Anselm, Anselm of Laon left little room for the
rational mind to come by its own efforts to an understanding of God.
The theological sentences attributed to William of Champeaux use
many more philosophical concepts than those attributed to Anselm.
William apparently taught that God creates both the matter and form
of everything that exists, and that their nature is clearly distinct from
that of God, whose attributes can only be identified through metaphor
(translatio).45 William is much more concerned than Anselm of Laon to
explain how we speak about divine attributes, manifest in creation. To
understand words used of God, one must consider 'both the nature of
human things and the finding of words. '46 William speaks about God
creating all things out of nothing, not from any pre-existing matter
and form, through the wisdom of the Son of the Father, and loving
them with his charity, 'which is called the Holy Spirit of them both,'
but professes that he is incapable of explaining how God is both three
and one, 'since nothing similar can be found in the nature of things. '47
43 Liber pancrisis, nos. 28-48 [attributed to Anselm], ed. Odon Lattin, Psychologie et
morale,5 (Gembloux: Duculot, 1959), 29-47
44 Liber pancrisis, no. 95 [attributed to Anselm], ed. Lattin, 80.
45 Liber pancrisis, no. 236 [attributed to William], ed. Lattin, 190-19I.
46 Ibid., ed. Lattin, 19I: 'Quod ut sane intelligere possimus, attendenda est et rerum
natura humanarum et uocum inuentio.'
47 Ibid, ed. Lattin, 192: 'Ipse enim suo, ut dictum est, spatia manendi ante omnia
He still goes ahead to offer his own version of a trinitarian theology,
explaining why the Holy Spirit is called amor or caritos, the love of the
Father and the Son for all things.
Very similar ideas are developed further in an anonymous sentence
collection known as the Sententie divine pagine, widely diffused in German
monastic libraries in the twelfth century. These sentences explain that
reason, through knowing that all things have a beginning from some-
thing and were made in wisdom and goodness, considers the Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit.
This extends a definition implicit in the Liber
pancrisis. Many close parallels between the Sententie divine pagine and sen-
tences attributed elsewhere to William of Champeaux raise the pos-
sibility that this work, edited by Bliemetzrieder as a product of the
school of Anselm of Laon, is more likely to issue from the school of
William of Champeaux. Unlike the sentences Principium omnium, some-
times reported in manuscripts as recording the teaching of Anselm of
Laon, these sentences offer a distinctly more philosophical vision of the-
ology, although not influenced by either Hugh of St. Victor or Abelard.
These sentences include brief comment about the appropriateness of
God making the birds in the air and fish in the sea, so that men and
angels might honor and revere God. Their dominant emphasis, how-
ever, is that man sinned almost as soon as he was created, and that
sensuality, which should serve rationality, has been corrupted through
sin.50 While they hint at the capacity of the mind to develop a philo-
sophical theology, any optimism is cut short by a negative cautionary
awareness of the frailty of human nature.
In IllS, the teacher who had the greatest reputation in France for
studying Plato was Bernard of Chartres (d. Il26). The Glosses on
solus exsistens, felix, nullo indigens, omnia de nihilo, non de preiacente materia uel
forma, sua sapientia creauit et sua caritate dilexit. Que quidem sapientia Filius patris,
caritas uero Spiritus utriusque sanctus nominatur. Est enim unus Deus et trinus, unus
quidem in substantia, trinus in personis: quod qualiter explicare possim non uideo, cum
in nulla rerum natura simile quid possit inueniri.'
48 Ibid., ed. Lottin, 193: 'Hic ergo affectus, siue amor, siue caritas Spiritus sanctus
49 Sententie divine pagine, ed. Franz Bliemetzrieder, Anselms von Laon Systematische Senten-
zen, in Beitrage zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters (Munster: Aschendorff,
1919), 'Cum enim humana ratio attendit omnia hec mutabilia cepisse et habuisse
exordium ab aliquo, ibidem attendit patris personam, a quo omnia. Cum autem omnia
in sapientia facta esse dinoscit, ibi personam filii, quod est sapientia patris. Cum uero
omnia in bonitate facta dinoscit, ibi spiritus sanctus, quod est bonitas dei patris.'
50 Sent. div. pag., ed. Bliemetzrieder, 12; see also 16 on the speed of Adam's fall, and
24 on the corruption of sensuality after sin.
the Timaeus attributed to him provide fascinating insight into the way
Plato's treatise provided a way of reflecting on the philosophical ratio-
nality and harmony of the created world, in a way that would be taken
much further by William of Conches.
While there is no hint of theo-
logical controversy in these glosses, they effectively present the Timaeus
as providing philosophical insight akin to that offered by the Bible.
Hugh of St. Victor's vision of the beauty and rationality of the world,
which goes beyond anything offered in the theological sentences of
William of Champeaux, echoes the philosophical vision of Bernard of
Chartres. A clue to Hugh's respect for Bernard occurs in the Didascali-
con, in which he quotes 'a certain wise man' as declaring that 'a hum-
ble mind, eagerness to inquire, a quiet life, / Silent scrutiny, poverty,
a foreign soil / These, for many, unlock the hidden places of learn-
ing.'52 Later that century, John of Salisbury attributes these same verses
in his Policraticus to the senex Carnotensis. Hugh's familiarity with the
Timaeus is evident in his use of terms like mundus sensilis and simulacrum.
Hugh admires the Platonic perspective on the physical world offered by
Bernard of Chartres, but seeks to transfer this to theological teaching
about how the mind can move from the visible to the invisible. A fur-
ther clue to an intellectual kinship between Hugh and the Chartrians
is suggested by the comments of Clarembald of Arras, about wanting
to imitate his teachers, Hugh of St. Victor and Thierry of Chartres,
commenting on Boethius.
Thierry of Chartres also shared with Hugh
great respect for the writings of Pseudo-Denis. 54
51 On the slender biographical information we have about Bernard of Chartres,
see The Glosae super Platonem if Bernard if Chartres, ed. Paul Dutton (Toronto: Pontifical
Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1991), esp. 21-45.
52 Didascalicon 3.12, ed. cit., p. 250: 'Sapiens quidam cum de modo et forma discendi
interrogaretur: Mens, inquit, humilis, studium querendi, uita quieta, scrutinium taci-
turn, paupertas, terra aliena, hec reserare solent multis obscura legendi.' These verses
are attributed to Bernard of Chartres in Policraticus 7.13, ed. C.C]. Webb, 2 vols. (Lon-
don, 1909), 2: 145; see Dutton, The Glosae super Platonem if Bernard if Chartres, 240.
53 Lift and Works if Clarembald if Arras, ed. Nikolaus Haring (Toronto: Pontifical
Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1965), 12.
54 See Commentaries on Boethius by Thierry if Chartres and his School (Toronto: Pontifical
Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1971), 195-196 [Lectiones, Iv, 28], 465 [Abbreviatio Mona-
censis, Contra Eutychen, III, 63].
5. Hugh and Abelard
Hugh of St. Victor and Abelard shared a similar sense that the human
mind could glimpse divine power, wisdom and benignity, but they dif-
fered significantly in their philosophical perspective. Hugh was more
Platonic in his inclination, interested in the capacity of the natural
world to signify higher truths, while Abelard was more Aristotelian
in his concern for the imposition of words. The question of who first
developed the triad divine power, wisdom, and benignity is problem-
atic. Given that Hugh's De tribus diebus is so utterly different from
Abelard's treatise, it does seem unlikely that Hugh should draw this
triad from Abelard, without engaging in any critique of his arguments
in the Thealagia 'Summi bani'. Unlike the De sacramentis, the De tribus diebus
carries no critique of the arguments condemned at Soissons in 112I. It
seems equally strange, however, that Abelard should depend on the for-
mula of a young theologian to create a very different treatise. It seems
more plausible to consider both Abelard and Hugh as developing a
theme provoked by William of Champeaux.
Both Abelard and Hugh
were inspired by William's interest in developing a philosophical the-
ology based on reason rather than the Bible, but they both go further
than William. Whereas Hugh develops his system from reflection on
the natural world, as interpreted by Plato, Abelard uses Aristotelian
theory to base his reflection on the meaning of words used about the
supreme good. By calling his treatise De tribus diebus rather than De
trinitate, Hugh draws attention to three phases in experiencing God's
nature, rather than analytic discussion of the three persons predicated
of God.
Hugh and Abelard also differ profoundly in their attitude towards
authority. In the Thealagia 'Summi bani' Abelard is anxious to rebut his
critics by providing both authorities and reasoning for his argument.
He quotes at length from Augustine to demonstrate that his critics (very
specifically Alberic of Rheims, a disciple of Anselm of Laon) are wrong
in the way they read Augustine as rejecting insight gained from study
of pagan authors. Perhaps in a jibe against the disciples of Bernard of
55 The possibility of a common source is raised by Ralf Stammberger, 'De Longe
Ueritas Uidetur Diuersa Iudicia Parit: Hugh of Saint Victor and Peter Abelard,' Revista
Portuguesa de Filosrfia 58 (2002): 65-92; see also my comments in the review of Poirel,
Speculum 79 (January 2004): 255-257. Matthias Perkams questions Poirel's arguments
about Hugh having first invented the formula in 'The Origins of the Trinitarian
Attributes potentia, sapientia, benignitas,' forthcoming in Archa Jlerbi.
Chartres, Abelard also criticizes those Platonists who equate too quickly
the world soul with the Holy Spirit. Suspicious of any attempt to read
Platonic forms as real essences, he reminds his reader that the world
soul is an involucrum, a fable or covering that speaks indirectly about the
goodness by which God sustains creation. Abelard is fascinated by the
idea that the soul of the world gives life not just to humanity, but to the
trees and plants. Yet he resists the idea that the world is itself a living
animal. Plato's teaching, he argues, must not be understood literally. He
sees the world soul, described at length by Macrobius, as an image of
God's goodness, sustaining equally the whole globe of the world, as an
image of the Holy Spirit, offered equally to all. 56
Abelard never compares the world to a book. He is suspicious of
how the written words of scripture and patristic tradition could be dis-
torted in the process of copying, and thus betray their true inspiration.
Nonetheless, he shares completely the emphasis of both Hugh of St.
Victor and the Chartrians on the fundamentally rational character of
the created world. Abelard challenges an excessively literal reading of
Plato that does not take into account that forms have no reality outside
the material world.
Hugh's fascination for the material world subsequently influenced
the way he interpreted the Bible. Mter composing certain core trea-
tises for the education of his students about such basic disciplines as
grammar, geometry, and the structure of the world, he also applied
himself to a series of commentaries on scripture, in which he gave as
much attention to its historical (litteralis) as to its moral and allegorical
sense. Hugh's emphasis on the historical sense extends his interest in
the sensible world to the historicity of scripture. Traditionally, monas-
tic commentators on scripture, above all Gregory the Great, empha-
sized its allegorical significance. Eschewing what it had to say about the
physical world, they concentrated on those moral and allegorical spiri-
tual truths evoked by the Bible. Dionysius the Areopagite and Eriugena
are similarly allegorical in their interests. By the early twelfth century,
commentators like Rupert of Deutz were beginning to challenge this
perspective by emphasis the historical dimension of scripture. Rupert
interpreted the Garden of Eden, not as an allegory of Paradise, but
as a real place on this earth. Hugh of St. Victor, committed to seeing
the created world as like a book, through which divine attributes are
56 Theologia 'Summi boni' I.47, ed. Mews, I03.
revealed, interprets the Bible as written confirmation of what God has
revealed through the natural world. This emphasis on the historicity
of scripture reflected a wider scholarly interest in the workings of the
natural world.
In the De sacramentis, composed in the II30s, Hugh of St. Victor cre-
ated a major theological synthesis around the theme that it is through
physical signs, the sacraments, that humanity can return to God.
Whereas the theological sentences attributed to Anselm of Laon em-
phasize man's fall into original sin, as contrasted with his subsequent
redemption in Christ, the De sacramentis emphasizes the parallel between
God's creation of the world, and man's restoration through the sacra-
ments, prefigured in the Old Testament, and brought to fruition
through Christ in the New Testament. Having explained the histori-
cal meaning of scripture, he now shows how it relates divine revelation
through sacraments, material realities invested with divine significance.
His focus here is much more on the work of redemption than on cre-
ation. Nonetheless, Hugh reiterates the theme that creation provides
one book, while the incarnation provides us with a second: 'The first
was written for pleasure, the second for health, the first so that nature
could be nourished, the second so that vice could be healed and nature
made blessed.'57
6. The evolution qf an image
It would take a separate book to explore the evolution over the cen-
turies of Hugh's image of the world as a book, parallel to scripture.
Blumenberg and Ohly opened up this theme, but more in relation
to its literary evolution than to its theological dimension. The image
of the world as like a book effectively challenged the assumption that
scripture was the only means of God's self-revelation. While Augus-
tine had acknowledged that God could be known through creation as
well as scripture, it was only in the twelfth century that Latin thinkers
developed the implications of this argument, previously taken up in the
West only by Eriugena. The twelfth century was an age of rapid expan-
57 De sacramentis I.5, PL 176: 267A: 'Liber ergo unus erat semel intus scriptus, et bis
foris. Faris primo per visibilium conditionem, secunda foris per carnis assumptionem.
Primo ad jucunditatem, secunda ad sanitatem; primo ad naturam, secunda contra cul-
pam; primo ut natura foveretur, secondo ut vitium sanaretur, et natura beatificaretur.'
sion in the use of books for teaching. The book provided an appropri-
ate metaphor for their experience of the world. Writing in the 1140s,
another Augustinian canon, Hugh of Fouilloy, expanded on this image
by suggesting that there were four books: the first was written on man's
heart, the second by Moses on tablets, third, the book of grace was
written by Christ in his teaching, the fourth was the book of wisdom
of God written from eternity.58 While Hugh does not here invoke the
actual image of the book of nature, he did compose a widely popular
bestiary, that used birds and animals to teach what he perceived to be
the message of the Bible. His thought was birds and animals might well
communicate more than the over-familiar words of the Bible.
Bernard of Clairvaux is another influential figure who picks up the
image proposed by Hugh of St. Victor, in a sermon on Romans 1.20,
in which he speaks of 'this sensible world as a kind of book, tied by a
chain, so that whoever wants, may read the wisdom of God in it. '59 In
a letter to Henry Murdach, written in II25, he praised the joys of the
monastic life, by emphasizing what one learns from nature: 'Trust my
experience: one learns more among the trees of the forest than from
books. The trees and rocks will teach you a wisdom you cannot hear
from teachers.'60 William of St-Thierry reports that Bernard used to
joke that he only had oaks and beech trees as his teachers.6lYet Bernard
was not particularly interested in the natural world, and was perhaps
closer in spirit to Augustine, in being concerned above all with the
58 Hugh of Fouilloy, De claustra animae, 4.33, PL 176: II70D.
59 Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermones de diversis, Sermo 9, Sancti Bernardi Opera [SBO] , ed.
J. Leclercq et al., 8 vols. (Rome: Editiones cistercienses, 1957-1977), 6.I:II8: 'Invisibilia
Dei, apostolo teste, a creatura mundi per ea quae facta sunt intellecta conspiciuntur,
et est velut communis quidam liber et catena ligatus sensibilis mundus iste, ut in eo
sapientiam Dei legat quicumque voluerit. Erit tamen cum caelum plicabitur sicut liber,
in quo utique nemo deinceps legere necesse habeat, quoniam erunt omnes docibiles
dei, et quemadmodum creatura caeli, sic et creatura mundi, iam non per speculum
et in aenigmate, sed facie ad faciem Deum vide bit, et sapientiam eius ad liquidum
contemplabitur in seipsa.'
60 Bernard of Clairvaux, Epist. ro6, SBO ]:266: 'Experto crede: aliquid amplius
invenies in silvis quam in libris. Ligna et lapides docebunt te, quod a magistris audire
non possis.'
61 William of St-Thierry emphasizes that isolation in nature helped him understand
Scripture, in the Vita prima I. 4. 23, PL 185: 24oD: 'Nam usque hodie quidquid
in Scripturis valet, quidquid in eis spiritualiter sentit, maxime in silvis et in agris
meditando et orando se confitetur accepisse; et in hoc nullos aliquando se magistro
habuisse, nisi quercus et fagos, joco illos suo gratioso inter amicos dicere solet.' Adriaan
Bredero comments on these passages, in Bernard of Clairvaux: Between Cult and History
(Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1996), 125.
psychology of the soul. There is a celebrated story that he was once
working along Lake Geneva, and was so engrossed in prayer that he
never noticed the beautiful spectacle at his side.
This should not be
taken as a paradigm of the way all medieval authors viewed the natural
world. In the late tvvelfth century, Alan of Lille transformed the idea
with this elegant verse:
Omnis mundi creatura
Quasi liber et scriptura
Nobis est, et speculum.
Every creature of the world
Is like a book, and scripture
Is for us [like] a mirror.
Alan of Lille played a major role in personifYing the figure of Natura
through his De planctu naturae, presenting both his ideal of Nature and
the way it had been deformed by human vanity. The image of the
book of nature provided a way of presenting an image of perfect order,
parallel to, but different from the Bible.
The doctrine of two books of revelation had become so well-es-
tablished by the mid thirteenth century that the Dominican Richard
Fishacre drew extensively on it in a sermon delivered in Oxford in
1246. He proclaimed that there were in effect three books: the book
of life, or divine wisdom itself; the book of scriptures, and the book
of nature, through which we find vestiges and traces of the Creator.
Bonaventure (1217-1274) similarly mentioned (although did not expand
in any major way) the Victorine image of the world as like a book,
through which the creative Trinity could be read.
Yet he also held
that as a result of sin, the book of creation has been damaged, so that
62 Geoffrey of Auxerre, Vita prima III. 2. 4, PL 185: 305D-306A.
63 Rhythmus, published from a manuscript of Marchiennes, reprinted in PL 210:
64 R. James Long, The Science of Theoogy According to Richard Fishacre: Edi-
tion of the Prologue to his Commentary on the Sentences,' Mediaeval Studies 34 (1972): 71-g8,
esp. 80-81; see also Stephen F. Brown, 'Richard Fishacre on the Need for "Philoso-
phy,'" in A Straight Path. Studies in Medieval Philosophy and Culture. Essays in Honor if Arthur
Hyman, ed. Jeremiah Hackett, Michael Samuel Hyman, R. James Long and Charles
H. Manekin (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1988), 23-36.
65 Bonaventure, Breviloquium 2.12, in Opera, 10 vols. (Quaracchi: Collegii S. Bonaven-
turae, 1882-1902), 5:230: 'Ex praedictis autem colligi potest quod creatura mundi est
quasi quidam liber in quo relucet repraesentatur et legitur trinitas fabricatrix secun-
dum triplicem gradum expressionis scilicet per modum vestigii imaginis et similitudinis
ita quod ratio vestigii reperitur in omnibus creaturis ratio imaginis in solis intellectu-
alibus seu spiritibus rationalibus ratio similitudinis in solis deiformibus ex quibus quasi
we cannot make sense of its meaning, except through the revelation of
Aquinas never drew on this image of the book of nature,
adopting a more intellectual attitude to considering how the mind can
learn about God.
Paradoxically, it was through the reformers of the sixteenth century
that the theme of God's parallel revelation through both the books
of scripture and creation was given new emphasis. This doctrine was
stated with particular clarity in the Belgic Confession, drafted by Guido
de n ~ s (1523-1567), first printed in 1561 and of wide influence in
the low countries. Its wording picks up the vocabulary of Hugh of
St. Victor in declaring that God could be known through two books,
creation and scripture:
We know him by two means: first, by the creation, preservation, and
government of the universe, which is before our eyes as a most elegant
book wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters
leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God: his eternal power
and Godhead, as the apostle Paul saith (Rom. 1:20). All these things are
sufficient to convince men and leave them without excuse. Secondly, he
makes himself more clearly and fully known to us by his holy and divine
Word, that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to his
glory and our salvation.
Guido de Bres was here expanding on the Gallican Confession of Faith
of 1559 which simply stated Augustine's assertion, developed by Jean
Calvin (1509-1564), that God reveals himself 'firsdy in his works, in
their creation, as well as in their preservation and control. Secondly,
and more clearly, in his Word, which was in the beginning revealed
through oracles, and which was afterward committed to writing in
the books which we call the Holy Scriptures.'68 Calvin employed very
similar language to Hugh of St Victor in the 1561 edition of his Institutes
if the Christian Religion when he declared that humanity has a two-fold
knowledge of God through creation and scripture. He also repeats the
same triad of divine properties as identified by Hugh: 'We must be
per quosdam scalares gradus intellectus humanus natus est gradatim ascendere in sum-
mum principium quod est deus.'
66 Bonaventure, Collationes in Hexaifmeron ill I.I2, ed. F. Delorme, Bibliotheca Fran-
ciscana Scholastica Medii Aevi 8 (Quaracchi: Collegii S. Bonaventurae, 1934): 'Unde
mundus erat quasi liber quidam deletus quem deus illuminavit et reformavit per librum
67 Translation with introduction in Riformf!d Corifessions of the 16
Century, ed. Arthur
C. Cochrane (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, Ig66), 18g-lgO.
6B Riformed Corifessions of the 16
Century, ed. Cochrane, 144.
persuaded not only that he once formed the world, so he sustains it
by his boundless power, governs it by his wisdom, preserves it by his
goodness. '69 Drawing on Plato (although spurning 'the frigid doctrine of
Aristotle'), Calvin argues that humanity has a natural capacity to know
God, and that even the un.educated can, through contemplating the
natural world, come to admire God, even though few actually realize
this, and that as a result of original sin, we depend on grace to return
fully to God.
By the early seventeenth century this consensus about God's par-
allel revelation in creation and scripture was beginning to fragment. 71
The problem came not so much with scientists, who valued the image
of the book of nature, as with theologians who insisted that the Bible
had greater authority than the book of nature in defining the laws of
creation. Galileo complained that his critics were not properly investi-
gating the book of nature, but rather confined themselves to studying
Yet the theme of God's revelation through the book of nature
as much as through the Bible was still widely accepted even in the
early nineteenth century. We find an echo of Hugh of St. Victor's words
in the title of a book, first printed in Dorset in 1798, but reprinted
in Boston in 1802, by a certain John Toogood (d. 1824): The Book if
nature: a discourse on some if those instances if the power, wisdom, and goodness
if God which are within the reach if common observation: to which is added the
duty if merry; and sin if cruelty to brutes.
The author was a convinced
campaigner against the mistreatment of animals, a crime he thought
against the goodness of God, evident in the very least of his creation.
During the course of the nineteenth century, such advances were
made in the study of both the natural world, and of holy scripture,
that it was increasingly difficult to imagine how one could still speak
69 Calvin, Institutes if the Christian Religion I. 2, trans. Henry Beveridge (London:James
Clarke & Co., 1962), 1:40.
70 Institutes if the Christian Religion 1.3-5, trans. Beveridge, 43-63 (On Plato, p. 45; on
'the frigid doctrine of Aristotle,' 53).
71 Amos Funkenstein, Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the
Seventeenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), esp. 3-22.
72 Funkenstein, Theology and the Scientific Imagination, 13 n. 3; see also Joseph Pitt,
Galileo, Human Knowledge, and the Book if Nature: Method Replaces Metaplrysics (Dordrecht:
Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992).
73 This work seems originally to have been published in Sherborne, Dorset, printed
by Goadby, Lerpiniere, and Langdon, [1798?], according to the catalogue of London,
University of London Library, Porteus Library, MS 12mo B.P'6r. A later edition of the
same work was printed in Boston by Samuel Hall in 1802.
of both physical creation and the Bible as two books, divinely inspired.
Inevitably, religion and science polarized into rival camps, one espous-
ing the cause of nature, the other the cause of divinely inspired scrip-
tures. Fundamentalists attached themselves to the literal sense of Scrip-
ture, claiming that this had authority over the book of nature. In an
age anxious to explore connections between ecology and spirituality, it
may well be appropriate for theologians to revisit these themes, with-
out necessarily assuming that the natural world is simply a book for the
unlearned. Hugh of St. Victor argued that we can learn about God
from the natural world as well as through scripture. We cannot have
one without the other.
This paper will look at the treatment of Jewish and Muslim law in
a treatise written by William of Auvergne, an early thirteenth-century
secular scholar, one who admired the Victorines, and one who, like
them, forms a bridge between the learning of the monastic past and
that of the scholastic, largely mendicant, future. It will take us into the
issues of scripture and pluralism raised by this volume, for William must
deal in some detail with what law is and how it can be interpreted
before he can make his own, Christian, arguments about Jewish and
Muslim law. Christians and Jews to some extent share a law, in their
common acceptance of the Hebrew Bible; but although Muslims share
some of the same scriptural characters with both, their scriptures (that
is, their law), are different. We shall see that William looks not only
at how to read scripture and use scripture, but that he moves beyond
scripture into matters of belief, in order to make it plain who is to be
saved and how.
I. William qf Auvergne
Although an important figure in his time, William of Auvergne is lit-
tle known today, perhaps because he was a secular priest and not a
member of an order that would have kept his legacy alive. Before
going on with the argument, I shall briefly explain who William was
and how he worked. As with most medieval people, our knowledge
of William of Auvergne is clearest from back to front. He died in
1249, as bishop of Paris, a respected, trusted and eminent figure, mov-
ing in the worlds of high ecclesiastical business, the royal court, and
the university masters of Paris. He had become bishop of Paris after
the death of Bishop Bartholomew in 1227 when, following the subse-
quent disputed election, William went to Rome to put the case before
Gregory IX. He came back, unexpectedly having been made bishop
himself. Before the election, in the I220S, he had been a canon of
Notre Dame and a regent master in the Paris schools. We know noth-
ing, however, of his previous education, his early life, or his date or
place of birth (presumed to be around lIBo, possibly in Aurillac in the
Auvergne). I
William wrote a large number of works throughout the years of his
mastership and episcopacy.2 They survive in at least 250 manuscripts,
which suggests that they were widely read. He wrote on everything-
indeed literally so, for one of his works is called De universo----and he
has treatises on the sacraments, on matters of doctrine, on benefices, on
the soul, on prayer, and on the Trinity, as well as Biblical commentary
and hundreds of sermons. His opinions are scrupulously orthodox,
doctrinally; but to say only that masks the spheres in which he is
anything but ordinary. These I take to be three: his sources, his method,
and his writing. Firstly, we need to look at the range of his sources:
William was the first or among the first to use Greek, Arabic and
Hebrew sources in authoritative western theological works. He was
clearly an avid accumulator of sources; he read Aristotle, for instance,
even after it was banned in Paris, and he had an impressive range of
other Greek texts to hand in translation. He knew some of the works
of Maimonides; he knew the Qur'an and other translated Muslim
sources, and was the first Latin theologian to quote Avicenna. The
manner in which he appears to know these sources and the way he
employs them gives the impression of a man eager to read and learn,
I For a good bibliography and short biographical introduction to William, see
RJ. Teske, William if Auvergne. The Universe if Creatures (Milwaukee: Marquette University
Press, 1998). The only full biography of William is that by N. Valois, Guillaume d'Auvergne,
eveque de Paris (1228-1249), sa vie et ses ouvrages (paris: A. Picard, 1880). On William
and Islam see the excellent studies by M.-Th. d'Alverny, 'La connaissance de l'Islam
au temps de Saint Louis,' in eadem, La connaissance de l'Islam dans l'Occident medievale
(Aldershot: Variorum, 1994), essay 6; originally published in Septieme centenaire de la mort
de saint Louis. Actes des colloques de Royaumont et de Paris, 21-27 mai 1970 (Paris: Belles Lettres,
1976), pp. 235-246; eadem, Avicenne en Occident (Paris:]. Vrin, 1993), II, XVI (on William's
early use of Avicenna). See also N. Daniel, Islam and the West. The Making if an Image, rev.
ed. (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1993), pp. 86, 174-175, on William's understanding
of the Qur'an and Avicenna.
2 Teske has bibliography of the few modern editions of individual works by William,
but the only reasonably comprehensive edition remains Guilielmi Alverni ... Opera omnia
(Paris: Andr<eam Pralard, 1674; repro Frankfurt-a.-Main: Minerva, I963). References to
De fide et de legibus in this essay are to pages and columns in this edition. Similarly, the
only compendium of references to manuscripts of William's work is still P. Glorieux,
Repertoire des maftres en theologie de Paris au XIIIe siecle (Paris: Librairie philosophique
]. Vrin, I933), I, 14I.
far beyond the bounds of the syllabus at Paris. Science, philosophy and
other religions all had claims on his interest; they are reflected in his
writings, which are full of unusual quotations, notes and asides, and
William's method is as unusual as the writers he brings into his work.
I have not yet come to a conclusion as to whether it is the period in
which he is writing-from the I2IOS to the I240s-or his own personal-
ity, or, most intriguingly, a result of his having been trained somewhere
other than Paris, perhaps somewhere closer to his southern French
roots, that leaves him relatively free from the restraints of academic
convention. His treatises do not follow the so-called scholastic method,
pioneered in the twelfth century and coming to fruition in the schools
of the thirteenth, where a posed question is followed by arguments for
and against its thesis, and then by a solution, and rebuttals of those
arguments which do not support it. The scholastic method can be char-
acterized by three points: it is argumentative, authoritative and additive.
I mean by this that any work proceeds by arguing for or against a given
proposition, putting a question that must be answered before one can
move on to the next question; that the arguments made for or against
must appear to arise from, and be bolstered by, quotations largely
drawn from Biblical and patristic sources (in the case of theology); and
finally that questions posed on any topic or text have a tendency to be
carried forward by subsequent writers, and to be added to rather than
supplanted. Any textual commentary can thus become merely a peg on
which to hang other loosely related issues; and medieval commentaries
typically become more and more unwieldy over time.
William, however, never proceeds like this at all. Whereas works writ-
ten according to the scholastic method like to give the impression that
their authors genuinely begin by stating a question and then follow-
ing the argument wherever the authorities take them, to a conclusion
unknown to them when they began, William's approach is older, per-
haps more straightforward. He simply sets out a topic, states clearly
what he thinks, and covers a number of interesting points before fin-
ishing, often abruptly. Sometimes he offers counter-arguments to be
refuted, but sometimes not, moving on from positive point to positive
point. Most strikingly, though, he does not, in any obvious sense, argue
from authorities. Although the Bible, the Latin and Greek Fathers, the
Latin and Greek classics, Greek,Jewish and Arab philosophers, and the
opinions of his contemporaries all take their turn in the text, they form
the ornament rather than the structure of his writing.
His writing is unusual in style as well as form. Reading William is
unlike reading any other thirteenth-century theologian.
Instead of the
balanced seesaw of sic and non, with pro following stately con until the
weight shifts to one side or the other, William presses point upon point,
each introduced with a simple Amplius: More! Sometimes the road he
is taking is clear and straight; at others it takes a sharp bend into new
territory. He is direct, often addressing his reader in the second person
singular: 'you'; he likes the everyday, using chatty and funny stories-
again and again (as we shall see) he makes metaphysical points with
the most mundane of examples and illustrations. He is enthusiastic (he
never comes across as simply going through the motions) and deeply
faithful without appearing pietistic; and his standards are strict and
high, though he knows too much about the world as it is not to attempt
to work out practical solutions to genuine problems.
2. De fide et de legibus
It was perhaps a combination of the breadth of his reading and his
practical observation of the world that caused William to write the
linked pair of treatises I shall consider here. William wrote De fide, 'On
faith,' and De legibus, 'On the Laws,' sometime before 1236. Although
separate, they were conceived as a pair and travel together. Faith is the
virtue that forms the basis of religion, and without it, no one can live
well (De fide et de legibus, prologue). Drawn together, all the articles of
faith form the law, written, loosely speaking, to aid the virtuous and
sort the sheep from the goats (De legibus, c. I). But the treatise is called
De legibus, not De lege, and William tells us specifically that he means to
address the laws of the Jews and of Muhammad, as well as the law of
the Gospel. Law in the sense he uses it here is often interchangeable
with religion.
3 Peter Biller gives a good flavor of William's style in The Measure qf Multitude
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), ch. 3. See also B. Smalley, 'William of Au-
vergne, John of La Rochelle and Saint Thomas on the Old Law,' in St Thomas Aquinas
I274-I974. Commemorative Studies (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies,
1972), I, 10-71; L. Smith, 'William of Auvergne and the Jews,' in D. Wood, ed.,
Christianity and Judaism, Studies in Church History 29 (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell
Publishers, 1992), 107-rr7; and eadem, 'William of Auvergne and Confession', in P. Biller
and AJ. Minnis, eds., Handling Sin. Corifession in the Middle Ages, York Studies in Medieval
Theology 2 (Rochester: York Medieval Press, 1998),95-107.
De fide et de legibus covers just over IOO folio-size pages (in double
columns) of the seventeenth-century edition of William's opera, so the
work is substantial. Rather more than seventeen pages contain De
fide and eighty-three De legibus. A count of the quotations explicitly
identified gives a rough total of 250. Nine of these come in De fide,
four being Biblical (two from the Hebrew Bible, two from the Epistles
of Paul), and five non-Biblical: one from Bernard of Clairvaux, one
from Apuleius, and three from Aristotle (three quotations from Aristotle
in a work on faith!). In De legibus, 204 sources are Biblical, with I6I
from the Hebrew Bible, thirty-four from the Epistles, and nine from
the Gospels and Apocalypse. In a work on the Law, it is not surprising
that by far the largest number of citations comes from the Torah-
eighty-six in all, fairly evenly spread, except for the book of Numbers,
which is rarely used-followed by the Psalms, with seventeen citations,
and Romans, again unsurprisingly given its subject matter, with nine-
the same number as Aristotle. Aristotle is not the largest non-scriptural
source-this is Hermes Trismegistus, whom William quotes on magic
and astrology, disapprovingly; other non-Biblical writers cited by name
include Josephus, Plato, Augustine (four references), Avicebron and
Two hundred and fifty citations of named works is, I believe, a small
number for a work of this size. This is especially true when one consid-
ers that the Biblical quotations are often bunched in groups, illustrat-
ing a particular law. Naturally, his section on the exegesis of scripture,
touched on above, employs numerous Biblical verses as examples of
each type of exegesis; and the section (which we shall consider in detail
later) where he looks at many of the 6I3 Torah laws individually also
features volleys of scripture. This means that at times page after page
passes without a single cited authority, and William, extraordinarily for
a medieval author, simply writes what he thinks.
I shall begin by making a distinction between two ways of using
scripture in argument, one being to use scriptural texts as proofs or
key steps in arguments, the second being to use scripture as a basis for
comparison with other things. This second position is the fundamen-
tal assumption William makes in De fide et de legibus. William is worried
that in the present day, even the strongest and holiest people are giv-
ing intellectual credence to the arguments of philosophers and heretics
and the most dangerous blasphemers (De legibus, c. I [I8.2.EJ). What is
at the base of these fears? Is he worried about the failure of the Fifth
Crusade (I2I7-I22I) strengthening suspicions that the beliefs and princi-
pIes of western Christendom might somehow be wrong? Is he worried
about the strength of heresy that required, for example, the Albigen-
sian Crusade to subdue it? Is he worried that western theologians are
becoming increasingly enamoured of (and unsetded by) Jewish Biblical
interpretation (although William knows, uses and admires Jewish texts
himself)? Is he worried that the masters and pupils of Paris seem to
prefer forensic theology to works clearly aimed at building the faith (a
phrase William repeats a number of times)? William's contemporary,
Alexander of Hales, had recendy introduced as standard in the Paris
theology syllabus the requirement that all doctoral candidates write a
commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, as well as on books of
the Bible, a means of learning and teaching which appears to be far
from William's own taste. On top of these practical matters we may
consider William's observation that faith needs help because its claims
are often contrary to the dictates of human reason and to our physical
desires. I am not yet clear about the exact causes of his fears, and it
may be that a combination of all of the above is the best explanation,
but whatever the reason, William tells us that he is writing to provide
a sword with which such ideas can be vanquished, and to show that
God, and God alone, is worthy of faith; God is the foundation and
substance of religion. Though here left undefined, for William religion
is in essence the worship of God and right living, which depend on
true faith, as opposed to credulity; and it is marked by the gathering
together of the articles of faith into law. The truest law is nothing other
than written honesty. Law and religion, then, are virtually synonymous,
and by writing 'On laws,' William is enabled to consider Christians,
Jews and Muslims according to the reasonable comparability of how
they interpret their own laws, with the starting point, of course, that all
three agree in regarding a form of the Hebrew scriptures as divinely
given. The scriptures are God's narrative for showing law in action.
3. The law qf the Hebrew Bible
So it is at the deepest level of comparing their scriptures that William
intends to make his comparison of Christianity, Islam and Judaism; and
he faces different challenges with each of them. Naturally, his position
is most delicate with regard to the Hebrew Bible-the law of Moses. In
some sense he must accept Mosaic law, but he is careful to note that
it is not the complete (perflcta) law, but only a part of it (De legibus, c. I
[22.I.D]); only the Gospel is the law of unimpaired honesty, and it alone
guarantees salvation (ibid.). Nevertheless, many parts of the old law may
be counted as part of the perfection of the Gospel, and endure to form
part of the new covenant. It is content rather than simply position in
the Bible that decides which law-old law or Gospel-any individual
precept belongs to. It is for this reason that William says he will not
only 'expose those things which are absurd and ridiculous' in the law of
the Hebrews, but also give reasons for its precepts and prohibitions to
show why they made sense in their time and why some continue to be
observed (Defide et de legibus, prologue [v.E]).
Following Peter Lombard, most thirteenth-century writers on the law
divide it into three parts, moralia, iudicialia and caerimonialia. William,
however, adopts a seven-point organizing system: testimonia or narra-
tives of truth, which should be believed; commandments of honesty
or virtue, which should be fulfilled; judicial opinions of equity, which
should be followed; examples to be copied; promises of reward, to
be hoped for; threats of punishment, to be feared; and ceremonies of
worship and honor, to be revered (De legibus, c. I [lg.I.a-b]). Listing
these, he admits that he knows that four of them-testimonia, examples,
promises and threats-are not part of the substance of the law proper,
but he sees them as the greatest help in promoting the observance of
the law. They are all, of course, found in scripture, and their inclusion
suggests the way in which William saw the Bible as a whole, each part
interwoven with the rest, so that the traditional three parts of the law,
morals, judicial opinions and ceremonies, are best seen in the context
of the narrative and promise surrounding them. God, William implies,
gave us a narrative of truth, not simply a set of precepts, and we should
see that narrative as the context for the plain commands.
William is clear that the whole of the law was founded and given by
God, and, in contradistinction to the law of Muhammad, he says this
is proved by the signs and miracles that surround it. Therefore nothing
in the law is useless, nothing is superfluous, and nothing is absurd (De
legibus, c. I [2S.I.B]). Everything there is meant to honor God and orna-
ment our lives. Why, then, are there so many laws? If there can never
be more than 40 virtues, why did God give 613 laws to bring them
about? William's answer-and of course it is a common one-plays on
the childishness of the Jews: since the Hebrew people could scarcely
understand the alphabet of natural virtue, it was fruitless to give them
the riches of perfect grace. God gives the precepts of the law in such a
multiplicity of ways for three reasons: firstly, because of the Jews' inex-
perience and lack of education, so that God breaks up the precepts
into small, digestible pieces, just as one gives a child little bits of bread
rather than a whole loaf; secondly, in order to combat the disgraceful
multiplicity of idolatry, which the law is largely intended to prevent;
and lastly, because the law has to be sufficient to cover all eventualities
for a people at such a lowly stage of development, so they do not have
to think anything out for themselves or fall back on human traditions
and superstitions. This is, indeed, what happened when the Jews began
to be influenced by their neighbours, the Chaldeans, Babylonians and
Arabs, mixing up their Hebrew learning with philosophy, so that they
no longer knew their own beliefs or the faith of Abraham, and could
not defend themselves in debate. They fell into error and began to
believe in the eternity of the world and 'other Aristotelian mistakes.'
They did not follow the precepts of the law, which they saw as absurd,
because they could not explain what was behind them. And that is why,
William says, there are so few true Jews in the world today who are
not somehow tainted with Saracen or Aristotelian beliefs (De legibus, c. I
[24.2.F]), a phrase which implies in passing, I think, that Christians are
not tainted with Aristotelianism.
This much is set out (and I use the phrase carefully, for I do not
think it can be said either to be explained or proved) with barely a hint
of Biblical support. When scripture does appear, it comes almost as an
aside, when William notes that the first part of the law (that retained
from the law of Moses) will be fulfilled by the law of grace given by
Christ; and he fires off a salvo of verses, from Romans, Galatians,
Corinthians, Matthew, Mark and Timothy, one after the other and
without comment, to make this plain. This is not argument from the
Bible as much as a Biblical shorthand, employed so that he can pass on
to-and go back to-his preferred topic of Mosaic law.
For whatever the Jews themselves might believe, William is quite clear
that the precepts of the old law must have reason behind them. 'Nihil
esse in tota lege, quod non habeat causam rationabilem, sive prae-
ceptionis, vel prohibitionis, aut enarrationis' (De legibus, c. 2 [29. r.CJ): it
is unthinkable that God would have given them were that not true. So
he now embarks on a fascinating series of chapters where he explains
individual precepts, or groups of precepts, using practical, scientific or
anthropological arguments. Sometimes, when he can show that the
reasons for the precept have disappeared, he can show why we no
longer need to follow it; but in all cases these chapters show his total
respect for and belief in scripture, even when it has been superseded.
4. Sacrifice and circumcision
To illustrate these chapters, I shall look at two issues he addresses early
on. First is the thorny issue of sacrifices, which, although they date from
before the giving of the law, people find hard to understand. How, he
asks, can the death of an innocent animal be pleasing to God? How
can the smell of a carcass have any sweetness? What justice can there
be, when men sin, for animals to die? (De legibus, c. 2 [2g.2.A]) William
gives seven reasons for sacrifices, which he argues are not simply a
concession to idolatry, as some people say. Their chief cause is to give
honor and veneration to God, for all worship does this intrinsically.
The second reason is that the death of an animal makes a strong
and powerful impression on those watching of the justice and mercy
of God-they remember that they themselves deserve death but that
the animal is dying instead. And if they can be imprinted with a
vivid and lasting memory, such as of the animal's death, to remind
them of their sin and God's mercy, they should in future flee evil and
place their hope in God. Note here, as an aside, a good example of
William thinking of the whole person in relation to God: in William's
universe, we perceive God not just by reason or revelation but with
every sense, and his writing shows him aware of how much impact
sight, sound and smell have on our conception of spiritual things. The
next two reasons for sacrifices are the recognition by those present
of the divine beneficence which means that they have these gifts to
offer, and the sanctification of what is being offered, again through
the mercy of God. The fifth reason is that closeness to God's table
represents familiarity with God and a sense of participation in and
nearness to God. For eating together, as one does with one's father
and mother, is the height of closeness, and in the case of sacrifices, God
sends fire to his place at table. Thus, the sixth point is the drawing
together that such commensality produces in God's people; and here,
naturally, William notes the same effect in spiritual eating and drinking
together. Finally, sacrifices attract people to worship, because there is
nothing better, he says, for drawing people together than eating and
In a short discussion, William manages to dispose of the idea that
idolatry produces sacrifices (rather, he thinks that idolatry may arise out
of sacrifices, but need not), has given reasons for their inclusion in the
law, and has left open the door for a spiritual interpretation of sacrifice
that makes sense for the Eucharist too. His approach means that he has
been able to place the law in its historical context, referring both to its
predecessors and to its successor.
Closely linked to sacrifices, and the idea of covenant, are the precepts
concerning circumcision. Like sacrifices, circumcision existed before
the law, and it seems initially to have no good purpose except that
of simple obedience. But for William it must have more: 'necesse est
aperire causas eius literales et utilitates quas habet praeter istud bonum'
(De legibus, c. 3 [33. I.E]). He finds five. The first is the weakening
of concupiscence, which happens ex vulnere circoncisionis; the second is
again the weakening of desire, this time brought about by a decline in
sensitivity caused by exposure to cold and friction from clothes, just as,
he says, a calloused hand accustomed to work has less feeling; thirdly,
circumcision means that the part of a man which most demeans his
nobility is itself subject to attack and vilification; the fourth argument,
I think, is that it reminds people that sex should be taken seriously,
and not set about as though people were animals. Lastly comes the
function of impressing on men the memory of their creation and the
covenant made with Abraham. This has two parts, a reminder of
spiritual chastity-that they should worship only one God and stay
away from idols-and of corporeal chastity, to rein in their unbridled
desires. Here, perhaps because the argument about the covenant is so
important, William introduces a verse from Galatians (5.3), reminding
his readers that this sort of sign is no longer needed as a universal
symbol of the covenant, by which he means one extending to Christians
as well; rather, we have signs like the tonsure, or the red cross borne by
the Templars. William ends with an interesting question: can Hebrew
women be members of the covenant with God without circumcision?
He says they can, because the pact was initially made between God
and Abraham's seed, and indeed, 'they enter into that contract through
certain baptisms and traditions which are not found in the body of the
law.' I do not know what exactly he means by this, where he gets it
from, and if it has any basis in fact; or whether it is his understanding
of the mikveh.
Here again in this discussion William has used a set of practical
reasons to lead him to a theological position where a physical (or literal)
sign can be replaced by a spiritual one. Here though, his notes about
the physical effects of circumcision are interesting, and I have not yet
discovered where they come from. Taken to their logical conclusion
they would suggest that the circumcised races are less concupiscent
than the uncircumcised-a point he cannot mean to make. But once
again, he takes seriously, and describes in a vividly realistic manner,
our bodily selves, and their importance in our understanding of and
response to God.
And so William marches through the law, asking why it is sheep,
cows and goats that are sacrificed, why some animals are clean and
others not, why the calf should be red, why men should not dress
in women's clothes, and how to treat lepers. Sometimes he is a lit-
tle uncertain, and the reason is advanced flrsitan-'perhaps' (De leg-
ibus, c. IO [4I.I.D]); but generally he proceeds confidently, his purpose
being to show that the intent of the law as a whole is to prevent in
the Hebrews the idolatry thought to be prevalent in the lands and peo-
ples surrounding them, and that the law does this mostly through com-
mands drawing on simple logic and reasonableness. Throughout this
section, his Biblical quotations are almost entirely references to the laws
themselves, and the explanations are advanced unadorned by no other
authority than an appeal to common sense. When he has finished, he
sums up with the chapter we shall consider next, arguing that the law
must make literal sense. Without this foundation of the literal, nothing
else can be built.
5. The nature qf law and interpretation
Teach me, 0 Lord, the way of your statutes ... Give me understanding
that I shall keep your law (Ps. II9.33-34).
What was David seeking when he sang this prayer? William of Au-
vergne thinks he knows the answer, but he teases his readers into con-
sidering a familiar psalm once more. Surely David has no need to ask
for enlightenment, '[f]or he had,' says William, 'a natural intelligence
that was more than sufficient for understanding the letter of the law
entirely. '4 This statement, as we shall see, is interesting and important
in itself; but it is not what concerns him here. William argues that the
psalm verses make it clear that scripture has more meanings than those
encompassed in the literal; here is scripture itself, in the guise of David
asking for understanding of deeper knowledge, making it known that
there is more to be revealed than what is in plain sight:
4 De legibus, c. r6 (47.r.D).
So [William says] he was looking for a loftier understanding, and there-
fore these commandments of the law have a higher meaning than the
literal (De legibus, c. 16 [47.r.DJ).
This interpretation, in a passage of seamless weaving of psalm verses
and Biblical language, largely unsignalled and unreferenced, will lead
us eventually to William's own enumeration of what are known as the
senses of scripture.
Significantly, it comes just after a chapter where
he stresses and defends the importance of the literal sense as a basic
understanding and underpinning of the whole law. His argument rests
on the function and character of Moses, 'the legislator,' sent by God:
. .. for why would a man, so wise and faithful to his people, whom he
had protected by teaching, not wish to speak intelligibly? (De legibus, c. 15
[46.2 .F]).
All that Moses taught, all the precepts of the law, must, by dint of the
man and his mission, be clear and comprehensible to everyone who
heard him. William thus rejects the idea that even the literal sense
of the law was unintelligible to the Hebrews, but was given by God
because it would become understandable to people yet to come, that is,
to Christians. This notion is, he says, expressly rejected by Paul in the
letter to the Romans (3.19): 'whatever things the law says, it says to
those who are under the law.' And there is a further argument against:
the Christians had no need to rely on a spiritual understanding of the
law, since they are given the Christian Church, and with it 'that Gospel
truth which has come to us open and undisguised (nuda et aperta) , , in
comparison, that is, to the shadowy figures of the law (De legibus, c. 15
[46.2 .H]).
It may seem here as if William has explained away the need for any
spiritual interpretation of the Gospel; but his real purpose in pursuing
this line of interpretation remains his argument for the essential literal
understanding of the law:
5 For discussions of the senses of scripture see P.D.W Krey and L. Smith, eds.,
Nicholas if Lyra: The Senses if Scripture, Studies in the History of Christian Thought 90
(Leiden: Brill, 2000); H. de Lubac, Exegese medievale. Les quatre sens de l'Ecriture, 4 vols.
(paris: Aubier, 1959-1964), partly translated as Medieval Exegesis, by M. Sebanc (vol. I)
and E.M. Macierowski (vol. 2) (Grand Rapids and Edinburgh: WB. Eerdmans, 1998 &
2000); E.A. Matter, The Voice if My Beloved. The Song if Songs in Western Medieval Christianity
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990); B. Smalley, The Study if the Bible
in the Middle Ages, 3rd edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983); L. Smith, Medieval Exegesis
in Translation: the Book if Ruth, TEAMS Commentary Series (Kalamazoo: Medieval
Institute Publications, 1996).
Therefore it is in every way necessary to have had such a literal under-
standing; for it is completely improbable that the entire Jewish people,
who had schools in the whole law for so many thousand years, and who
ail, from the greatest to the least, were taught and studied in them, had
not detected this error [that is, that parts of the law had no meaning],
and held on to it for so long as if it were an inheritance, and have handed
it down to their children (De legibus, c. 15 [46.z.H-47.r.A]).
Moreover, he has an answer to those who ask why today's Jews do
not understand these literal meanings: their knowledge has been lost
over time, because of their afflictions (especially he mentions being
exposed to the superstitions of their neighbours the Egyptians, and
other nearby peoples), and because they neglected their studies in the
law-a neglect, William says, brought about 'partly by avarice, to which
they were quite addicted, and partly by love of foreign philosophy.'
And so he says he has defended and demonstrated the literal under-
standing of the law, even in those things where it seems completely
6. The Non-Literal Reading if Scripture
However, this defense of the letter is followed by a pair of chapters
endorsing the non-literal reading of scripture because, and as long as,
it leads to the building up of souls (De legibus, c. 16 [47.I.B]). William
begins, as I quoted above, with Biblical passages that show, he claims,
that scripture has hidden meanings. This section is short, and it is fol-
lowed by a much longer argument in which he employs Biblical ideas
and images, but without giving specific references. This is very much
William's normal mode of proceeding, not meaning merely that he
quotes from scripture without giving book and chapter, but that his
language is too saturated with Biblical language-words, phrases and
imagination-for the two not to overlap for much of the time. This is
true, of course, of many medieval writers, but an abundant un attributed
use of scripture is perhaps more characteristic of the generations of
scholars before William than of his scholastic contemporaries and suc-
cessors. And, as ever, he passes from example to example, piling argu-
ment upon argument, without pause for breath. He begins by repeat-
ing that although there is only one true law, the understanding of it
is different for different people, depending on their capacity; and so
just as a teacher will give different work to different pupils, depend-
ing on how much they can take in, so there are many understandings
of the law-even among Jews. Scripture, he says, is a banquet with
many courses, varied and multifarious, and a variety of understanding
requires a variety of eaters. Fully to appreciate the banquet involves
chewing it well (which is discussion) and eating it up (which is proper
understanding). Again, expounding scripture is like opening a piece of
rock to show the veins of metal inside it. You might get iron, or gold, or
silver or precious stones ... and each can be allegorically understood.
It is a garden of delights, full of different sorts of trees and fruit. Or
finally, scripture is a series of cellars, some with wine, some with oil,
and others with medicine. And lest anyone might think that his argu-
ment opens the way for a multitude of religious truths, he adds that
only the worthy can expound the hidden meanings (De legibus, c. 16
At this point in any other medieval interpretation, one might expect
a run through the conventional four senses of scripture: literal, allegor-
ical, moral and anagogical. But William produces something quite dif-
ferent, and it perhaps explains his eagerness to give reasons, rather than
argue by reference to texts. For in the chapter that follows he explains
that this sort of exposition of sacred scripture-that is, the non-literal-
gives offense to some people and scandalizes them, because it seems
to be an abusive imposition on scripture rather than an exposition if
it. Because of this, he says, we will work a little to try to satisfY the
objectors (De legibus, c. 17 [48.I.FJ). Rather than the usual four senses,
William sets out five: the literal, and four further non-literal senses.
These are they:
Firstly, scripture which itself describes a deed done for the purpose of
signifYing something else: and he cites Isaiah 8.18: Behold I and the
children the Lord has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel.
Second, scripture which describes something expressly to signifY some-
thing else; and here he uses the parable of the two eagles in Ezekiel 17:
the story is told on purpose with another meaning. Such scriptural pas-
sages are often introduced by the words 'aenigma' or 'parabola' to alert
the reader.
Third is the consequentialist interpretation-what we might call exegesis
by extension: for example, if corporeal idolatry is forbidden, then spir-
itual idolatry must, logically, be forbidden too. He gives an interesting
example: since it is idolatry to worship a golden calf, then it must also be
forbidden to worship a formless lump of gold-this is avarice; and this is
proved by a verse from Ephesians (5.5): know that no covetous man (who
is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of God.
So far, so good. No one at all could object to these, he is sure.
The crunch comes with the last type, the argument by similitude or
metaphor. Even so, William argues, it depends on how you do it. For
instance, in Jeremiah 18.3, God speaks of himself in a simile, arguing
for his likeness to a potter with his pots: if God does it, then no one
can mind. The problem comes when you can not see the link from the
one to the other: 'because anything may be said to signifY anything'-
a phrase reminiscent of Alan of Lille's famously moveable nose.
gives as example David's adultery with Bathsheba being said to signifY
the marriage of Christ with the Church. This is a deliberately shocking
juxtaposition, successfully designed to jolt the reader into distrust of the
workings of spiritual interpretation. If this were a typical result of the
method, it would be well nigh impossible not to agree with William's
opinion that such an exegesis destroys faith in Biblical interpretation
and is inimical to belief He is clear about why that is: because the gap
between the scriptural passage and the interpretation is so wide that
it cannot be defended without a great deal of explanation. Even so,
many people will be unwilling to believe it can be true, because the
original just does not seem to signifY the given interpretation at all; the
gap seems to do violence to the Biblical text. He reminds his readers
that most people are ignorant about exposition and unused to following
similes, which are therefore not believed; and this is compounded when
an expositor is inconsistent-when he only uses part of the text and not
the whole thing-which makes scripture seem like a lute where only
some of the strings play. William's analysis and honesty must ring bells
for anyone who has read much medieval exegesis, where the finishing
point of an interpretation can seem very far away from its literal
beginnings; but it is rare to find a medieval commentator addressing
so openly and forcefully the practice of his craft, at least in the hands of
his less skilful confreres. Moreover, if we consider William's own use of
scripture in these treatises, we see him treading conservatively: no leaps
of meaning that take us from the blindness of Isaac, for example, to the
necessity for regular confession. It seems that he had taken heed of his
own lesson.
6 'Auctoritas cereum habet nasum, id est, diversum potest flecti sensum,' Alan of
Lille, Defide catholica 1.30, PL 2IO: 333.
7 An earlier and interesting exposition of the idea of 'fittingness' or 'congruence' in
exegesis, as well as that of the more usual foundation in the literal sense, may be found
in Richard of St Victor:
'There are many for whom the divine scriptures are much sweeter when they can
7. The law qf Muhammad
William uses this consideration of reasonable and fitting interpretations
of scripture and law as a link to a discussion of the distinction between
those readings which he calls abusive distortions, and those expositions
which can bring about an understanding of salvation. This is his intro-
duction for his readers to his next target: to what he calls the nonsense
and insanities of Muhammad. These, he says, usurp the name of law
with intolerable abuse; Muhammad himself led the people astray, and
introduced a multitude of foolishness that saw him 'acknowledged ... as
a prophet and his most mendacious imaginings as the law' (De legibus,
c. 18 [49.2.C-D]). William goes on to give a potted history of the life of
Muhammad and of Islam, noting its spread in the world. Although as
is usual with William, he has lots of material to impart, and he retails
(according to modern critics
) a rather balanced and informed account
of his subject, nevertheless, the tone is different from that of his account
of the law of the Jews. He frequently reiterates the 'ridiculousness' of
the law of Muhammad (as he calls Islam), and lambasts it as absurd
and pernicious nonsense. Because (as he admits) Muhammad's law
commands that there is one true God, forbids idolatry, roots out sodomy,
orders many good things and prohibits many bad ones, many wise men
believe it and believe he was a true and faithful prophet of God ... and
they think that the injustices they see in the law are there because of the
childishness of the people, or that the absurdities have been added by
enemies of of his disciples who were inexpert or negligent
(De legibus, c. 18 [so.r.HJ).
Although William does not take issue with these wise men directly, he
refers to Muhammad as a deceiver and a false prophet. He then pro-
ceeds in a massively long chapter to attack Muhammad's law through
its depiction of paradise in the Qur'an. He does this seriously and thor-
oughly and almost entirely through carefully reasoned arguments; only
perceive some suitable understanding in them by the letter. It also seems to them that
the structure of the spiritual understanding is established more solidly when it is apdy
founded on the firmness of the historical sense. Who can found or firmly establish
anything on what is empty or void? For since the mystical senses are drawn out and
formed from the congruent likeness of those things set forth in the letter, how could
[the letter] instruct us in the spiritual understanding exacdy in those areas where it
assaults itself or only proclaims something frivolous?' Richard of St Victor, In visionem
Ezechielis, prologue, PL 196: 527A-B. I am most grateful to Prof Dale Coulter for this
reference and translation.
8 See the references to works by d'Alverny and Daniel in n. I.
at the end does he give two references to the Gospel. The basis of his
objection is that Muhammad's paradise is simply more of what we have
here on earth, more eating and drinking and sex, and that more of
this-without a qualitative change in what 'this' is-cannot be paradise
at all. On the contrary, more of this must be worse, since more eating
will mean feeling more hunger, more drinking feeling more thirst, and
the end result (and he means that literally) of all this digestion will force
us very soon to move out of this paradise into another, just to get more
space! Similarly with the sex: since there is no death, the offspring of
such constant carnal delight will soon overrun the place; once again, he
is sure that paradise will prove too small for so many people. And there
can be no possibility of sex without offspring, for sterility would mean
that the generative power of men and women would be frustrated, and
any sort of frustration would render paradise unworthy of the name.
What is such a paradise, he wonders, except an ever-open tavern or an
insatiable prostitute? How could anyone imagine angels serving men
there-it would be worse than serving pigs (note which animal). Men
would be animals speaking to animals, thinking neither of their true
home nor of its joys (De legibus, c. 19 [S2.2.H]).
Put so baldly and in so few lines, it is hard to convey the force of
William's words. But the length of the chapter and the inexorable drive
of argument after argument work on the reader to wear him down. As
William builds to his extraordinary climax, the reader holds his breath,
scarcely believing that William is going to follow his argument through
to its logical end: that Muhammad's heaven would inevitably become a
giant midden, a massive heap of dung. But this is no demagogue's rant.
William is careful to avoid hysteria; he produces his effects through
a measured tone and a judicious pace, the intention being to force
the reader of this portrayal to contrast Christian reasonableness with
Muslim absurdity. It is a devastating piece of ridicule. Only at the
end of the chapter does his composure appear to crack, the tone
changing to one of clear hostility. Repeating his view that such a
heaven would be a wallow for pigs, where the sounds would be those
of animals not men, William adds that, for this reason, certain wise
Saracens do not understand Muhammad's promises according to the
letter, for they are seen to be ridiculous and to make Muhammad
appear ridiculous to the whole world (De legibus, c. 19 [S4.r.H])-an
interesting comment in view of his words on the fundamental nature of
the literal sense. However, he says that Avicenna, whom he mentions
by name, and whom he elsewhere regards as a learned man, does
not agree, and interprets these precepts literally. (In fact this is not the
case, but William apparently had false information on this score.
) This
shows, William says, that Avicenna was not a philosopher, but 'mad,'
and so his damnation is indeed just, since a philosopher ought to be
able to recognize truth when he sees it. William is, I think, disappointed
by (as he sees it) Avicenna's stupidity here, and his feeling comes out in
the tone of these final words.
The succeeding chapter, and the last we shall consider here, holds
the key to William's intention in De fide et de legibus; and it forms the
physical centre of the work as well as the intellectual one. It encapsu-
lates the fear of the false belief that William clearly thinks Muhammad
and his law embody. Because of the diversity of laws and sects, he says,
or from the principles expounded by Muhammad and in his law, some
people fall into the error of believing that everyone in their own law or
faith or sect will be saved, provided they believe it to be good (De legibus,
c. 21 C57.I.D]). This is such a neat summary of much modern religious
and moral relativism that it brings the reader up with a start; it does
not read like a medieval speculation at all. It is not, of course, possible
that William might agree with he says it is such a pernicious
error that he intends to destroy that he raises the question for
discussion at all is another insight into William's independence of mind.
The reason for this error is simple, William says: it is the small number
of those who appear to be saved, compared to the huge multitude of
the damned; can this be the work of a good God? Would not the mercy
of God pardon rather than punish?
Clearly, William says, the presumption is that only a small group
of Christians are saved, whereas everyone Christians, Jews,
Saracens, pagans and condemned to hell. With his ever-
practical mind, the first problem this raises for William is how God's
house can be filled with so few people, while the lower world (irifernus),
which is much smaller, can accommodate the whole multitude of the
damned, along with their demons. More subtly, he asks, '[i] s it right
that the king of kings .. , has more prisoners than servants?' (De legibus,
c. 21 C57.2.A]); and he wonders if it is suitable for divine goodness
and pity to have created so many people, only for most of them to
be abandoned to the flames. What of those who believe they are only
acting for and praying to God? He knows his readers have heard about
9 d'Alverny, 241- 24 2 .
and perhaps seen for themselves many heretics who submit to fire and
other torments voluntarily and even cheerfully. These heretics say that
they suffer all on account of God, and are certain that they believe in
their hearts in just the same way as orthodox Christians do. Does the
strength of belief not matter more than, or as much as, what is believed?
William's response to this splendid statement of a question very
current today is a doctrine of complete personal responsibility in which
ignorance can be no excuse. Since it is easier to find God than anything
else in the world-you simply have to ask and God will respond-there
is no reason for taking the wrong road. Anyone who sets out on a
journey where the way is unknown, and refuses either the proffered
guide or a light for the path, deserves to get lost. It is up to everyone
to use their 'human intellect' to do the right thing: that is why it was
created, and that is why you will be culpable if you do not. God, in
effect, damns those who damn themselves. If this were not so, there
would be no virtue and no law-in effect, no religion.
William is correct to see that moral relativism and allowing ignorance
as an excuse for non-conformity will produce a situation in which
religion, in the sense of a single, overarching, common belief, will
disappear. His analysis would apply equally to a system in which any
religion, not just Christianity, is predominant. For his model of salvation
to work, we must all, like it or not, be conscripts into a single army, one
in which, as long as we obey orders, it is a very good life; but one where
there is no chance of being a conscientious objector, nor even of joining
the navy instead.
William is sympathetic to the Jews, whom he regards as having an
outdated version of the army rule book. Although this was fine in its
day, we have moved to a second edition quite some time ago, and
a lot of things have changed in the updating. William respects both
the old law and the true learning of Jewish scholars. Indeed, he is so
respectful of the letter of the Hebrew scriptures that he wishes to prove,
even beyond some of their own adherents' modern understanding, why
these precepts of the Jews are truly the word of God; and he does this
through his belief in the letter of the law. What God has given the Jews
was right for the time; what has gone wrong is what the Jews have made
of it (in effect, the additions of the Talmud) and what they have failed
subsequently to recognize (the Gospel).
Muslims, on the other hand, refuse to join the army and instead
are trying to set up an alternative force, whose ground rules are so
far from his own that William has no option (in his terms) but to
reject them entirely. Although some of the things Muhammad orders
or prohibits-things he picks up from the old law-are right and
good, nevertheless the system as a whole is completely wrongheaded.
William's method is to argue against it using logic, for clearly it is no
use using Christian scripture to combat Muhammad's law. Through
this logic he wishes to mark out the law of Muhammad as not only
wrong but ridiculous-so absurd that no one in their right minds could
take it literally. Thus it is that Avicenna, whom William thinks does not
accept a spiritual understanding of Muhammad's law, is described as
'mad.' The result of believing it literally is to be turned into a brute
beast rather than a human being. It scarcely needs to be pointed out
here that this is a classic way of denigrating a dangerous opponent,
to characterize them as less than human; it is a technique which has
been used by some political regimes in our own time to devastating
William of Auvergne cannot be seen as a model of tolerant diver-
sity-no medieval commentator could. We would be right to see him
and his fellow theologians as religious fundamentalists, in the strict
meaning of the word, and we can see the limiting effects of the certainty
in his own Christian beliefs that he brings to his consideration of Jewish
and Muslim law. However, there are other aspects of his treatment of
his subject, which to some extent give a more rounded picture of a
scholar in his own context. First of all, we should note that although
he views Jews and Muslims as opponents, nevertheless he always takes
them seriously as interpreters of the world. He regards what they follow
as a kind of law: it may be wrong, but it is nevertheless recognizable
as the same kind of animal as the law of the Gospel. William puts
effort into finding out what his opponents believe and into reading
their sources and exegeses; his sources (and his knowledge of them)
are excellent for his time, and he argues against them with care and in
detail, resorting to logic, not simply proof-texting. Finally, William looks
at the whole issue of law in the wider context of what it means to have
religious belief, asking fundamental questions in the process, questions
of enduring relevance to religious believers today. Even outside the
confines of his own times, William's treatment of Jews and Muslims,
and his use of the Bible in that treatment, is the work of a careful and
intelligent scholar, who engages with his opponents with respect and
who, throughout the argument, if not in his conclusions, looks to quiet
reason rather than shouted polemic to make his point.
Castilian theologian Juan Alfonso de Segovia (d. I458), commonly re-
ferred to as Juan de Segovia, was one of Europe's leading intellectuals
in the fifteenth century. He was a prolific and rigorous thinker whose
originality and depth have not escaped the notice of modern scholars.
James Biechler observed in Segovia and Nicholas of Cusa 'an indepen-
dence and freshness of approach not usually associated with medieval
theologians,' qualities he attributed to the 'theological root systems ani-
mating (their) thought.'! Scholars have also noted that Segovia's writ-
ings display a marked reliance on the Bible as a primary source of his
As far as we know, he did not undertake any major projects of
Biblical commentary, unlike his contemporary Alfonso de Madrigal ('el
Tostado,' I4IO-I455), who studied and taught at Salamanca and served
as university chancellor.
Except for his I437 Concordantiae dictionum inde-
! James E. Biechler, 'A New Face toward Islam: Nicholas of Cusa and John of
Segovia,' in Gerald Christianson and Thomas M. Izbicki, eds., Nicholas if Cusa in
Search if God and Wisdom. Essays in Honor if Morimichi Watanabe by the American Cusanus
Society (Leiden: Brill, I99I), I87- Even Beltran de Heredia, who held Segovia's conciliar
activities with disdain, admitted that he was one of Salamanca's leading figures. See
Beltran de Heredia, Cartulario de la Universidad de Salamanca, vol. I (Salamanca: Ediciones
Universidad de Salamanca, I970), 362-376.
2 See, for example, Benigno Hernandez Montes, Biblioteca de Juan de Segovia: Edici6n
y comentario de su escritura de donaci6n (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones
Cientificas, I984), 60-62; Antony Black, Council and Commune: The Conciliar Movement and
the Fifteenth-Century Heritage (London: Burnes and Oates, I979), I28-I37; Jesse D. Mann,
The Historian and the Truths: Juan de Segovia's Explanatio de tribus veritatibusfidei (Ann Arbor,
Michigan: University Microfilms, I993), I56-I60.
3 For more on him, see Vicente Beltran de Heredia, Cartulario, vol. I, 474-499;
Nuria Belloso Martin, Politica y humanismo en el siglo Xv. El maestro Alfonso de Madri-
gal, el Tostado (Valladolid, Spain: Universidad de Valladolid, I989); Alastair J. Min-
nis, 'Fifteenth-Century Versions of Thomistic Literalism: Girolamo Savonarola and
Alfonso de Madrigal,' Neue Richtungen in der hoch- und spiitmittelalterlichen Bibelexegese, ed.
Robert E. Lerner with Elisabeth Mtiller-Luckner (Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag,
I996): I63-I80; Alonso Fernandez de Madrigal, Sabre los dioses de los gentiles, ed. by
Pilar Saquero Suarez-Somote and Tomas Gonzalez Rolan (Madrid: Ediciones Clasicas,
I995);Joaquin Carreras Artau, 'Las "repeticiones" salmantinas de Alonso de Madrigal,'
Revista de Filosqfia 2 (I943): 2II-236.
clinabilium, a glossary of indeclinable words in the Bible assembled to
assist in discussions with the Greeks concerning the procession of the
Holy Spirit, none of Segovia's writings take the Bible as their main sub-
Nonetheless, for those interested in the history of Biblical exegesis,
the Castilian scholar offers a rich and relatively neglected source for
study. His approach to scripture emerges in his use of Biblical support
for arguments on such topics as faith, church governance, the history
of the Council of Basel, the Immaculate Conception, and the proper
Christian stance toward Islam.
The purpose of this paper is to explore
patterns in Juan de Segovia's approach to the Bible, especially in his
later works.
Juan de Segovia's career demanded that he give sustained and rig-
orous thought to some of the most vexing questions of his time. In
the early years of the fifteenth century, he studied and taught theol-
ogy at the University of Salamanca. As the university's representative
to the Council of Basel, where he arrived in 1433, he energetically ded-
icated himself to the aims of this reform council, first in the commis-
sion exploring reunion with the Greek church and later in the council's
struggle with Pope Eugene IV over authority in the church. Unlike
many of Basel's protagonists, Segovia did not renounce his conciliar
activities and seek reconciliation with the pope when it became increas-
ingly apparent that the pope would prevail in the power struggle. He
remained active in the council until it voted to adjourn in 1449, a posi-
tion which hardly endeared him to the new pope, Nicholas V (r. 1447-
1455). Segovia was the only conciliar cardinal not confirmed as a cardi-
nal and welcomed into active church administration by the pope after
the council adjourned. Instead, he spent the final years of his life (1451-
1458) in a small priory on a mountaintop in Aiton, in the French AlpS.
In Aiton, he continued a vigorous intellectual life, writing several
lengthy works. He also corresponded with former colleagues from Basel
and with others, and he received the occasional visitor. It was from
4 For a brief description of this work and a list of extant editions, see the most
comprehensive inventory of Segovia's works: Benigno Hernandez Montes, Obras de Juan
de Segovia, in Repertorio de Historia de las Ciencias Eclesiasticas en Espana, vol. 6, Siglos J-XVI
(Salamanca: Universidad Pontificia, 1977), no. 16, 280.
5 John J. Ryan commented that the use of scripture by the conciliarists is an area
that merits more study than it has received. See his The Apostolic Conciliarism if Jean
Gerson (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998), 44.
6 Antony Black, Council and Commune: The Conciliar Movement and the Fifteenth-Century
Heritage (London: Burns & Oates, 1979), Il8-125.
one such VISItor that he learned in 1453 of the fall of Constantino-
ple to Ottoman forces. The news so shook him that he left several
works unfinished and devoted himself to the effort to convince his
fellow Christians not to wage war on Muslims, but instead to seek
their conversion through persuasion. Toward that end, he wrote to
former colleagues Nicholas of Cusa, Juan de Cervantes, Jean Ger-
main, and Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, who was soon to become Pope
Pius II. Convinced that existing translations of the Qur'an were inade-
quate and that Christians desperately needed an accurate translation to
use in their conversion efforts, he even enlisted the prominent Castilian
Muslim scholar and jurist Y <;a de Gebir to help him produce a bet-
ter one. This trilingual Qur'an (Arabic, Castilian, Latin) is no longer
extant, but Segovia's prologue to it survives as a fascinating glimpse
into a westerner's interest both in the Qur'an itself and in the Arabic
The fact that Juan de Segovia did not devote himself to writing
scripture commentaries and glosses does not mean that he was not
reflective about their role in Christian thought. In his Amplificatio dis-
putationis (1441), he explained that his 'most constant aim' remained and
had always been to achieve a 'sober understanding' (sobria intelligentia)
of scripture, to 'adhere as closely as possible to the word and sense of
scripture.' He also insisted that one could only interpret any individ-
ual passage in it correctly by considering its meaning and significance
within the entire corpus of the Bible.
In his earlier Explanatio de tribus
veritatibus fidei (1439), from which he drew in compiling the Amplificatio,
he stated, 'Holy scripture is the foundation of all catholic truths.'9 Later
7 Dario Cabanelas Rodriguez, Juan de Segovia y el problema islamico (Madrid: Univer-
sidad de Madrid, Facultad de Filosofia y Letras, 1957), 70-74, 140-164. On Segovia's
study of the Qur'an, see Thomas E. Burman, Reading the OJJr'iin in Latin Christen-
dom (forthcoming from the University of Pennsylvania Press). For other accounts of
Segovia's life and works, see Miguel Aviles, 'La teologia espanola en el siglo Xv,' in His-
toria de la teologia espanola, D. Melquiades Andres, ed. (Madrid: Fundaci6n Universitaria
Espanola, 1983), 512-515, 526--528; my Juan de Segovia and Western Perspectives on
Islam in the Fifteenth Century,' (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms, 2003);
Beltran de Heredia, Cartulario, vo!. I, 362-376. For a comparison between Segovia's
writings on Islam and those of some contemporaries, see Ana Echevarria, The Fortress if
Faith: The Attitude toward Muslims in Fifteenth-Century Spain (Leiden: Brill, 1999).
8 Juan de Segovia, Amplijicatio disputationis, in Monumenta Conciliorum III, 8w, 937-938,
cited in Black, Council and Commune, 135.
9 Juan de Segovia, Explanatio de tribus veritatibus fidei (Munich, Bayerische Staats bib-
liothek, MS 6606, fo!' 23Ir), ed. by Jesse D. Mann, The Historian and the Truths, 349: 'Est
enim Sacra Scriptura fundamentum omnium veritatum catholicarum.'
in the same work he affirmed 'That truth, however, which is founded in
holy scripture is properly called a catholic truth.'IO Years earlier, at an
annual university lecture at Salamanca in 1426, he stated, 'Holy scrip-
ture is sufficient not only for determining Catholic truths, but indeed
for condemning contrary heresies.' II He also relied heavily on scripture
in his lecture the following year on the subject of faith. 12 His remarks
on the primacy of scripture were not new in the 1430s, nor were they
particularly innovative.
What is striking about Segovia's remarks in his Explanatio, on which
he modeled subsequent statements, is the importance he ascribed to
general councils as arbiters of what scripture meant. Because this work
was a significant one in the development and articulation of his
thought, this emphasis on a council's authority should not be over-
Theologians and canonists of this period generally ascribed
to the church the role of interpreting scripture. However, there was
no consensus on where exactly in the church such an authority rested.
Not surprisingly, conciliarists insisted that this role belonged to general
councils, and this was precisely what Juan de Segovia was arguing in
this text.
He pointed out that the canonical books of the Bible, which
are honored as containing an infallible statement of faith, had them-
selves been determined by general councils, so the authority of councils
must be considered valid.
The reason Segovia so vigorously asserted
10 Ibid., fo1. 234
, p. 360 in Mann's edition. See the discussion by Mann concerning
the context of these statements on 61-73.
II Segovia, Repetitio de superioritate et excellentia supre:mae potestatis ecclesiasticae et spiritu-
alis ad regiam temporalem (Valladolid, Biblioteca Universitaria de Santa Cruz, MS 89),
fols. 134
: 'Hoc etiam et quarto patet per auctoritates Apostoli, in quibus probatur
quod sacra scriptura sufficiens sit nec dum ad determinandum [fo1. 134V] veritates
catholicas, sed etiam ad reprobandum haereses contrarias.'
12 For a discussion on these two works, the only extant works from his time in Sala-
manca, see my dissertation, Juan de Segovia and Western Perspectives on Islam in the
Fifteenth Century,' University of Minnesota, 2003 (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University
Microfilms, 2003), 68-95.
13 On the significance of this work, see the discussion by Mann in Historian and the
Truths, 39-40, 250-274.
14 Mann, Historian and the Truths, 70-73.
15 Segovia, Explanatio, fo1. 233
, p. 356 in Mann's edition: 'Quarto et evidentissime id
patet pro eo, quod auctoritate generalium conciliorum determinatum est, quos libros
licet venerari tamquam in eis sit catholic a fides. Legenti namque gesta generalium
conciliorum notissimum est, quod ex determinacione ipsorum ecclesia suscepit sacrum
canonem Biblie. Et ne liceret evagari aut varie dissentire, quis esset canon sacer vel
ad quantum se extenderet, ibidem enumerate sunt omnes libri sacri canonis. Sic ergo
cum auctoritate generalium conciliorum teneamus sacrum canonem Biblie, in quo sunt
in the Explanatio the authority of councils is that this lengthy text was
produced in order to defend and affirm the Council of Basel's deposi-
tion of Pope Eugene IV in June of 1439. The pope had attempted to
dissolve the council, in violation of the declaration Haec sancta, promul-
gated by the Council of Constance in 1415. Haec sancta had argued that
a council receives its power directly from Christ, not by papal autho-
rization. If the council's validity was determined to be a truth of the
faith, then the charge of heresy could be added to those Basel levied
against the pope, and the council's deposition of him was thus indis-
putable. Christian rulers and the faithful hence had an obligation to
withdraw their loyalty from him and support the council. 16
Furthermore, scripture itself confirmed the legitimacy of councils.
One of the Biblical texts most frequently cited by Segovia in support
of conciliar legitimacy was Matthew 18.20: 'Where two or three are
gathered in my name, I am there among them.' Others included Luke
10.16: 'Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you
rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.' The
Acts of the Apostles provided him with several examples of councils
held to decide various matters.
Antony Black has noted that Juan
de Segovia's comments on these frequently cited passages reveal a
careful attention to the language of the text. Concerning John 20.23,
for example, Segovia noted that when Jesus breathed on the apostles
and invested them with the power to forgive sins, he gave the Spirit to
sermones Dei eoque veneretur in ecclesia tamquam infallibilis regula fidei christiane,
nec alias nisi quia auctoritas generalis concilii sic asseruit, nos credemus ipsi sacra
canoni iuxta illam famosam Augustini doctrinam Contra epistolam fundamenti: "Ego
evangelio non crederem, nisi me catholice ecclesie commoveret auctoritas"; necesse est
igitur profiteri, quod declaracio sive veritas de auctoritate generalis concilii est maxime
et principalissime veritas catholice fidei.'
16 See Mann, Historian and the Truths, 194-220. Also Black, Council and Commune, 131-
132 .
17 Segovia, Explanatio, foL 231r, pp. 349-350 in Mann's edition: 'Veritas autem de
potestate generalis [foL 231V] concilii est de re spirituali et fundatur in evangelio,
Mt. XVIII: "Ubi sunt duo vel tres congregate in nomine meo, ibi ego sum in medio
eorum." Secundo in eodem capitulo: ';.\men dico vobis, quecumque ligaveritis super
terram" etc. Tercio, 10. XXI: "Quorum remiseritis peccata, remissa erunt, et quorum
retinueritis, retenta sunt" etc. Quarto, Lc. X: "Qui vos audit, me audit, et qui vos
spernit, me spernit." Fundatur eciam in quampluribus locis Actuum Apostolorum et
specialiter I, VI, Xv, XX et XXI capitulis, ubi expresse habetur de celebracione
plurium conciliorum sive plurium accionum continuati concilii temporibus suis.' For
a discussion of scriptural verses Segovia favored in his conciliar arguments, see Antony
Black, Council and Commune, 129-130.
a group, to all the disciples. Similarly, when the council of Jerusalem
described in Acts 15 reached its decision, it was announced, 'it has
been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves,' another plural. The
Salamancan theologian even articulated a method of reading scripture
in which the words were understood in a 'political manner of speaking'
(politicus loquendi modus). This allowed him to argue that a group could
stand for the whole, and thus a council for the whole church. According
to him, this is why when the Hebrew scriptures related that 'the whole
people' did something, this did not mean literally every person, but only
those who were specifically involved in the activity, such as a battle. IS
Jesse Mann has argued persuasively that Segovia's Explanatio in 1439
was an important step in the development of his ecclesiology and a
significant contribution to the extensive late medieval discussions con-
cerning the relative authority of scripture and the church.
because his experience at the Council of Basel consumed such a large
part of his adult life, his writings from this period are significant expres-
sions of his thought. Nevertheless, we should not be too quick to con-
clude that Segovia's insistence on the council as the arbiter of the
meaning of scripture was a definitive element of his approach to scrip-
ture. It does not appear, for instance, in his last few works, the texts he
wrote in Aiton on the issue of Islam. 20 In his later works, he still showed
a concern for consultation with others as a means of testing his ideas,
which can be considered broadly consistent with a conciliar ideal, but
the groups he considered to have responsibility for determining and
teaching the faith were the bishops and the teachers (doctores).21 There
is no mention of an authoritative role for councils, although entrust-
ing this mission collectively to bishops and doctores would certainly have
allowed for periodic councils, and it conspicuously avoids giving the
18 Black, Council and Commune, 129-131.
19 Mann, Historian and the Truths, 39-40, 62.
20 See the list in Hermindez Montes, Obms, 269 and the subsequent descriptions of
these works.
21 For example, Segovia, De gladio, Sevilla, Biblioteca Colombina, MS 7-6--14,
fo!' 14
: 'Si igitur predicacio tante necessitatis est, ut filium deus ad hoc opus miserit
ut in eum gentes sperarunt, ipseque discipulis suis hoc permaxime iniunxit opus die ens,
Sicut misit me pater et ego mitto vos, haud dubio non exile omnibus episcopis religionis
christiane incumbere videtur onus ut intendant in idipsum.' Also fo!' ISr: 'Racione igi-
tur quisque considerare potest Episcoporum cum Apostolorum sint successores quibus
christus suam pacem dedit pacemque reliquit et qui missi fuerunt ad evangelizandam
pacem gentibus.' Fo!. 13
: ' ... quod per divini verbi expositionem intendendum sit ad
conversionem sarracenorum episcopis ac doctoribus fidei catholice.'
pope any special role. Juan de Segovia may well have remained sympa-
thetic to the conciliar agenda, but in these later writings councils recede
from prominence as arbiters in the interpretation of scripture. More-
over, in these works scripture seems to stand on its own as an incon-
trovertible source apart from what any church authorities or teach-
ers might assert. Hence his approach to scriptural interpretation in
the Explanatio seems driven by the circumstances surrounding Basel's
deposition of Eugene IV and the need to defend conciliar legitimacy
as expressed in Haec sancta. As significant as his arguments concerning
the council as the arbiter of meaning contained in scripture might have
been, this position was not central to his reading of the Bible.
On the other hand, Segovia's use of the passages such as Matthew
18.20 and Acts 15, does find parallels in other works from his later years,
including those on Islam. Antony Black referred to Matthew 18.15-
20 as Segovia's main 'proof text for conciliar supremacy,'22 but Juan's
treatment of scripture seems to have more breadth and coherence to it
than the presentation of proof texts would suggest. Whether the issue
was church governance or the threat of Islam, he was convinced that
scriptures provided the believer with a vision of how the world worked,
almost an operational handbook for human affairs.
One of the consistent characteristics of Segovia's thought was his
keen interest in the beginnings of things. This is readily apparent in
his Liber de substantia ecclesiae, one of the works he left unfinished fol-
lowing the news of Constantinople's fall. Benigno Hermlndez Montes
considered this an important and interesting work which, had it been
completed, would have provided the author's most thorough-going and
mature ecclesiology, the ultimate trajectory of his conciliar thought.
his recent critical edition of segments of this work, Santiago Madrigal
Terrazas argued that the existing text along with the chapter titles of
the projected but unwritten chapters suffice to show the logic of the
work and its ambitious argument.
Segovia began with an exploration
of the essential and permanent nature of the church and proceeded to
track how this essence had manifested itself throughout history. Accord-
ing to the aging theologian, the church was a mystery rather than
22 Black, Council and Commune, 129.
23 Hernandez Montes, Obras, 3IO.
24 Santiago Madrigal Terrazas, El proyecto eclesio16gico de Juan de Segovia (1393-1458).
Estudio del Liber de substantia ecclesiae. Edici6n y selecci6n de textos (Madrid: Universidad
Pontificia Comillas, 2000), 30.
a concrete institution. Its purpose was the 'attainment of eternal joy
under Christ as head through the fulfillment of the will of God for the
manifestation of his glory. '25
Among the more interesting elements in Segovia's argument is where
he determined the origins of this church to be. He located the origin of
the church not in Christ's words in Matthew 16.18 ('on this rock I will
build my church') nor in the first just man, Abel, as Gregory's homilies
had argued, nor even in Adam. Instead, the church began at the very
creation of the world, where it existed in the heavenly court and was
populated by angels. Moreover, it was a 'militant church' (ecclesia mili-
tans) from early on, since it was forged in the war in heaven described
in Revelation 12.7-9.
Michael and the good angels emerged victorious
over the dragon and the rebellious angels, a feat accomplished 'by the
blood of the Lamb. '27 Segovia associated the dragon or Lucifer with the
figure of the pope, referring to the rebel leader of Revelation by terms
such as 'princeps, magister, doctor,' 'unicus et indubitatus pontifex sum-
mus,' and 'primus sub Christo ordinator omnium in pertinentibus ad
cultum Dei.'28
Unlike so many late medieval thinkers, Juan de Segovia found in
Revelation not prophecy corresponding to his own times, but some-
25 Juan de Segovia, Liber de substantia ecclesiae, Salamanca, Biblioteca Universitaria,
MS 55, fo1. 4
, p. 156 in Madrigal Terrazas's edition: 'eterne adeptionem beatitudinis
sub capite Christo per adimpletionem voluntatis Dei ad eius gloriam manifestationem.'
See also the discussion by Madrigal Terrazas, 36-38.
26 Segovia, Liber de substantia ecclesiae, fo1. ro
, in Madrigal Terrazas, 160: 'Ecclesia
certe militans non primum incepit in partibus Cesaree Philippi, quando Christus dixit
Super hanc petram edijicabo ecclesiam meam [Mt. 16:18], nec in orientali plaga Edon versus
paradysum terrestrem a primo Abel iusto, ut notorie videntur quidam ut in Gregorii
omelia, nec ab Adam homine primo in ipso paradyso terrestri, sed a mundi prima
creatione in celo empirreo, de quo inquit quod primo factum statim sanctis angelis
est repletum.' And fo1. II
, Madrigal Terrazas, 161: 'Huiusmodi certe exercitum factum
esse creditur primo in celo empireo, quod irrefragabili argumento constat Apocalypsi
doctrina testante, Factum esse pretium magnum in celo [Rev. 127], et quod angelorum
corruerunt quidam, alii vero inibi permanserunt probati atque perfecti. Hinc ergo
euidentia rationis id demonstrante, certissimum esse cuilibet debet, pertinetque ad
intelligentiam veritatis catholice fidei: in celo empireo fuisse primum originem ecclesie
militan tis. '
27 Segovia, Liber de substantia ecclesiae, fo1. II
, Madrigal Terrazas, 161: 'demonstrat
victoria sanctorum angelorum qui aduersus eos preliabantur et vicerunt propter sanguinem
agni' [Rev. 12: 1 1 J.
28 Madrigal Terrazas, 73-74. He cites Segovia, Liber de sancta ecclesiae, folios 21
as the
source of these, but he does not include the relevant sections in the appendix or notes,
so the surrounding sentences are not available for inclusion here.
thing Santiago Madrigal Terrazas called 'protology' (protologia).29 The
war in heaven served as a prototype for the perennial drama between
good and evil, between those who accept Christ as head and those who
refuse to accept him, and it was played out throughout history. The
drama recorded in Revelation contained within it the entire drama of
salvation. 30 There were not two churches, one for angels and one for
humans, since the church had only one head, Christ,31 so the angels'
war belonged to human history as well. For Segovia, things were as
they were in the church because of how the church began.
It is difficult to categorize his reading of the relevant scriptural
passages. In a way, his reading certainly qualifies as a 'spiritual' or even
mystical interpretation of the text. This would be consistent with an
idea he drew from Jerome and mentioned in passing: 'The Apocalypse
has as many mysteries as words.'32 As Madrigal Terrazas noted, Segovia
seemed to have been suggesting that one must understand this book
spiritually, that it contains hidden revelations and it is important to
understand the ultimate meaning of the words. On the other hand,
he treated the apocalyptic narrative quite literally as church history
and as historical precedent that should guide subsequent behavior. The
struggles between the angels took place in a historical present, so the
church conflicts in his day were the latest rendition of an archetypal
drama. Believers were expected to rally to Michael's side and resist any
who challenged Christ's authority.33 This interpretation of the story of
the war in heaven must have had a strong hold on Juan de Segovia's
thinking. He presented it in no fewer than four works from his later
29 Madrigal Terrazas, 61. Jesse Mann noted that Segovia viewed contemporary
events as related not to the end of time, but instead to the beginning. See his discussion
in 'The Devilish Pope: Eugenius IV as Lucifer in the Later Works of Juan de Segovia,'
Church History 65:2 (I996): I95.
30 Madrigal Terrazas, 72 .
31 Segovia, Liber de substantia ecclesiae, fo1. I9
, in Madrigal Terrazas, 63, n. 26: 'Fir-
missime itaque tenendum est, quoniam ex angelis et horninibus unum constat ecclesie
corpus, huiusque corporis fondamentum, aliud nemo potest ponere preter id quod positum est, quod
est Christus Ihesus' [I Cor 3: II] .
32 Segovia, Liber de substantia ecclesiae, fo1. 53, cited in Madrigal Terrazas, 70-7I:
'Apocalypsis tot habet sacramenta quot verba.'
33 Madrigal Terrazas, 71.
34 Mann, 'The Devilish Pope,' I86-187. These works are Historia gestorum generalis
synodi Basiliensis, Epistola ad Guillielmum de Orliaco, Liber de substantia ecclesiae, and Liber de
magna auctoritate episcoporum.
It is in this inclination to read the text as prototypical, as taking
place in the historical present, that similarities emerge between Juan's
treatment of the standard conciliar texts and his use of the motif of the
war in heaven from Revelation. He sawall of these texts as recording
the setting in motion of something that continued to his day. The
heavenly strife recounted in Revelation presented a precedent that was
a bit more dramatic than the other passages, but Juan sawall of these
events as the constituting a reality, as creating a situation. Acts IS began
the practice of authoritative statements issued by councils. When Jesus
breathed the Spirit into the apostles, he conferred a power on a group
and thus for all time validated a consultative model of governance for
the church. When Lucifer and his followers rebelled against Christ's
leadership and Michael and the good angels defended it, they instituted
a drama that would be re-enacted repeatedly in history. Michael's
example set a precedent for how believers were supposed to respond
whenever Christ's sole leadership was challenged. These texts revealed
precedents and prototypes. They served as a manual on how things
were constituted so that those who wished to could order their affairs
according to this plan.
When he turned in earnest to the issue of Islam, Segovia once again
found prototypes in the Bible, prototypes that allowed him to depart
from the conventional thoughts of fellow Christians on how to respond
to the Ottoman threat. He was not averse to polemic against this rival
faith, and indeed his long efforts to produce a new and improved ver-
sion of the Qur'an were motivated precisely by his interest in converting
Muslims. However, his polemic was more with bellicose fellow Chris-
tians than with Muslims. To Nicholas of Cusa in a letter dated Decem-
ber '2, 1454, he referred to his work as 'my small work, the beginning,
middle, and end of which is that the way of peace be preferred to the
way of war for the conversion of the Saracens.'35 Vehemently rejecting
any form of war in response to the Muslim advances, even after the
1453 fall of Constantinople, he suggested that a small but prominent
delegation be sent to explain the Christian faith to the Muslims, and
especially to disabuse them of false notions they had concerning Chris-
tian belief and practice. His hope was that such an amicable approach
35 Juan de Segovia, Letter to Nicholas of Cusa, Dec. z, 1454, Salamanca, Biblioteca
Universitaria, MS 19, fo1. 18z
: 'opusculum meum cuius initium, medium, finis que est
ut pacis magis quam belli via intendatur ad conversionem sarracenorum.' This section
appears in Cabanelas, 308.
to their differences would convince Muslims that their notions of Chris-
tianity, based on passages in the Qur'an, were erroneous. This would
prepare them to realize that the Qur'an did not contain truth, which
would lead to their conversion and hence to the elimination of the
major reason for the wars between Christians and Muslims, which he
identified as 'the difference in their laws. '36 The most important thing
for him was that Christians not adopt war as a strategy.
Although Segovia enlisted many scriptural passages and also histor-
ical examples in his argument against waging war on the Muslims, he
returned often to the example of preaching by Jesus and by the apostles,
especially Paul. As with the conciliar texts and his reading of the war in
heaven, he took his clues on how to proceed from the precedents set in
the beginning. When Jean Germain, a theologian and trusted adviser
to the duke of Burgundy, responded to Segovia's proposals by scoffing
at how impractical and dangerous they were, the Spaniard retorted,
'It cannot be considered a greater danger than sending a few sheep
into a multitude of wolves. And yet, when he sent them out to preach,
the Savior said to his disciples, "Behold, I send you as sheep among
Reminding Germain of the bodily danger involved with war,
he asked how the way of peace and teaching (via pacis et doctrine) could
be judged dangerous, when in any case Christians put their trust not
in themselves, but in the God in whom their fathers had trusted, who
had freed them from such great dangers in the past.
For that matter,
he continued, if the way of peace and teaching were not useful, what
should we make of the fact that it was for that work that Christ was
sent, as he himself stated? Christ had said, 'It is fitting for me to preach
the reign of God to other cities, as I have been sent.'39 According to
36 Segovia, Prologue to the Qur'an translation, Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica
Vaticana, MS lat. 2923, fol. 188': 'Et quantum ex tenore libri eorum secte percipi
potest, precipua totaque guerrarum continuatarum, continuandarum quoque [causa]
est legum differentia.' In Cabanelas, 284.
37 Juan de Segovia, Letter toJean Germain dated Dec. 18, 1455, ibid., fol. 54': 'Potest
ne maius designari periculum quam mittere paucas oves in medio luporum multorum.
Et tamen, cum illos ad predicandum misit, discipulis suis ait Salvator Ecce ego mitto
vos sicut agnos inter lupos.'
38 Segovia, Letter to Germain, ibid., fol. 54': 'Et si, non attento periculo corporum
quod certissime contingit in preliorum congressu, laudatur via belli, quomodo pericu-
losa estimanda est via pacis et doctrine ad [54
] sarracenorum conversionem, quoniam
non in nobis ipsis sumus confidentes sed in deo in quo patres nostri speraverunt et
liberati sunt de magnis periculis, liberati a deo magnifice illi gracias agentes.'
39 Segovia, Letter to Germain, ibid., fol. 54
: 'Sed utrum dicatur non utilis via
doctrine et predicacionis ad infidelium conversionem, attendi potest quomodo hoc
Juan, he had reaffirmed this before Pilate, when he responded to the
interrogation by saying that he was born and had come into the world
to give testimony to the truth. Juan de Segovia commented, 'And this
is what is advised, that the church, if it might be seen to be like him,
give testimony to the truth for the salvation of a thousand thousands
of Saracen souls. '40 Jesus had set the pattern for how the spreading of
Christianity was to happen: by teaching about the reign of God.
In his later works on the importance of not waging wars against
Muslims, Juan de Segovia frequently cited Christ's words at the end of
the Gospel of Matthew. He explained to Nicholas of Cusa, 'And so he
gave them an eternal command to preach the Gospel when he said,
"Go, teach all nations. Lo, I am with you every day until the end of
time." So wherever they will be, they must preach the Gospel to the
peoples throughout the world.'41 Through his own example of teaching
people about the kingdom of God, and then through commissioning
his followers to continue this preaching, Jesus had established how it
was that the Gospel was to be broadcast, and it was clearly not through
Paul, for his part, continued this pattern of teaching and furnished
Segovia with additional precedents for his proposal of peaceful preach-
ing to Muslims. The apostle to the Gentiles held special interest for
Juan, who reiterated Paul's insistence that there were no divisions in
Christ. Segovia cited Paul's epistle to the Galatians: 'There is no man
and woman, Gentile andJew, circumcised and uncircumcised, stranger
or acquaintance, servant or freeman, but Christ is all things in all peo-
ple. '42 Furthermore, Paul 'hardly hesitated in calling himself the teacher
of the nations throughout the world, concerning which it is read in the
speraverunt et liberati sunt de magnis periculis, liberati a deo magnifice illi gracias
agentes opus missus est dei filius, ipse namque respondit et aliis civitatibus oportet me
evangelizare regnum dei quia conmissus sum.'
40 Segovia, Letter to Germain, ibid., fo1. 54
: 'est professus quod in hoc natus
esset et ad hoc in mundum venisset, ut veritati testimonium perhiberet. Et hoc est
quod avisatur ut ecclesia, si ei videatur, veritati testimonium perhibeat pro salute mille
millium animarum sarracenorum.'
41 Segovia, Letter to eusa, Dec. 2, 1454, Salamanca, Biblioteca Universitaria, MS
19, fo1. 171': 'Ita eternum dedit mandatum de predicando illis evangelio cum dixit
Euntes docere omnes gentes, Eae ego vobiscum sum omnibus diebus usque ad con-
sumacionem seculi. Itaque quamdiu erunt in mundo gentes evvangelium predicandum
est illis.'
42 Segovia, Letter to Germain, Dec. 18, 1455, Vatican MS lat. 2923, fo1. 51v: 'Non est
masculus et femina, gentiles et Iudeus, circumcisio et prepictium, Barbarus et Scitha,
servus et liber, sed omnia in omnibus christus.'
Acts of the Apostles that he preached in a particular way to the Gentiles
in Athens, where a multitude of gentile philosophers was flourishing. '43
Paul's activity, like that of other early Christian preachers, took place in
order to fulfill Christ's mandate to preach the Gospel far and wide.
In addition to the scriptural support for a 'way of teaching' from
the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, Juan presented precedents from
elsewhere in the Bible when they corroborated his central theme. He
recalled, for example, that God had liberated plenty of faithful people
from all manner of torment, but it was never by the sword.
And the
Old Testament told of many wars, but they converted hardly anyone
to the worship of God.
Unimpressed with Germain's protests that the
Turks were a genuine threat, Segovia pointed out thatJesus himself had
shown Christians the way to respond to those who hurt them. When he
was on the cross, 'with a loud cry and tears, he beseeched the Father to
forgive them, since they did not know what they were doing. '46 Juan de
Segovia reasoned that it was this very lack of understanding (nesciencia)
that was found in the Saracens when they killed Christians, thinking
all the while that Christians were not believers in the one God. The
delegation that Segovia proposed would show the Saracens that they
did not know what they were doing and correct this misperception.
Given the magnitude of the Ottoman threat and the devastation that
had befallen Constantinople not long before he was writing, it is nat-
ural to wonder whether Segovia actually believed what he was saying.
Did he really think that if the Turks converted to Christianity, they
43 Segovia, Letter to Germain, Dec. 18, 1455, ibid., fo1. 51v: 'Unde paulus, idipsum
clare intelligens, minime dubitavit appellare se doctorem gentium in universo mundo,
de quo in actibus legitur apostolorum quod dum gentilibus predicavit Athenis spe-
cialiter ubi multitudo florebat gentilium philosophorum ... '
44 Segovia, Letter to Germain, ibid., fo1. 46r: 'Qua ratione et si deus liberavit quam
plurimos fideles suos ab omni genere tormenti, vix tamen aut numquam legitur quod
ab utu gladii quo inmediate humana operatur potestas.'
45 Segovia, Letter to Germain, ibid., fo1. 58v: 'Multa quippe bella in veteri testa-
mento facta legimus, presertim david tempore, qui fuit excellentissimus propheta, sed
tam ex philisteis quam ex aliis paucissimis [sic] aut nulli conversi fuerunt ad cultum
46 Segovia, Letter to Germain, ibid., fo1. 68
: 'cum clamore valido et lacrimis, oravit
patrem ut illis dimitteret quia nescirent quid facerent.'
47 Segovia, Letter to Germain, ibid., fo1. 68
: 'Revera talis nesciencia in animis
esse videtur sarracenorum occidendo christianos. Siquidem arbitrantur obsequium se
prestare deo existimantes eos non esse cultores dei unius. '" Quod ecclesia legacionem
mitteret pro audiencia obtinenda ad maiores sarracenorum ostensuram illis in omni
caritate quia nesciunt quid faciunt.'
would pose no further threat to Christian lands? Did he really think
that diligent and sincere preaching by Christians would convert them,
and quickly enough to save the eastern Mediterranean communities
that were in their path? Moreover, did he really believe that his cor-
respondents among western Europe's intellectual elite, much less the
leaders he presumably hoped they could influence, were seeking the
best way to convert Muslims?
Juan's letter to French theologian Jean Germain in December of 1455
is especially useful in providing insight into how aware he was of what
he was advocating. This letter was a response to Germain's rejection
of Segovia's ideas as preposterous and impractical. From his responses,
it does not appear that Juan entertained any delusions about the likely
results should his plan for peace be implemented. He did not predict
that large numbers of immediate conversions would occur, nor that
the military advances of the Ottomans would cease. Instead, his reply
shows just how stricdy he thought Christians were bound to precedent
found in scripture. He reasoned that it might be considered difficult
or strange that three years of preaching would not accomplish their
intended effect until three hundred years later, but indeed Christ had
preached for three years, and another three centuries passed before
his law was peacefully accepted in the world. He added, 'If now for
four hundred years, or rather eight hundred, the way of war has been
followed, it is fitting to resume anew that way Christ wished to be
followed until the end of the world, since the three-year-old way of
teaching must not be interrupted. '48
In these rebuttals to the Burgundian's objections, Segovia's trust
in scripture as constituting reality and establishing binding precedent
appears in its highest relief It seems that Segovia understood fully that
progress would be slow, and presumably that many more Christians
would likely die at the hands of Ottoman armies before his plan would
bear fruit. But his over-riding desire was not to stem the tide of the
Turkish advances, but to bring the church's action in line with the
models found in scripture for the spreading of the Gospel. Although
48 Segovia, Letter to Germain, ibid., fo!' 67
: 'Quod autem difficultari uidetur de
lapsu trium annorum priusquam via pacis et doctrine practicari posset utinam in trig-
inta annis compleretur effectus illius. Siquidem practicavit christus viam predicacionis
plusquam per tres annos .... Transierunt denique ccc anni priusquam lex christi paci-
lee reciperetur in orbe .... Et si iam a quadringentis quin pocius ab octingentis annis
practicata est via belli de novoque licet earn resumere, via utique doctrine triennio
coartanda non est, quam practicari christus voluit usque ad mundi consummacionem.'
Germain considered his plan dangerous and risky, Juan could not have.
According to his reasoning, because the events recorded in scripture
revealed patterns of God's ongoing activity and wishes in the world, it
was not possible that a plan modeled after the example of Jesus and
the apostolic preaching would ultimately fail. Since it had the surety
of God's promise behind it, Christians could have absolute confidence
in the success of the 'way of preaching,' even if no tangible results
appeared for a while.
Although Segovia seemingly considered his proposals the obvious
and only course for the church to follow if it wished to be in accord
with divinely ordained patterns, he was aware that not everyone shared
this view. In all of his longer works on the proper response to Islam,
he recounted the long history of crusading and also the Spanish experi-
ence of pushing the peninsular Muslims increasingly to the south.
used this information to point out that Christians had lost all the lands
gained during the Crusades, and none of this warring had any conver-
sions to show for it, but he surely realized that the church's past prac-
tice as a whole did not support his pacifist approach. Perhaps sensing
that his views would earn him suspicion or censure, he told Nicholas
of Cusa that he was humbly asking his counsel about the proposals he
made, proposals he wished to keep secret for now, and asked that Cusa
not publicly reveal Segovia's thoughts before offering him his counsel,5
If Juan in fact looked to councils as the ultimate arbiters of the meaning
of scripture, this would have left him with little guidance on the prob-
lem of how to respond to the threat of Islam. If anything, the consensus
of the church was that war in this case was just. On this important
issue, he stood solely on scripture and on corroborating examples from
Sometimes Juan was explicit about how scripture should be read,
aware that his reading differed from others'. For example, in an implied
criticism of some of his contemporaries, he argued that what should
command his fellow Christians' attention was not 'what the learned
opinion of this one or that one dictated, but what can be stated through
49 One example occurs in De gladio, Sevilla MS 7-6--I4, fols. 22'-24

50 Segovia, Letter to eusa, Salamanca, Biblioteca Universitaria, MS I9, fo1. I83r:
'Reverendissima Paternitas Vestra videre dignabitur desuperque donare responsum,
quem autem consilium humilime posco, et ante consultationem, putem non decere
hanc rem in publicam deferri nocionem .. , Provide magna cum humilitate exoro ne
ante consilium suum michi notificandum aliis manifestet.'
reason or the authority of divine scripture. '51 Although 'reason' to some-
one like Jean Germain demanded a pragmatic military response to the
recent Ottoman advances, Juan de Segovia's version of it was man-
ifested in observations such as that about the Crusades' lack of suc-
cess over the long term, or in his observation that Jesus' preaching had
taken three centuries to become firmly rooted. He meant reasoning
from history and from scripture, taking scripture as the guide to God's
intentions and actions. His rejection of the flight to 'learned opinions'
is clear.
In a section of his discussion in which he was exploring how Muslims
might come to believe what the Christian teachers and the Bible say, he
observed that the difference between the word of men and the word of
God is that the former was not believed unless it was understood, and
the latter was not understood unless it was believed. Since God could
not lie, it was sufficient to know that God said something to know that
it was true. 52 What God had said was precisely what God said in sacred
scripture. 53 It is interesting that he did not present this argument, for
which he cited Augustine, in the parts of his discussion in which he used
scripture to refute Germain's objections to his suggestions for pursuing
peace. Perhaps he wished to avoid precisely the contest in 'authority
citing' that he decried, and which this move might have unleashed
in his correspondence with his Burgundian counterpart. In any case,
this spirit of taking scripture as true and binding because God said it
certainly seems consistent with the rest of his work.
As might be expected, he was flatly dismissive of attempts to pre-
dict the future by using the Bible. Referring to the practice of assigning
51 Segovia, Letter to Germain, Vatican MS lat. 2923, fo1. 84
: 'Cum igitur liceat ad
ulteriora se extendere catholicis doctoribus qui non doc[85
]trine Augustini aliorumque
sanctorum, multominus opinionis scati et aliorum scolasticorum doctorum, sed sacre
theologie magistri dicuntur. Certe ipsis id proprium est absque personarum accepcione
in eum tendere finem ut theologica veritas semper ac magis eisdem lucescat quatenus
ipsi divinam sapientiam elucidare vale ant semper ac magis vitam propterea eternam
habituri. Quocirca non quid istius vel illius scolastica dictat opinio, sed quid racione
vel divine scripture auctoritate possit constare et veritates fidei defensare aut probare
conantes attendant.'
52 Segovia, Letter to Germain, ibid., fo1. 65
: 'agnoscenda tenendaque differencia
inter verbum hominis et verbum dei, hoc nisi primum credatur non esse intelligendum.
Illud non esse credendum nisi primo intelligatur. Et enim, cum impossibile sit deum
mentiri utique offendere videtur examinare volens dei verbum priusquam credatur
propter quod satis est scire quod deus id dixit ut minime dubitetur esse verum.'
53 Segovia, Letter to Germain, ibid., fo1. 65
: 'Quidquid deus dixit verum est, hoc
videlicet in sacro descripta [sic] canone dixit deus igitur verum est.'
numbers to certain letters in the Bible and using the resulting compu-
tations to make predications, he called such calculations 'a simple labor
of human invention,' whereas true prophecy was a gift counted among
the types of miracles. 54 Although it was a well-established convention by
his time, he generally refrained from associating Muhammad with the
beast in the Apocalypse. Alexander Minorita (d. 1271), Nicholas of Lyra
and Peter Auriol (1280-1322) were among the medieval
thinkers whose decision to associate the Prophet with the apocalyptic
beast inspired them to count in various ways backwards and forwards
from the rise of this beast in order to discern when the end of the
world should be expected. 55 Segovia preferred to read the Book of Rev-
elation as providing 'protology,' as Santiago Madrigal Terrazas noted,
rather than predictions. 56 In a telling example of his tendency to asso-
ciate present events with past ones rather than with future dramas, he
once referred to the Prophet as an alter Synacherib,57 a reference to the
Assyrian king Sennacherib, whose ruthless conquests Isaiah recorded
and lamented.
Several observations about Juan de Segovia's approach to the Bible
emerge from the proceeding discussion. First, his conciliar activities
notwithstanding, he considered the Bible a source that stood as an
authority in its own right. Its authority was sufficient to recommend or
sanction a course of action. He preferred a straightforward interpreta-
tion of its meaning, uncluttered by frequent recourse to authorities and
certainly untainted by schemes to predict specific future events. That
interpretation was profoundly historical. The most important function
of scripture in his arguments was that it revealed compelling prece-
dents and prototypes for how people should act and especially how the
54 Segovia, Letter to Germain, ibid., fo1. 45
: 'Et sic ab eo vel a quocumque alio
utente litera aliqua primum loco numeri huiusmodi noticia occultarum futurorumque
provenisse dicetur .... Cum vero facere huiusmodi calculaciones sit labor purus humani
ingenii ut quid igitur prophecie donum annumeratur inter genera rniraculorum.'
55 See the discussion in Philip Krey, 'Nicholas of Lyra and Paul of Burgos on
Islam,' in Medieval Christian Perceptions qf Islam, ed. John Victor Tolan (NY and London:
Routledge, 1996): 154.
56 One notable exception was his Prologue to the trilingual Qur'an, Vatican MS
lat. 2923, fo1. 187v, in Cabanelas, 283: 'Siquidem, multis attenta pensatis meditatione,
non quidem a me primo, sed a multis progenitoribus meis, secta huiusmodi bestia ilia
est descripta in Apocalypsi aJohanne, que de terra ascendens.'
57 Segovia, Letter to Germain, ibid., fo1. 59
: 'Et quasi alter Synacherib gloriatur in
robore sue et in multitudine populi sui quod universum occidentem manu sua vale at
church should handle various challenges, including its own governance
and its response to the Turks' advances. An absolute confidence in the
truth of scriptural guidance led him to insist that this guidance should
be followed even in the absence of readily observable results. Although
he was aware that not everyone interpreted the Bible the way he did,
he apparently believed that all were driven by the same desire he had,
to conduct things in accord with God's will as found in scripture. Con-
verting his fellow Christians to a less bellicose policy toward Muslims
was a matter of persuading them of his reading of scripture. Nowhere
in his works, for example, do we find an argument based on potential
trading advantages to be gained from making peace with the Muslims.
Segovia seems to have thought that theological reasoning, albeit flawed
reasoning, motivated his coreligionists in their response to the Ottoman
Much remains unknown concerning the thought and works of Juan
de Segovia. Many of his works are unpublished and even the published
ones have hardly been examined in detail. 58 More editions and more
studies based on existing ones are needed. This would facilitate a
closer study of the sources of his thought and even comparison of
how he understood specific scriptural texts and how contemporaries
understood them. Works by this leading intellectual with a habit of
unconventional thinking should intrigue and occupy scholars of later
Middle Ages for some time.
58 For an account of published editions, see Hernandez Montes, Obras. Editions
published since then include, in addition to those mentioned elsewhere in this paper,
Liber de magna episcoporum in concilio generali, Rolf de Kegel, ed., (Freiburg, Switzerland:
Universitatsverlag, 1995); Jose Martinez Gazquez, 'El Prologo de Juan de Segobia al
Coran (Qyr'an) trilingiie (1456),' Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch, Band 38, I, 2 (2003). One
unpublished work that is of great interest is his 1457 letter to Guillielmus de Orliaco,
contained in Salamanca, Biblioteca Universitaria, MS. 202, fols. 172'-1 84v. See Jesse
D. Mann, Juan de Segovia's Epistola ad Guillielmum de Orliaco De quatuor hostibus. Who
was Guillielmus de Orliaco?,' Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum 62 (1992): 175-193. In the
same author's 'Duns Scotus, Juan de Segovia, and Their Common Devil,' Franciscan
Studies 52 (1992),138, n. 12, he stated that he was preparing an edition of this work.
It is no simple task to smuggle the Reformation into the thematic fields
implied by the terms Middle Ages and Renaissance, which defined the
colloquium for which this piece was originally written. The program
in which I was trained as a scholar, by the late Heiko Oberman,
emphasized the organic connections between these three textbook-
category eras or movements, and in this paper I have consciously
adopted this stance as both a rhetorical strategy and a scholarly agenda,
though without adopting the implicit assumptions behind any of these
fraught terms.
Now, immo, if we agree to disagree with my doctor-father and admit,
at least heuristically, the categories of 'success' and 'failure'l of Luther's
reform movement, then the Protestant Reformation was practically an
overnight success. The heady period from 1519 to 1525 has been called
the period of Wildwuchs, of uncontrolled growth.
During at least one
important phase of his career, Luther himself felt the Reformation was
growing 'wildly,' but not quite in the positive sense accorded to the early
Wittenberg movement by later Protestant historians. Luther descended
like a monastic Moses from protective custody on the Wartburg in 1522
to roll back the enthusiastic liturgical reforms and iconoclasm of his
erstwhile confederate, the radical Andreas Bodenstein of Karlstadt.
Although he would later reintroduce most of Karlstadt's reforms, such
as clerical marriage, the German liturgy, the cup for the laity, the aban-
donment of the Mass, its vestments, and rituals of consecration, Luther
was worried about the effect such rapid change would have on the
faithful-as a stumbling block-and especially on the leader of the faithful
in Saxony, Duke Frederick the Wise, who amassed a huge collection of
1 Gerald Strauss, Luther's House if Learning (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1978).
2 See, most recently, Helmar Junghans, 'Pladoyer fur "Wildwuchs der Reformation"
als Metapher', in Luther-Jahrbuch 65 (1998):101-108.
3 Ronald]. Sider, Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt: The Development if His Thought, I5I7-
I525 (Leiden: EJ. Brill, 1974).
indulgence-giving relics and went to his grave a moderate adherent to
pre-Reformation piety. Frederick had twice saved Luther, first by exact-
ing Luther's safety as the price of his vote for Charles in the contested
Imperial election Of1519 (which saw Francis I, king of France, as a most
unlikely but strongly supported candidate against Maximilian's son
Charles); and second by removing Luther from danger and hiding him
after the almost-legendary encounter with imperial and papal power at
the Diet of Worms in 1Y2I.4 Luther may well have felt indebted to so
effective a protector. Not coincidentally, Luther used the period of his
enforced confinement to produce his own vernacular translation of the
New Testament, the so-called 'September Testament' of 1522. Again, it
is no coincidence that this translation was printed under the protection
of Frederick the Wise, who seems to have trusted his house-theologian
completely, despite Luther's failure or, more credibly, refusal to obtain
an episcopal licence, which was required-at least in theory-for all new
vernacular translations of Biblical texts. Only Frederick's unassailable
position and his vast trust in Luther, whom he never met in person,
made it possible to print an unauthorized translation by a delinquent
monk under the imperial Acht und Bann, or interdict. This new transla-
tion, guided by Luther's principle of following the speech of the com-
mon man in the street,
was immediately and wildly successful, selling
out rapidly and experiencing multiple reprintings in the same year.
Johannes Cochlaeus, one of Luther's fiercest opponents later wrote with
some venom, Luther's translation was read (as the source of all wis-
dom, no less) by 'tailors and shoemakers, even women and simpletons,'
4 Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand. A Life if Martin Luther (New York: Abingdon-
Cokesbury Press, 1950).
5 ' ... denn man muss nicht die Buchstaben in der lateinischen Sprache fragen, wie
man soli Deutsch reden, wie diese Ese! tun, sondern man muss die Mutter im Hause,
die Kinder auf der Gassen, den gemeinen Mann auf dem Markt drum fragen und
dense!bigen auf das Maul sehen, wie sie reden, und darnach dolmetschen; da verstehen
sie es denn und merken, daB man deutsch mit ihnen redet.' Martin Luther, Ein
Sendbriif Dom Dolmetschen (September, 1530) included in D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische
Gesamtausgabe, 60 vols. (Weimar: H. Bohlaus Nachfolger, 1909), 30.2: 632-646; 636.
Hereafter referred to as WA. See also the Summarien uber die Psalmen und Ursachen des
Dolmetschens. Mart. Luther (Wittenberg: 1533), a part of which is available in Hans Volz,
ed., D. Martin Luther. Die gantze Heilige SchriJft deudsch 1545 / auffs new zugericht. Anhang
und Dokumente (Munich: Rogner & Bernard, 1972), 250ff. and the introduction: vol. I,
6 For statistics, see Rudolf Hirsch, Printing, Selling and Reading, 1450-1550 (Wiesbaden:
Harrasowitz, 1974). See also Rudolf Hirsch, The Printed Word: Its Impact and Dijfosion: Pri-
marily in the 15th-16th Centuries (London: Variorum Reprints, 1978), and Robert W Scrib-
many of whom carried it around and learned it by heart, and eventu-
ally became bold enough to dispute with priests, monks, even masters
and doctors of Holy Scripture about faith and the GospelS.
So success-
ful was this translation, in fact, that Luther's moderate version of Saxon
chancery German, combined with his newer, middle-German accom-
modations between unshifted northern consonants and undipthongized
south German vowels, produced the prototype of written early modern
High German. This in turn was refined over the course of the following
two centuries to produce a consensual standard form (Neuhochdeutsch)
of a language that had previously existed only in a multiplicity of often
mutually-unintelligible dialects. Luther had much more than linguis-
tic aims, however; he believed that the euangelion, or 'good message' of
the New Testament should be made available to all believers, whose
reading of the Gospels and especially of Paul would, in Luther's view,
persuade them of the rightness of his own convictions regarding salva-
tion as a freely given, unmerited benefit acquired by faith alone and
not by works. Luther himself would insist on numerous occasions that
under the Papacy, the Bible was unknown among the people, and that
he had not even seen a Bible until he was twenty years old. These
later polemical points, designed as much to justifY his new translation
as to condemn papal policy, appear at numerous points in his works,
especially in the Table Talk.
Earlier generations of German scholars,
especially before the Second World War, were able to unravel tradi-
tional Protestant narratives that took Luther's polemic about the inac-
cessibility of the Bible seriously.9 However, the period 1933 to 1945 pro-
duced a serious gap in the accessibility of German scholarship of the
pre-war era, both to English speakers and to German scholars. The
books of Hans Rost and Erich Zimmermann
are available hardly any-
where, and almost never appear in post-WWII literature regarding the
ner, For the Sake qf Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German RifOrmation (Cambridge
and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981).
7 Johannes Cochlaeus, Historia Martini Lutheri ... Deutsch von Chr. Hueber (lngolstadt:
1582), 120.
8 'Die Biblia war im Papstum den Leuten unbekannt.' WA Tischreden 3, No. 2844b;
cf. the Latin version in Aurifaber's source, Anton Lauterbach's collection: 'Biblia olim
erant incognita.' Luther, WA Tischreden 5, No. 6278.
9 See, for example, the survey of pre-war literature that emphasized the large
number and diffusion of Bibles before the Reformation in Hans Rost, Die Bibel im
Mittelalter. Beitrage zur Geschichte und Bibliographie der Bibel (Augsburg: M. Seitz, 1939), 314-
10 Erich Zimmermann, Die deutsche Bibel im religiosen Leben des Spiitmittelalters, Neue
Bible in the Middle Ages. The reasons for this scholarly amnesia or
at least ignorance lie in both the vicissitudes of war and generational
change, and in the whiggish historical narratives that became useful in
the West during the course of the Cold War and came to dominate
Anglo-American scholarship as a result. In the 1960s and 1970s, Ger-
man scholars returned to the topic and produced, mainly in specialized
journals, a certain highly technical literature concerning late medieval
knowledge and use of the Bible.
Even in Protestant-influenced schol-
arly circles, it was well-known that there had been many channels
through which Biblical material reached the laity and common people,
and many printings of vernacular Bibles before the Reformation. How-
ever, such printings were generally held to have been both linguistically
insufficient and too expensive to become truly 'popular,' thus defending
Luther's rather odd and backwoodsy claim that the Bible was hardly
known under the papacy. 12 Johannes Geffcken wrote as early as 1855
that the youthful experiences of a poor mendicant are an inadequate
measure of the educational level of the entire German people at that
time, and that the language of the pre-Reformation translations was
nowhere near as bad or as lacking in influence on Luther's translation
as some have argued.
The issues of price, distribution, availability and
lay Bible-reading will occupy our attention in the second part of this
The Luther Bible, it has been argued for generations, freed the com-
mon people who could not read the Vulgate, especially in the towns
and cities, to read for themselves the Word of God and to draw 'their
Beitrage zur Geschichte der deutschen Bibel im Mittelalter VII (Potsdam: Akademische
Verlagsgesellschaft Athenaion, 1938).
II E.g., Olaf Schwencke, 'Ein Kreis spatmittelalterlicher Erbauungsschriftsteller in
Lubeck,' inJahrbuch des Vereinsfor niederdeutsche Sprachforschung 88 (1965):20-58.
12 For the most recent statement of this long-lasting view, see Hans Volz, Intro-
duction to D. Martin Luther, Die gantze Heilige Schriift Deudsch, Wittenberg I545. Letzte zu
Luthers Lebzeiten erschienene Ausgabe. Ed. Hans Volz (Darmstadt: Wissenschafdiche Buchge-
sellschaft, 1972), 2 vols., I, XLI: 'Schopf ten im ausgehenden Mittelalter die breiten
Volksschichten ihre Bibelkenntnisse vorwiegend aus Predigten oder aus Plenarien und
Postillen, so war demgegenuber die damalige deutsche Bibel sowohl wegen ihres hohen
Preises wie auch wegen ihrer groBen sprachlichen Mangel weit davon entfernt, ein
wirkliches Volksbuch darzustellen, wie sie es erst durch Martin Luthers einzigartiges
Ubersetzungswerk wurde.'
13 'Die Erfahrungen, die in seiner Jugend ein armer Bettelmonch machte, sind
noch nicht geeignet, den Bildungszustand des ganzen deutschen Volkes zu bezeichnen.
Jedenfalls liegt uns in den Werken des 15. Jahrhunderts die unzweideutigen Zeugnisse
dafur vor, dass eine genauere Bekenntschaft mit der Schrift durchaus keine Seltenheit
own' conclusions.
Tied up with this contention are a plethora of con-
fessional and whiggish assumptions about layfolks' restricted access to
'the Bible,' or more correctly, to Biblical texts; about a putative 'loosen-
ing' of ecclesiastical authority and its monopoly over the interpretation
of scripture; and a congeries of Enlightenment-era ideas of all sorts:
hostility to the clergy, to the papacy and Roman church, and laud-
able, but historically inaccurate, unreflected narratives about progress,
the 'Dark Ages,' 'superstition,' and tyranny. We have inherited these
eighteenth-century tropes, artefacts of the 'culture wars' of that time,
via the mainly Protestant historiography of the nineteenth century.
Leopold von Ranke, the initiator of modern scholarly method in the
humanities and professionalizer of history as an academic discipline,
was first and foremost an historian of the German Reformation; but
second and almost equally importantly an apologist and confessional
historian eager to apply the categories of the Lumieres to a period he
understood as the real exit from papal darkness.
To be sure, the distribution of a large number of printed Luther
Bibles facilitated individual, even sectarian interpretation of its often-
opaque passages, especially Hebrew prophecy and the book of Revela-
tion. In fact, Luther deplored the proliferation of sects that were happy
to call on his German version of the New Testament (and later of the
Hebrew Bible) to justify their deviation from what Luther considered to
be pure evangelical doctrine: the Anabaptists, Thomas Miintzer, Karl-
stadt and a host of individuals whom Luther termed Schwarmer (enthusi-
asts, with the connotation of buzzing bees), and of course, the leaders of
the Peasants' War, especially Michael Sattler and the drafters of the var-
ious peasants' programs or articles, such as the Twelve Articles of the
upper Swabian peasants, whom Luther would accuse in 1525 ofmisun-
war [ ... J Freilich ist es das Leichteste von der Welt, in kurzer Zeit ein langes Ver-
zeichnis von Fehlern anzufertigen, welche sich sowohl in den hochdeutschen als in den
niederdeutschen Ausgaben finden und die meist von dem zu wortlichen Wiedergeben
des Lateinischen herruhren. Aber wenn man diese Ubersetzungen fur ganz und gar
ungeschickte Arbeiten halt, die gar keinen EinfiuB auf das Yolk gehabt hatten, und aus
denen in Luthers Ubersetzungen nichts ubergegangen ware, so ist man doch in groBem
Irrtume [ ... J Wir finden, dass sich schon im 15. Jahrhundert eine Art deutscher Vulgata
gebildet hatte, die Luther oft nur wenig zu verandern notwendig fand.' Johannes
Geffcken, Die Bildercathechismus des IS. Jahrhunderts und die cathechetischen Hauptstucke in dieser
:;:.,eit bis azif Luther (Leipzig: Weigel, 1855), 5.
14 For a recent and authoritative restatement of this hoary legend, see the introduc-
tion inJaroslav Pelikan, The Riformation if the Bible, the Bible if the Riformation: a Catalog if
the Exhibition l!Ji V.R. Hotchkiss and D. Price. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).
derstanding him and his interpretation of scripture. 15 Luther's reaction
to all these free-form readers of scripture demonstrates very clearly his
conservative attitude, as well as that of his successors in offices such
as 'emergency bishops' (Notbischiifo) , church superintendents, and most
importantly, of the urban leaders and territorial lords who first tol-
erated, then mandated the Reformation under their jurisdiction. All
these, with very few exceptions, agreed that scripture was to be inter-
preted first and foremost in accordance with the decrees of the ear-
liest ecumenical councils, the writings of the orthodox church fathers,
and of reliable evangelical theologians-Luther above all-, bypassing
the 'doctors' of the medieval Church, especially the great scholastic
and Aristotelian thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure.
While the radical Karlstadt, during his brief stint as reformer at Wit-
tenberg, gained fame for throwing a copy of the Bible out into the
congregation, signifYing his desire to turn it over to the laity, 16 this was
not Luther's goal. His translation was an avowed attempt to provide
the 'pure' text of the Bible, 'unfettered' by human additions, inventions
or accumulations-that is to say, free from the various textual contexts
in which late medieval Europeans read Biblical texts. That his ver-
sion was a translation and therefore not the same as the original both-
ered Luther not at all; as with generations of Christian translators, he
felt that a sufficiently scholarly translation performed with the guid-
ance of the Holy Spirit and (prior) knowledge of the 'Truth'17 would
produce a reliable and accurate translation. Because all translations
are also interpretations, it can be argued that far from trying merely
to 'free' the Bible from the sole authority of the Roman magisterium,
Luther, his followers and other Protestant reformers all over Europe
eventually detached scripture from its Roman mooring-lines and bound
it into new structures of authority of their own devising, starting with
their new translationslinterpretations. Protestant translations removed
the marginal comments and 'stage directions' common in medieval ver-
15 Peter Blickle, The Revolution if I525; Heiko Oberman, 'The Gospel of Social
Unrest: 450 Years after the So-called "German Peasants" War of 1525,' Harvard The-
ological Review 69 (1976): I03-129.
16 See Ronald]. Sider, ed., Karlstadt's Battle with Luther: Documents in a Liberal-Radical
debate (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978).
17 See Andrew C. Gow, 'Christian Colonialism: Luther's Exegesis of Hebrew Scrip-
ture', in Robert]. Bast and Andrew C. Gow, eds., Continuity and Change. The Harvest if
Late-Medieval and RifOrmation History. Essays Presented to Heiko A. Oberman on his Seventieth
Birthday (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 229-252.
sions of Biblical texts, such as the notations in the Waldensian Bibles in
Proven<;al (Carpentras and Grenoble manuscripts, dating uncertain
telling the reader that in the Song of Songs ('of Solomon'), for example,
some parts are the voice of the Church speaking to Christ, and oth-
ers the voice of the Synagogue;19 Luther also intensified and extended
the Vulgate's tendency to translate Christologically those passages in
Hebrew Scripture, such as Isaiah 7.14, traditionally held to refer to
the advent of Jesus as the Messiah. I have discussed Luther's circu-
lar reasoning for such translations elsewhere;20 in essence, he claims
that 'common sense,' context and the right kind of faith (a.k.a. 'knowl-
edge') are more important for translation than familiarity with Hebrew
grammar or word meanings.
Jonathan Zophy Smith has argued that
'[T]he cognitive power of any translation, model, map or redescrip-
tion [ ... J is [ ... J a result of its difference from the phenomena in ques-
tion and not its congruence. '22 Thus Luther's version, an evangelical,
solafideist and Christological reading, was also a highly contingent,
constructed one, just like the versions he claimed to be rendering obso-
lete. Steven Ozment has argued that the medieval Church used the
four-fold method of scriptural interpretation (literal, allegorical, moral
and anagogical) as 'an instrument of "aggression" by which Christian
writers might lay claim to any non-Christian material they desired to
appropriate.'23 While I agree whole-heartedly with the idea that the
Church appropriated non-Christian material, it was not merely or even
first and foremost because of the four-fold method-it was, after all,
quite similar to the rabbinical method of peshat (to the letter), remez
(allusion), derash (exposition) and sod (mystery). Ozment's point is that
Luther and other Protestants stressed finding the correct literal mean-
ing as the only point of access to all subsequent spiritual interpreta-
tions, and thus rejected medieval exegesis, and that this somehow was a
18 See Jean Gonnet and Amadeo Molnar, Les Vaudois au moyen age (Turin: Claudiana,
1974), for an inventory of the surviving medieval Waldensian Bible manuscripts (around
19 Samuel Berger, La Bible romane au moyen age. Bibles provenfales, vaudoises, catalanes,
italiennes, castillanes et portuguaises (Geneva: Slatkine, 1889-1899; reprint 1977), 63.
20 Gow, 'Christian Colonialism,' 229-252, esp., 242-250.
21 For example, Luther, VOrlesungen uber I. Mose 16,12, WA 42,596, 11-17.
22 'Bible and Religion,' in Bulletin if the Societiesfor the Study if Religion 29, 4 (2000):87-
93; 91; see also nona N. Rashkow, 'Hebrew Bible Translation and the Fear ofJudaiza-
tion', Sixteenth Century Journal 21, 2 (1990):217-233.
23 Steven A. Ozment, The Age if RifOrm I250-I550: An Intellectual and Religious History if
Late Medieval and RifOrmation Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980),65.
moment of liberation from the dead hand of the past, from the oppres-
sive and unjust magisterium. However, not only did Luther mount a dual
offensive on both ecclesiastical and rabbinic exegesis, as I have shown
elsewhere, Luther relied heavily on Nicholas of Lyra, and through him,
ultimately on Rashi, to find the literal meaning of Hebrew Scripture. At
the same time, he insisted 'qui notitia rei non habet, illum notitia nomi-
nis non sublevabit': he who does not understand the heart of the mat-
ter (or: the Truth), will not be uplifted/edified by knowledge ofwords.
Luther generally sought univocity in scripture, consonant with the prin-
ciple of a single divine Author. It should be noted that other traditions
of scriptural interpretation, especially that embodied by the practice of
midrash in rabbinical exegesis, may well strive to discover a single true
meaning, but do not necessarily get beyond struggling with the text and
its possible meanings. Luther attempted to solve all debated questions,
read all possible passages Christologically, and provide hermeneutical
closure for further generations. Luther was, by any standard, a master
at appropriating 'non-Christian material'.
Proof of parallel developments in the political world is being fur-
nished by the burgeoning scholarship on 'confessionalization,' led by
the renowned Heinz Schilling at Berlin. Lutheran and Reformed poli-
ties, Schilling has demonstrated, worked throughout the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, just as Counter-Reformation authorities did, to
subject individuals, their belief, their faith, their religious practices,
even their conscience
to regimes of ever-tightening social control and
surveillance. Schilling draws on theories regarding the development of
affect control and self-control ('civility') in the Middle Ages and early
modern period developed by Norbert Elias. He links Elias' ideas with
the analysis of eighteenth-century power structures so convincingly, if
crudely, sketched by Michel Foucault beginning almost half a century
ago. Schilling also argues, or rather, assumes, that behind all these
'cultural' effects lie the workings of politically and economically gen-
erated, rather autonomous processes of state formation-a la Gerhard
Oestreich. Whether or not you like your substructure-superstructure
lasagna baked up in such distinct layers is unimportant for present pur-
poses: the point is that control of conscience, religion and scriptural
24 Luther, Vtirlesungen iiber I. Mose 16:12, WA 42, 596, 16-17; see my article 'Christian
Colonialism,' 248.
25 Wietse de Boer, The Conquest if the Soul: Corrfossion, Discipline, and Public Order in
Counter-RifOrmation Milan (Leiden: Brill, 2000).
exegesis went hand in hand; and thousands of early modern Europeans
and Britons went to the stake
because they insisted that their faith,
based on their reading of scripture, or their acceptance or rejection
of certain rules for reading scripture, was unalterably, incontrovertibly
and irrefutably correct. The price for their freedom to read scripture
undermined that freedom by reducing it from a public virtue to a pri-
vate vice. The myth that Luther 'freed' the Bible, repeated as recently
as 1996 by the great church historian Jaroslav Pelikan, depends, then,
on one's definition of freedom. Far from freeing scripture, Protestant
Reformers, as well as the Tridentine reformers in the Roman Church,
sought to bind the interpretation of scripture ever closer to authorized
norms and forms: the King James Bible of I6u provides an obvious
case in point. As Berndt Hamm has argued in numerous articles and
books dealing with late medieval and Reformation piety, before confes-
sionalization ever began, a process of what he calls normative Zentrierung
('centering around norms')27 was binding interpretation, behaviour and
believers' conscience ever more closely to norms articulated by ecclesi-
astical and secular authorities, and enforcing these norms ever more
stringently: perhaps the dynamics of religion and culture were thus
driving the beginnings of early modern state formation, rather than
the other way around.
The reasons for the Reformation's rapid spread and penetration, first
in German towns and rural areas, then to much of Europe, have been
the subject of constant debate since Luther's Ninety-Five Theses were
pirated and printed without his consent late in 1517. Inquiring into the
causes of such major upheavals has always been and probably always
will be a legitimate part of historical research, no matter how many
other fascinating and fruitful avenues, approaches and algorithms we
apply. The answers to these big questions about big events, however, are
rarely satisfYing, given the complex and contingent nature of historical
change, not to mention the relative opacity of the past, which grows as
we move farther back in time.
If we do not accept the traditional explanations, we are left with a
large number of mysteries regarding the Reformation. I will mention
26 Brad Gregory, Salvation at Stake. Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (Cam-
bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).
27 See, for the only English statement of these ideas, Berndt Hamm, 'Normative
Centering in the 15th & 16th Centuries: Observations on Religiosity, Theology, and
Iconology,' trans. John Frymire, Journal if Early Modern History 3 (1999):307-354.
only the big ones, beginning at the beginning with partisan accusa-
tions regarding 'Satanic influence' (from the papal side) and 'God's will'
(from the Protestant side), and assuming for our purposes that such
claims are at least undecidable and therefore for our purposes irrele-
vant. Then we move to the traditional, anachronistic and rather pat
social analyses that dominated secular scholarship in the later twenti-
eth century: for instance, imagining the Reformation as a novel, massive
and spontaneous reaction to such perennial problems as
meaning opposition to simony, fiscalism, influence-peddling or cleri-
cal immorality,28 or legal encroachment on the peasantry by reform-
ing or as a nationalist uprising to press traditional German
gravamina (complaints) about the high-handedness and corruption of the
Roman curia or ecclesiastical administration; or even, in the obligatory
Marxist formulation of the East German school of Reformation history,
an 'early-bourgeois revolution' capped and epitomized by the Peasants'
Elizabeth Eisenstein has argued that the powerful 'new' technology
of printing on presses with movable type
led Luther's movement first
to publicity successes and then to institutional 'success' that would not
have been possible in the absence of printing: Luther would have ended
up like Hus.
However, given that the real explosion in printing
1530: a one-thousand-fold increase) occurred precisely at the time of
the Wildwuchs period of the Reformation and the period immediately
following in which Luther's September Testament dominated the book
market, and that a very large proportion, perhaps even half, of that
thousand-fold expansion consisted of the myriad printings of the Luther
Bible, we can just as easily posit that the printing revolution of the I520S
was actually caused by the Reformation, especially by German burghers'
and clerics' thirst for the Bible in German.
Harder to dismiss out of hand are the triumphalist versions of Protes-
tant historiography epitomized by Steven A. Ozment
and naturalized
28 See Hans:Jiirgen Goertz, Fjojfonhass und gross Geschrei: die rifOrmatorischen Bewegungen
in Deutschland I5I7-I529 (Munich: C. Berk, 1987) and Peter Dykema and Heiko A. Ober-
man eds., Anticlericalism in Later Medieval and Earry Modern Europe (Leiden: EJ. Brill, 1993).
29 Or perhaps only with plates cast in sand, as Paul Needham and Blaise Agiiera y
Arcas are now arguing (
30 Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent qf Change: Communications and
Cultural Transformations in Earry Modern Europe (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1979)'
31 See, for example, Steven E. Ozment, The Age qf RifOrm an Intellectual
in North American scholarship since the time of Preserved Smith's 19II
book The Life and Letters if Martin Luther
and his 1920 monograph
The Age if the RifOrmation
In his significantly named survey text The
Age if RifOrm, I200-I6oo, Ozment argues that Luther's reform move-
ment became the institutional revolution we know as the Reforma-
tion because the laity (and many clerics) were unimaginably relieved
by the 'new good news' provided by Luther's famous interpretive trans-
lation of Romans 3.28 and Hebrews 10.38: man is justified by faith alone
(sola fide). More ink probably has been spilled about this 'contextual'
translation-qua-interpretation than about any other tricky passage in
scripture. For our purposes, the point is that Ozment seized on this
principle as the secret, the key, that explains the attraction of the laity,
otherwise not much concerned with niceties of doctrine, to Luther's
particular reading of the process of justification through this passage,
and to Luther's movement. Freed (again the eleutherian theme!) from
the fear of Purgatory, so the argument goes, and consequently from
chasing after or having to buy indulgences, the worthy burgher could
enjoy both a woh!foile Kirche (a good, cheap church, one of the peasants'
demands in 1524-1525) and a 'new' certainty of salvation.
Just how
certain or uncertain Christians were of salvation before Luther is never
addressed directly in this argument and its epigones; rather, the late
medieval church is assumed to have been so mired in the corrupt fis-
calism that Luther deplored in Johann Tetzel's kurmainzisch indulgence
and Religious History qf Late Medieval and Riformation Europe (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1980).
32 Preserved Smith, The Lift and Letters qf Martin Luther (Boston and New York:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 19II).
33 Preserved Smith, The Age qf the Riformation (New York: H. Holt and Co., 1920).
34 In his chapter in the best-selling 'world history' textbook of which he is a co-
author, Ozment claims that indulgences were 'an aid to a laity made genuinely anxious
by the belief in a future suffering in purgatory for neglected penances or unrepented
sins', though the language of authenticity and anxiety owes more to modern evangelical
Christianity than to the sources (458); Ozment admits that Luther was protesting
'especially against the impression created by Tetzel that indulgences remitted sins and
released the dead from punishment in purgatory-claims he [Luther] believed went far
beyond the traditional practice and seemed to make salvation something that could
be bought and sold'. Instead of concluding that Luther's tirade against indulgences
was based on a misunderstanding of their nature excacerbated by Tetzel's preaching,
Ozment admits the charge but hardly changes the story. D. Kagan, S. Ozment and
F. Turner, The Heritage qfWorld Civilizations (Upper Saddle River, l'{J: Prentice Hall, 1986
and following), 4th ed., vol. 11,458-459.
campaign of 1517, and that led the dyspeptic monk to post the Ninety-
Five Theses on October 31st of that year, that no-one felt secure in the
face of impending judgement.
This entire thread of analysis sees Luther and Wittenberg in a light
available to no one in 1517, and therefore anachronistically: at the cen-
tre of a powerful new movement. The notorious pluralism of Albrecht
of Brandenburg and the kickbacks he paid in order to accede to the
juiciest episcopal see in all of Europe, the Electorate-Principality-Arch-
bishopric of Mainz, had led to an equally notorious collusion between
the Augsburg banking house of the Fugger and Albrecht's men, includ-
ing the DominicanJohann Tetzel, a skilled salesman of indulgences, to
raise the money Albrecht needed to pay for the pallium and for the fines
or fees to dispense him from the canonical disabilities under which he
suffered-he was already bishop-administrator of Halberstadt and was
therefore a pluralist; and he was below the canonical age for bishops.
Tetzel stretched his mandate and actually claimed, as official doctrine
did not, that merely buying the indulgence was a meritorious act that
would shorten or even prevent one's suffering in Purgatory. The offi-
cial position was that contrition was necessary for an indulgence to be
effective. Luther, a marginal monk in a marginal town in the middle
of nowhere, reacted to this extreme distortion of the doctrine of indul-
gences and launched a polemic against them as though they every-
where and always had been dispensed under the used-car-Iot terms
Tetzel was offering: as soon as the penny drops, the soul springs out
of Purgatory, he claimed in regard to plenary suffrages purchased for
one's dead relatives. Historians who believe Luther's Tetzelite version
of indulgences are colluding in his fabrication of a decadence narra-
tive. In a sense they are helping to bury the period and institutions in
which Luther himself grew up and participated as a monk, doctor of
scripture, and university teacher deeper in the mire that has obscured
our view backwards through the short-focus lens of the Reformation ever
since. If indulgences actually provided a strong reassurance of mercy,
and thus of eventual entry into paradise, to the anxious and contrite
souls of late medieval Europe-as contemporary theory claimed-, then
what of Ozment's relief thesis? The problem is that we have so few self-
expressions by contemporary laypeople that it is hard to tell exactly
what they felt about salvation and how to achieve it; the Ozments
of this world must rely more on what Luther said about indulgences
and what his 'solution' to the 'problem' was than on evidence from
the statements of late-medieval and Reformation-era believers. In fact,
there is a legitimate question as to whether or not there really was
a soteriological crisis or 'problem' at all outside the overly scrupulous
conscience of the monk Luther.
We do have better indications of the
actions oflate medieval Christians, and to judge by these, on which more
anon, Roman Christianity was a going concern right up until the time
of the Reformation-not to mention well beyond it.
All these schools of thought have a great advantage over much of the
recent specialized social and religious history of the Reformation: they
are willing to ask higher-order questions-although scholarly eagerness
to provide ready answers has turned many historians off the 'big ques-
tions' of traditional scholarship. These schools also begin with a deeply
whiggish premise. Both Luther and his contemporaries and many of
the leading thinkers of the 'Enlightenment' (especially Voltaire) ampli-
fied and played fugues on Renaissance disdain for the barbaric lan-
guage and culture of the post-Roman period, on the glories of Bib-
lical humanism and on old-fashioned Protestant triumphalism. Their
theme was always to suggest that there was something truly rotten in
the state of late-medieval Christendom-that the Church, led by a suc-
cession of princelings and even the odd condottiere, had declined pre-
cipitously to a state of utter corruption under the Borgia and Medici
popes, selling offices and even salvation itself for cash in its rush to the
trough. While it is true enough that the exigencies of Italian power-
politics after the end of the Great Schism, especially in the mercenary
world that opposed the Milanese dynasty of the Sforzas to most of the
rest of Italy, required the popes after Martin V to be more statesmen
than spiritual leaders, it is anachronistic to produce or credit narra-
tives of specifically late-medieval decline in the first place: from what?
Most medieval popes, including such early incumbents of the papal
see as Pepin's counterpart, Stephen III, had been forced to engage in
politics to safeguard the interests of the church and its administration.
Gregory VII springs to mind, as does John XXII. Luther was enough
of a historian to push the 'golden age' back to the patristic era, but
his version of 'early Christianity' has not stood the test of time under
scholarly analysis. Modern scholars, especially in the Anglo-American
35 See the rather polemical Catholic view of Hartmann Grisar, Luthers Werden. Grund-
legung der Spaltung bis IS30, 2
ed. (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 19II). Also see the
psychiatric interpretation of Paul Reiter, Martin Luthers Umwelt, Charakter und Psychose:
sowie die Bedeutung dieser Faktoren for seine Entwicklung und Lehre: eine historisch-psychiatrische
Studie (Copenhagen: Levin & Munksgard, 1937).
ecumene, have adhered more to the (now antiquated) 'western-civ.' ver-
sion of a flourishing high Middle Ages that gave way to the decline of
the later period, while handing on the best of the (Roman) past to the
Renaissance as a packet of 'premium' seeds from which to grow the
florid garden of modernity. This fits neatly into the humanist paradigm
of European decline from the glories of Roman letters, art, architec-
ture and statecraft to the barbarian state of affairs that branded the
period between the decline of Rome and the age of humanism as noth-
ing but an interlude, a medium aevum, best got out of the way as soon
as possible. Biblical humanists with religious goals, from Reuchlin and
Erasmus through the young Luther, found that this narrative served
their purposes very well. Narratives of decline, as in Huizinga's path-
breaking but deeply flawed analysis of courtly Burgundian culture, gen-
erally imply subsequent narratives of renewal and rebirth-narratives
that serve the interests of their producers and transmitters, not of his-
torians without their own confessional or cultural dog in the fight.
It is instructive to note that the greatest nineteenth-century Roman
Catholic historian of the Reformation (and polemicist against Luther),
Heinrich Denifle, was unable to counter the narrative of papal decline
and decadence in the pre-Reformation era, so strong was its influence
and moral prestige in nineteenth-century scholarship.36 Indeed, the Tri-
dentine church had been happy enough to admit that the Borgia and
Medici popes had led the papacy and church into the sorry state that
merited the reforms of the Council of Trent.
The real trouble with all these narratives of decadence and decline
is that they are so often wrong. Late medieval religion, as recent schol-
arship has shown, though it had problems enough (anti-clericalism, cri-
tique of the papacy and prelacy, national tensions with Rome, and an
overly worldly leadership), seems to have been a healthy and viable
set of ideas, beliefs and practices. Townspeople still contributed large
amounts of money, voluntarily, to build cathedral and civic churches,
nobles endowed monasteries and abbeys, and all sorts of people and
organizations-guilds, confraternities, burial societies, and craftsmen as
well as merchants, patricians and nobles contributed to the endowment
of altars, chapels, windows, memorial masses and chantries right up
until the time of the Reformation.
A history that claims that every-
36 See Heinriche Denifle, Luther und Luthertum in der ersten Entwickelung; quellenmiissig
dargestellt (Mainz: F. Kirchheim, 1904-1909).
37 See, for example, Eamon Dufl)r, The Stripping if the Altars. Traditional Religion in
thing was rotten before 'our side' won and righted all wrongs is win-
ners' history, not scholarship. If the success of Protestantism was not
due primarily to widespread disgust and anger at the 'old church' (as
Protestant explanations insisted until a very short time ago), or to a
sense of overwhelming relief from the burden of having to perform
'good works,' then what were its roots, perhaps even its causes? Most of
the less successful attempts to make sense of the Reformation confuse
roots or causes with praxis, and thus attempt to find causes in the mecha-
nisms that effected the Reformation; or confuse the political workings of
a particular princely or bourgeois Reformation with the preconditions
that made the change possible or even desirable.
Entire bodies, entire generations, of historical work have been de-
voted to the attempt to find the causes of the Reformation. Historians
have employed a number of perspectives: theological, economic, social
and, above ali, political, dating back at least to Ranke (if we limit
ourselves to professional historians). Much recent work has insisted on
the importance of extra-religious factors: bourgeois aspirations to more
power commensurate with their growing wealth; political constellations
that favored certain princes; a common-sensical, self-interested and
anti-religious hatred of priestcraft and clerisy. Yet the role of the Bible,
especially the Gospels, loomed large in the Reformers' own descriptions
of current events and their causes. The possibility of a causality rooted
in the importance and impact of the Bible long ago ceased to attract
the serious attention of historians (other than historians of theology,
the church, or religion). As Andrew Cunningham has argued so lucidly
and cogently, contemporary actors' categories are crucial for making
sense of the intellectual and cultural endeavors of the past.
England, c. 1400-c. 1580 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992); see also Thomas
A. Brady, Ruling Class, Regime and Riformation at Strasbourg, 1520-1555 (Leiden: EJ. Brill,
1978); Nicholas Terpstra, Loy Confraternities and Civic Religion in Renaissance Bologna (Cam-
bridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
38 Lee Palmer Wandel is guilty of both of these logical errors in her interesting
but uneven book, Alwqys Among Us: Images if the Poor in Zwingli's Zurich (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1990); see my review in Zwingliana 20 (1993):179-181.
39 'To "ask" of people in the past [ ... J what their own description of their own
intentional activity was, and then to take seriously what we learn (i.e., to set out
to reconstruct that activity in its wholeness), is our means of "getting out of the
present," or transcending our present-centeredness as historians [ ... J. It may turn out
unfortunately for us, that what people in the past were actually doing does not coincide
with what we wanted to find them doing.' Andrew Cunnigham, 'Getting the Game
Right: Some Plain Words on the Identity and Invention of Science,' Studies in the History
and Philosopl!)! if Science 19 (1988): 382-383.
there is every reason to insist on the role of the Bible at the eve of the
Reformation as crucial for understanding what the Reformers and their
audience thought they were doing.
Lay Bible-reading and interpretation in the later Middle Ages have
traditionally been thought to have been severely limited by restric-
tions on lay possession of vernacular texts of the Bible. This supposed
embargo, an idea based largely on an extrapolation of the Constitu-
tions of Oxford (1408) to the entire period and to the Continent, has
long been claimed by Protestant historians to justifY the Reformation of
the sixteenth century (McGrath, Pelikan et at.). Yet in previous genera-
tions, especially in the interwar years, such scholars as Franz Falk, Hans
Volmer, Hans Rost, Cebus Cornelis de Bruin, Margaret Deanesly, to
name only the most prolific, demonstrated that large numbers of liter-
ate layfolk had access to translations of Biblical texts and to a wide and
constantly growing range of compilations, 'historiations,' encyclopaedic
and literary treatments of the Bible. The history of the Waldensian
Bible translations of the late-twelfth/ early-thirteenth centuries and the
Waldensians' insistence on their right to preach on the basis of those
texts is well-known; their efforts may have failed on the institutional
level, and ended in France in complete defeat, but seem to have had
a wide-reaching and long-term influence on the devout laity of central
Europe, especially in the Rhineland and Bohemia.
The attitude of the
medieval Church to vernacular translations was mixed, tending toward
lenience in the Empire and strictness in areas such as southern France,
Bohemia and the England of the Lollards where important heretical
movements based much of their challenge to established authority on
their own (unlicensed) reading of scripture. In the fourteenth century,
monarchs across Europe, from France to Norway, commissioned ver-
nacular translations of the Bible for their own use, and ecclesiastical
authorities tended not to protest the existence of translations so long as
they did not receive much attention or help create dissent.
As a general rule, prohibitions against translating and owning ver-
nacular scriptures coincided with outbreaks of religious rebellion, oth-
erwise known as 'heresy.' Official unease with the Beghards in northern
40 See Franz Jostes, Die Waldenser und die vorlutherische deutsche Bibelubersetzung. Eine Kritik
der neusten Hypothese (Miinster: Heinrich Schbningh, 1885), and Hermann Haupt, Der
waldensische Ursprung des Codex Teplensis und der vorlutherischen deutschen Bibeldrucke gegen die
Angriife von Dr. E Jostes vertheidigt ... Mit einem Anhang ungedruckter Aktenstucke und zahlreichen
Proben mittelalterlicher deutscher BibelUbersetzungen (Wiirzburg: Stahe!, 1886).
France and the Rhineland during the thirteenth and early fourteenth
century led to condemnations of their way of life, which was strikingly
similar to that of the more obedient, orthodox mendicants: Beghards
lived on alms and, like the oudawed Waldensians, preached among
the common people in the towns. They were accused of claiming to
interpret scripture for the common people.
Not only did members
of Beghard circles preach, they also wrote and spread other German
books: glossed plenaries,42 books of homilies, semi-mystical devotional
works; others, such as the Gotteifreunde, advocated German episdes and
Gospels; and some Beguines used the German sermons of Meister Eck-
hart to justifY what was called at the time their pantheistic heresy. At
the same time, the lay Brethren of the Common Life in the Nether-
lands and Rhineland were forming, with a firm commitment to vernac-
ular preaching and the copying of vernacular devotional works includ-
ing the Historiated Bible and Bible translations. There was a serious
attempt to suppress the Beghards in Germany between 1366 and 1378,
under Popes Urban V and Gregory XI and the 'clerics' emperor' (IJqf-
.fenkaiser), Charles IY.43 In 1369, in the wake of an interview at Rome
with Urban V, Charles issued a number of edicts strengthening the
Inquisition from the city of Lucca. That of June 17th was directed
against German devotional books and, like earlier decrees issued at
Paris (1210), Toulouse (1229) and elsewhere to combat Waldensians and
their unlicenced versions of scripture, it clearly prohibited vernacular
translations of the Bible, plenaries, service books, psalters, sermons,
books of mystical instruction, indeed any books 'de sacra scriptura trac-
tantes.' This clearly was impossible to attain, given the large number
of what were considered to be perfecdy orthodox, licensed German
manuals and versions of particular Biblical texts, not to mention the
Historiated Bible, then already in circulation in the Empire. It is worth
noting parenthetically that Etienne de Bourbon could enforce the edicts
of Paris and Toulouse in thirteenth-century France, because such man-
41 Joannes Dominicus (Giovan Domenico) Mansi, Sacrorum Concilium Collectio. nova
et amplissima collectio (Paris: Hubert Welter, 1901; reprint, Graz: Akademische Druck-
u. Verlagsanstalt, 1960-1961), XXv, 261: 'Seque fingunt coram personis simplicibus
expositores sacrarum scripturarum.'
42 Plenaries are editions of Gospels and episdes with homilies, printed mainly in
German between 1470 and 1520.
43 Richard Kieckhefer, The Repression qf Heresy in Medieval Germa11:Ji (Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979) remains the standard modern work in this field,
yet there is nearly nothing about Bibles in the book; the terms 'Bible,' 'Gospel,' and
'New' or 'Old Testament' are not even in the index.
uals were in the possession only of great lords; this was not the case
ISO years later in the Empire. In 1375, a fresh and much less restrictive
edict was issued by Gregory XI, the rescript ad apostolatus;44 the general
principle seemed to be that it was prohibited for laypersons to own ver-
nacular translations of scripture. Yet as Thomas More would remark
over a century later, he had seen English Bibles in the homes of friends,
good and old versions, licensed by their bishops for their use-though
no such manuscripts have survived. Clearly the general principle was
also unenforceable in the Empire. This is amply proven by the deter-
minations of 1398 at Deventer. The burgeoning lay movement of the
Brethren of the Common Life, founded by Gert Groote (d. 1384), and
centered on the houses at Deventer and Zwolle, was seen as suspect
by some churchmen, especially the Dominicans and 'their' Inquisition.
This movement clearly was responding to a need or demand on the
part of the laity for a devotional life more like that of the regular and
secular religious, with instruction in religion and the everyday practice
of the precepts of a more ascetic Christianity. The brethren and later
sisters lived together in communal houses, worked and prayed together,
but took no vows. They read vernacular works suited to their abilities:
most of them were non-Latinate, but generally literate, laypeople. In
1398, they invited the law faculty at Cologne and other friendly church-
men to gather at Deventer to determine the lawfulness of their way
of life, and of their use of vernacular books, especially scripture. The
answers recorded by the librarian of the Deventer house, Gerard Zer-
bolt of Zutphen, were positive, perhaps because the Cologne lawyers of
canon and secular law had been influenced by the Rhineland traditions
of the Waldensians, Gotteifreunde and Beghards.
On vernacular scrip-
ture, they announced that 'to read such books is lawful and meritorious,
provided they do not contain heresies or errors'; the decision goes on
to state most explicitly that it is lawful and in accord with the 'sayings
of the saints' (Church Fathers) for laypeople to read scripture and for
vernacular translations to exist. This does not mean that the Brethren
advocated unrestricted access to translations of scripture for alliaypeo-
44 Johann Lorenz von Mosheim, De Beghardis et Beguinabus commentarius. Fragmentum
ex ipso MS. auctoris libra edidit, duplici appendice, complurium diplomatum varietate lectionis, notis
aliis, et indice locupletavit (Leipzig: G.H. Martini, 1790), 378; Inquisitio haereticae pravitatis
Neerlandica; geschiedenis der inquisitie in de Nederlanden tot aan hare herinrichting onder keizer
Karel V (I025-I520), ed. Paul Fredericq (Ghent:]. Vuylsteke 1892-1897), I, 237.
45 Margaret Deanesly, The Lollard Bible and other Medieval Biblical Versions (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1920),91.
pIe; rather, they saw their job as learning from scripture (the Vulgate)
and communicating this to the broader laity by copying and rarely by
producing devotional books.
The Brethren then obtained approval for
their way of life from the Council of Constance, but had to struggle for
it for the next century. Nevertheless, the determination found its way
into other works, including an early fifteenth-century manuscript, 'The
Book of Gerard Zerbolt' (published by Jacobus Revius in his history of
Deventer in 1651), and a popular and perfectly orthodox book of ser-
mons published around 1466, by the Augustinian eremite Gottschalk
Holen of Osnabruck,47 where a condensation of the determination
appears in the sermon for the second Sunday in Advent. However, it
was not necessarily the contested and sometimes dangerous translation
of scripture that did the lion's share of transmitting Biblical materials to
the laity. The Historia scholastica of the Parisian master Peter Comestor
(c. II69), a summary retelling of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures
interwoven with legendary, literary, apocryphal and divers other non-
canonical materials, was not only one of the most popular Latin access
points, mainly for clerics, to scriptural materials, it also was translated
into a large number of vernaculars and became the main source of
Biblical stories and material for the laity in the later Middle Ages. It
was translated into Low German verse by Jacob van Maerlant around
1271, and High German translations followed in the fourteenth cen-
tury. The Bible historiale, a French version, was produced by Guyart des
Moulains, a canon of Aire in Artois around 1291-1294. Manuscripts
of the Historia's vernacular translation outnumbered actual translations
of the Bible. Historiated Bibles were printed well before printed Bible
translations became common.
As Michael Milway has shown, print-
ers generally printed only for a market, to meet demand; and the vast
majority of works printed in the fifteenth century were manuals and
devotional works printed for clerics, followed by primers printed for
students, then works of Biblical and devotional content.
Uwe N edder-
meyer has discussed the relationship between manuscripts and printed
46 Deanesly, 92; The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, MS 355; this one printed by
FranzJostes in Historisches Jahrbuch XI, 14-22; 709-717; extant in three other mss.
47 Printed in 1517 as Sermonum opus exquisitissimum ... lectoris patris Gotschalci eremitari divi
Augustini profissi.
48 Deanesly, 19.
49 'Forgotten Best-Sellers from the Dawn of the Reformation,' Continuity and Change,
[[3-142 .
books in this period in his massive 1998 Habilitationsschrift.50 He sees
print largely as a function of pre-existing manuscripts: those books that
existed in large numbers of manuscript copies were those most likely
to be printed. His figures show that from 1450-1519, there were in the
Empire 65 Latin editions of the Bible and 22 Germanic ones; in Italy
41 Latin editions and 14 Italian ones; in France 45 Latin editions and
I French one, as well as 21 of the Bible abregee; making for a total of
20,000 copies of Germanic Bibles in the Empire; 13,450 Italian Bibles
in Italy; 1200 French Bibles in France as well as 23,700 Bibles abregeesY
N eddermeyer also estimates the number of readers in the Empire as
follows: between 1470 and 1500, over 125,000 (male) clerics and 30,000
nuns, not counting those who could read only the vernacular; learned
people, including university members, students and graduates, secre-
taries, scribes, etc.: over 80,000, as well as over 200,000 children in
Latin schools, and something less than 20,000 readers of the German
vernaculars. 52 While Neddermeyer's charts
show an explosion in the
printing of Bibles in the Empire after 1522, namely the Luther Bible,
there was also a strong increase in the printing of French Bibles in the
period 1510-1519. Because he uses different scales, it is hard to see how
important the tradition of printing both Latin and vernacular Bibles
was in the Empire before 1500 (17a).54
By way of summation, we can say that in the later fifteenth and
early sixteenth centuries, Biblical material was widespread, popular
and well-known among literate townspeople, clerics and nobles alike,
especially in the Empire.
Netherlandish and German burghers were
a notable exception to the general rule elsewhere. Full Bible trans-
lations usually belonged to the gentry/nobility and religious houses
50 Uwe Neddermeyer, Von der Handschrifl zum gedruckten Buch, Schrifllichkeit und Lesein-
teresse in Mittelalter und in der friihen Neuzeit, Qyantitative und qualitative Aspekte, Buchwis-
senschaftliche Beitrage aus dem deutschen Bucharchiv Miinchen 61 (Wiesbaden: Ha-
rassowitz, Igg8).
51 Neddermeyer, ibid., I, 461.
52 Neddermeyer, ibid., I, 515.
53 Neddermeyer, 11,76-77.
54 Neddermeyer, ibid., II, 707-708.
55 See Franz Falk, Die Bibel am Ausgange des Mittelalters, ihre Kenntnis und ihre ferbre-
itung (Cologne: Kommissions-Verlag und Druck von J.P. Bachem, Ig05), and Erich
Zimmermann, Die deutsche Bibel. Von der Handschrifl zum gedruckten Buch, Schrifllichkeit und
Leseinteresse in Mittelalter und in der friihen Neuzeit, Quantitative und qualitative Aspekte, Buch-
wissenschaftliche Beitrage aus dem deutschen Bucharchiv Miinchen 61 (Wiesbaden:
Harassowitz, Igg8).
(Brethren of the Common Life, etc.), with relatively large numbers of
German Bibles showing up in inventories especially for the period 1500
to the Reformation. Perhaps the availability of printing presses in the
German-speaking world facilitated this greater distribution. Because
they were under the direction of a warden or house confessor, nuns had
relatively good access to vernacular translations. A fifteenth-century
Netherlandish manuscript specified that the sister who was in charge
of the books was to see that
If anything in the book appeared to be false, it should be brought before
the rector of the house for him to examine, before it is allowed to be
commonly used by the sisters. ( ... ) Great care is to be taken not to lend
books to outsiders without the permission of the rector. ( ... ) Uncommon
books are not to be read at meals until the rector has first seen that
their contents are good and profitable. ( ... ) Books are not to be lent to
ignorant people. 56
In those important female houses whose library catalogues have sur-
vived, we notice the existence of vernacular Bibles. The Dominican
nuns at Niirnberg, who were reformed shortly before their library cata-
logue was written (between 1456 and 1469), owned a total of 350 diverse
volumesY 160 codices of German manuscripts from St. Catharine's
have survived in the Nurnberg civic library. Each codex contains be-
tween one and a dozen or more discreet works, making for many
hundred German texts in total. 58 There are dozens of Biblical works,
including a number of full Bibles in German.
56 Nederlansch Pro;:;a, van de dertiende tot de achtiende eeuw, ed. JH. Vloten (Amsterdam,
1851), '297-'299
57 Nurnberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, MS Cent. VII. 79, fols. 86--146: 'Item
die hernach geschrieben puecher hat der Convent hier zu sant Kathereyn zu Nurn-
verb prediger ordens'; printed by H. Jostens, in 'Meister Eckhart und seine Junger',
Collectanea Friburgensia, fase. IV (1895), 1I3ff., but he mistakenly identified it as a list
of books read in refectory [po xxiii]; printed by P. Ruf in Mittelalterliche Bibliothekskata-
loge Deutschlands und der Schwei;:;, ed. by the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften in
Munchen (Munich: 1918), vol. TIl, 3 (1939), Nr. 1I9
58 In an older catalogue used by Deanesly, only '26 of the hundreds of works were
explicidy identified as German. They consisted of a book of 'sins' (a treatment of the
Ten Commandments, the seven mortal sins and the like), a German psalter, two Latin-
German psalters, seven books of sermons, one 'missal' (antiphoner?) for Advent and
Lent, a treatise by Augustine, the Dominican rule in German, two copies of the rule
in German and Latin, five prayer books, two hymn books, two lives of Mary, and a
treatise on a psalm. I have listed these just to provide a sense of what was already
known to scholarship well before the Second World War.
Schneider's catalogue Die Handschriften der Stadtbibliothek Niirnberg
published in 1965, lists the surviving volumes (Einbande) and each sep-
arate work, along with the usual cataloguing material, incipits and,
for German works, the dialect. These German titles include numer-
ous books of the Bible, full Bibles, historiated Bibles, Gospel harmonies,
summaries and the like, as well as a very large number of devotional,
pastoral and homiletic works. By far the majority of these vernacular
texts is on religious topics, and Biblical materials of all kinds constitute
a large percentage of the total. A large number of these was written by
the nuns themselves in their own scriptorium. Other books were also
read in refectory. The list of these begins with Heinrich Suso's work
Eternal Wisdom and specifies that on Christmas Eve, the reading was to
be the prophecy and epistle and Gospel for the third mass, or from the
lessons and from the third mass on Christmas Day-these were to be
German versions or discussions of the scriptural texts they were about
to hear in Latin. Others included Gospel harmonies, 'Bible histories,'
lives of Jesus, sermons, especially of Eckhart and Tauler, confession
books, several 'Imitations of the Life of Christ' by Thomas a Kempis
and many saints' lives. These were precisely the genres most likely to
appear in translation at this time.
The nuns themselves also owned a
number of manuscripts privately, as another catalogue shows.
were almost all prayer books.
A smaller library catalogue survives from the Franciscan tertiary
house in Delft, which was influenced by the Brethren of the Common
Life and directed by them. It was a daughter-house of the tertiaries of
St. Agatha at Utrecht, with which Gert Groote had been connected.
The 109 titles in this catalogue included at least one 'Flemish Gospel
book.' In both houses and in many other convents, vernacular Gospel
harmonies (retellings that melded or 'harmonized' the stories of the
four Gospels) were very common; nuns in both houses seem to have
studied Lives (of Jesus, Mary, the apostles and saints) and Bible har-
59 Ed. Karin Schneider, with a description of the decorative elements by Heinz Zirn-
bauer (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1965); voL I of Die deutschen mittelalterlichen Handschrijten.
60 See Uwe Neddermeyer, '''Radix studii et speculum vitae". Verbreitung und Re-
zeption der Imitatio Christi in Handschriften und Drucken bis zur Reformation', in
Studien zum 15 Jahrhundert, Festschrijt Erich Meuthen, 2 vols., ed. J. Helmrath and. H. Muller
(Munich: R. Oldenburg, 1994): 1,457-481; see also the descriptions of the Dominicans'
library in Walter Fries, 'Kirche und Kloster zu St. Katharina in Nurnberg', Mitteilungen
des Vereinsfor Geschichte der Stadt Nurnberg 25 (1924): 3-143.
61 Nurnberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, MS. Cent. VII, 92, ed. P.Ruf, Mitte-
lalterliche Bibliothekscatalogue, Nr. 115.
monies more than the texts of the Gospels. Yet another library cat-
alogue exists from the women's cloister at Wonnenheim (St. Gallen,
MS 973, fols. 1-9). Dutch Bible histories were owned by the nuns of
St. Margaret at Haarlem, the Franciscan tertiaries of the convent of
Sion at Liere (1412) and the nuns of St. Agnes extra mures at Nijmegen
(1453). The convent of St. Ursula at Enkhuysen owned the four Gospels
(or at least a Gospel harmony), and a canoness regular of Haarlem
near Syl, sister Mary, daughter of Jacob Willemsz. ofDordrecht, copied
the Epistles and Acts in 'Dutch' in 1447. Other examples abound.
Deanesly concluded that nuns owned more Biblical translations than
can be proved to have belonged to lay people at the time, and that the
chief readers of the vernacular Bible in manuscript were the nuns and
tertiaries, especially in the Netherlands, who owned more of such texts
than male houses did.
This remains to be tested more systematically,
but seems to be an accurate impression. The prevalence of Bible trans-
lations, mainly in manuscript and mainly for internal use, among nuns
runs parallel to the 21 printed editions of the entire Bible in High Ger-
man (18) and Low German (3) that appeared between 1466 and 1500;
most of them between 1466 and 1486, when the archbishop of Mainz,
Berthold Graf von Henneberg, issued an edict prohibiting the transla-
tion of the Bible into the vernacular by unqualified people and without
episcopal license. None of the 14 German Bibles printed before nor any
of the three or so Bibles printed in High German after 1486 received
the approval of an ecclesiastical censor. Though the 1480 Latin edition
at Cologne did receive the approval of the university's censor, the Low
German Cologne Bible of that epoch (c. 1478-1480) did not. Along
with the rapid increase in printings of vernacular Bibles after 1466, the
evidence from provincial councils and manuals and regarding lay own-
ership of Bibles suggests that this period witnessed a gradual relaxation
of restriction and growth in favor of translations. In the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries, Deanesly informs us,
'councils and synods had passed many regulations for the preaching
of sermons in the vulgar tongue: but the end had always been the
instruction of the faithful in the elements of the faith [Canon LVI of
the diocesan synod of Strassburg, 1335, required all parish priests in their
Sunday sermon to preach and explain the creed to their people in the
vulgar tongue], not the translation to them of the Sunday Gospel. The
value of these sermons at mass was especially emphasised in Germany in
62 Deanesly, IIS-II6.
the fifteenth century; and, at the end of it, priests were advised to explain
the meaning of the Sunday Gospel in German. ( ... ) [O]ne manual
recommended in 1504 that the priest should [read the text of the Gospel
in German] in place of the sermon, if hard pressed for time. '63
The synods of Eichstatt (1447) and Regensburg (1512) enjoined priests
to preach the Holy Scripture plainly and intelligibly, explaining the text
first in the vernacular and then adding a verse-by-verse commentary.
The very popular Manuale curatorum (also Manipulus curatorum) by Ulrich
Surgant of Altkirch, parish priest of St. Theodor at Basel (d. 1503),
lists books suitable for young priests' studies and provides all sorts
of discussion and advice on priestly duties. In regard to the sermon,
But sometimes, if the priest is in great haste or has to say several masses,
he may say to the people 'I shall merely read to you the Gospel for
the day, without comment or introduction; these are the words of St.
Matthew, and this is the meaning, in the vulgar tongue. '64
He goes on to caution lay listeners that all he is reading is a translation,
and that if they have Bibles or have heard it read before, the words
might not all accord with what he said.
It is harder to pinpoint lay use and ownership of Bibles, though there
are some interesting examples and prescriptive formulations regarding
both Bible ownership and Bible reading among the laity. Sebastian
Brant wrote in the Ship if Fools (NarrenschiJl) in 1494 that 'All Land sind
jetzt voll Heiliger Schrift' (All countries are now full of Holy Scripture).
As Olaf Schwencke has argued, the early Lubeck plenaries
fit into a
circle of Erbauungsschriflsteller ('edifYing writers') who wrote in a number
of genres with similar pious intentions.
The 1492 and 1493 plenaries,
which are based on the 1475 Low German version, repeat the most
63 Deanesly, 126-127.
64 Deanesly, 128.
65 On plenaries see Paul Pietsch, Ewangely und Epistel Teutsch: die gedruckten hochdeutschen
Perikopenbiicher (Plenarien) 1473-1523: Beitrage zur Kenntnis der Wiegendrucke, zur Geschichte
des deutschen Schrifltums und der deutschen Sprache, insbesondere der Bibelverdeutschung und der
Bibelsprache (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1927), and Winfried Kampfer, Studien
zu den gedruckten mittelniederdeutschen Plenanen (Munster: Bohlau-Verlag, 1954).
66 These included the German Psalter (Salter to dude mit der vthlegginge) of 1493, the
Lubeck Totentanz (Dance of Death) texts of 1463 and especially the printed Dance of
Death books of 1489/96, the 1520 Dance of Death (based on an older model), and the
1496 Speygel der Leyen (Mirror of the Laity): 0. Schwencke, 'Ein Kreis spatmittelalter-
licher Erbauungsschriftsteller in Lubeck,' 26.
frequent admonition of the genre: that 'simplelen lude' (simple folk)
should read from the scriptures,67 and admonish the reader:
Shame on you, you arrogant person, that you do not take care to provide
yourself with some suitable books, which you can buy for a small amount
of money, so that you can extract from them and learn the things that
make you prideful, because you spend and waste much more money
on the devilish items with which you strengthen and adorn your pride
. .. There are also many books in which fables or other worldly stories
are contained; such books are not what we are discussing here. Man-if
you can read, you can buy for very little money such books as we are
discussing here, from which you can read the will of God, so that the
light does not shine uselessly on your days (i.e., so that you use the light
that is given to you during your lifetime). For Holy Scripture is like a
light by which we poor sinners can find the path to eternal life. 68
The Basel plenary of
69 recommends reading scripture aloud after
Sunday sermon and at dinner among the family, and says that there
ought to be no man who does not have a copy of the holy Gospel with
him in his house.
While this was a sales pitch in the preface to the
plenary, finding and buying one of the 102 plenaries
cannot have been
especially difficult. This plenary also notes
If you are a pious person, hear the word of God and do not disdain it,
if you do not want to suffer eternal misery (hunger). Even though you
have books in your house, the Gospels or other spiritual books, that is no
reason to neglect the word of God, as you are required to listen to it for
the sake of your soul's salvation. 72
67 Schwencke, 'Kreis,' 29, from the 1492 plenary.
68 'Scheme dy, du homodige mynsche, dattu nicht vlyt deyst, dath du dy schaff est
welke ghenochlike boke, de du umme ringe ghelt tuegen machst, unde mochtest dar
uth sughen unde leren de dynge, de dy to othmode mochten reysyghen, wenthe du
doch vele meer gheldes uthghyfst unde vorspyldest to den duuelschen stucken, dar du
dynen homoed mede starkest unde tzyrest ... Dar werden ock vele boke ghemaket,
dar fabulen efte andere wertlike ystorien ynne staen; alsodane boke werden hir nicht
gemenet. Men-kanstu lesen, so machstu umme eyn ghans ringe ghelt wol dy de boke
schaff en, de hir ghemenet, dar du den willen godes uth lesen unde leren machst, uppe
dat dy dyt lycht nicht vorgeues en luchte in dynen dagen. Wente de hilghe schryft
wert ghelikent eyner luchten, dar by wy armen sunders mogen wanderen na deme
ewyghen leuende.' 1492 Plenary, cited in Wolfgang Stammler, ed., Spatlese des Mittelalters
II Religioses Schrifitum (Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 1965), 62-63.
69 See Pietsch, Ewange[y und Epistel, 233ff.
70 Johannes Janssen, History qf the German People at the close qf the Middle Ages, trans.
M.A. Mitchell and A.M. Christie (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Triibner, 1905, 2 vols.):
I: 54.
71 Janssen I: 54.
72 'Bist du ein frummer mensch, har das wort gottes und verschmahe es nit, wiltu
The 1508 Nutzlich Buchlin and the 1509 Wurz:gartlein
recommended to
the faithful to read the scriptures for themselves in a spirit of humility
(noting that if you read them in a spirit of pride, they will be hurtful to
you). The 1513 Himmelstur stated:
All that you hear in sermons or through other modes of instruction
. .. should incite you to read with piety and humility the Bible and
holy books, which are now translated into German, and printed and
distributed in large numbers, either in their entirely or in part, and which
you can purchase for very little money. 74
Indeed, they were widely available, along with at least 22 German
editions of the Psalms before 1509, and 25 of the epistles and Gospels
before 1518.75
If we look to France, we see that a few printed editions of the
Historiated Bible, the 'Bible abregee' and a few actual translations
appeared before 1500; in total, there are over 20 editions of these
before 1540, whereas other medieval legacies, such as the Exposicion de
la Bible, with Lyra's commentaries, and the Biblia Pauperum picture book
were printed in only one or two editions each. The first edition of the
New Testament in French was printed at Lyons by Guillaume Le Roy
for Berthelemy Buyer, c. 1476-1478, and was a version of Guyart des
Moulins' French Bible historiale. This text and its successors present the
interesting and significant feature of having been 'veu et corrige' by
the Augustinian doctors of theology Julien Macho and Pierre Farget, as
noted in the colophon. Thus this edition was demonstrably orthodox
and authorized. This followed by only a few years what was probably
the very first edition of any Biblical text printed in French, a 'Bible
abregee,' a compilation of Hebrew Bible books (Genesis-Job) and a
text on the seven ages of the world, probably originating in Lorraine
('Cy commencent les rubriches de ce present livre/ Au commencement
crea dieu Ie ciel et la terre ... '), also printed at Lyons by Guillaume
nit leyden den ewigen hunger. Ob schon du hast bucher in deinem hauE, die ewangelia
oder ander geistliche bucher, darumb solt du nit verseumen das wort gottes, wann du
bist es schuldig zu horen bey deiner selen heyl.' Cited from Stammler, Spat/ese, 63.
73 Janssen I: 59.
74 Janssen I: 56.
75 Deanesly cites four instances of laypeople, from 1399 to 1474, who owned either
vernacular Bible texts or a Bible History, noting that in England, there is little evidence
other than that of Thomas More for lay ownership of vernacular Bibles after 1408.
Deanesly, 130.
Le Roy for Barthelemy Buyer, c. I473-I474.76 Yet another version of
the Bible, printed at Lyons by Martinus Russ, not after I477 and again
shortly thereafter ('Cy commence lexposicion et la vraye declaracion de
la bible tant du viel que du nouveau testament principalement') was an
independent version consisting of select portions of the Bible, translated
into French and followed by commentary taken from Nicholas of Lyra
and others. This was also edited by Julien Macho, and though the
title claims it was translated by 'un tres excellent clerc lequel par sa
science fut pape,' Reuss stated that he knew of no Pope between the
time of Lyra and Macho to whom any such work could be attributed.
Again, the book claims orthodoxy and authorization, this time not
only via its editor's impeccable credentials as a doctor of theology, but
from its supposed translator, an unnamed Pope. The fact that none of
these editions announces that it has been licensed by a bishop suggests
that the authorizations noted above were considered sufficient, and
that episcopal license was not necessarily the norm. Indeed, the pre-
I496 Bible historiale commissioned by Charles VIII (r. I483-I498), under
the direction of his confessor, Jean de Rely, which consists of a new
patchwork of translations, glosses, prefaces and additions to the old
tradition of the Bible historiale, does not announce any episcopal license:
it clearly did not need one either.
Nobles, townsfolk, layfolks and nuns, Brethren and sisters of the
Common Life, Beguines and tertiaries were hungry for the Bible:
IJappetit vient en mangeant and they had already had quite substantial help-
ings. I believe this may be a better explanation for the whirlwind suc-
cess of the Protestant cause, with its emphasis on Biblical truth and
guidance, among the burghers and nobility, than a putative lack of
acquaintance with the Bible. If my hypothesis is correct, it raises many
more subsidiary questions: why and to what extent did Luther see the
Biblical materials and texts available to his contemporaries before I523
as inadequate? Was the addition of legendary and literary material to
traditional Bible stories so corrupting, in his eyes, as to pervert the mes-
sages of scripture? Many of his utterances and statements suggest this.
Or did Luther's objection to 'additions' to prisca doctrina made by the
76 Bettye Thomas Chambers, Bibliograpl!]! if French Bibles. Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century
French-Language Editions if the Scriptures (Geneva: Droz, 1983), 1-4
77 Chambers, 5; Eduard Reuss, 'Fragments litteraires et critiques relatifs a l'histoire
de la Bible fran<;:aise,' in Revue de thiologie (Strasbourg), seconde serie, XIV Ganvier 1857),
1-48; fevrier 1857), 73-I04; (mars 1957), 129-160; 140 (continued in 1865 and 1866).
scholastic doctors, which were in his eyes illegitimate additions and per-
versions performed in the interest of strengthening Roman and cleri-
cal power, predetermine him to see Historiated Bibles, for example, as
hopelessly corrupt? The dozens of rather wooden German and N ether-
landish translations of the Bible then in circulation did not meet his aes-
thetic and linguistic standards, and were necessarily inadequate from a
scholarly perspective because they had been translated chiefly from the
Vulgate and other Latin versions, not from the original languages. It is
also clear that the Vulgate and its vernacular translations did not do
the work of 'evangelical' interpretation that Luther performed when he
produced his own version ('sola fide'). It is worth noting that Lefeb-
vre d'Etaples' I523 French translation of the New Testament, which
appeared shortly after Luther's, relied primarily on the Vulgate, also
omitted the medieval glosses and other additions, and presented the
entire text; his goals were clearly slightly less radical than Luther's and
he operated in an environment of much more effective ecclesiastical
(and royal) control than Luther did.
VVhig history
Johan Huizinga's great conceptual essay (I9I9) on the cultural
'autumn,' generally mistranslated until recently as the 'waning,' of the
later Middle Ages dominated historical thinking about this period from
the I920S through the I960s.78 This was the heyday of triumphant whig-
gish narratives about how the Reformation brought about modernity,
the overthrow by Luther and the other major reformers of suppos-
edly corrupt medieval institutions, worldviews and ideologies (medieval
Christianity), and a return to 'evangelical simplicity and purity,' both in
religion and in its institutional expressions (Bainton, Brecht, Ozment).
Biblical scholarship focused on the Middle Ages has attempted since
that time to correct the image of a corrupt church corrupting the Bib-
lical truth, but has remained too narrowly fixed on high theology and
78 Johan Huizinga, Herftttij der Middeleeuwen: stu die over levens- en gedachtenvormen der
veertiende en vijfliende eeuw in Frankrijk en de Nederlanden (Haarlem, 1919); see the recent
and much-improved translation The Autumn qf the Middle Ages by Rodney J. Payton
and Ulrich Mammitzsch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); cf. the 1955
translation and abridgement by F. Hopman: The Waning qf the Middle Ages. A Stucfy qf
the Forms qf Lift, Thought, and Art in France and the Netherlands in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth
Centuries (London: Penguin Books, 1955).
the works of high churchmen (Beryll Smalley, Heiko Oberman,jaroslav
Pelikan, Gilbert Dahan, the compendious volumes in the series La Bible
de tous les temps79). This focus has helped to correct distortions regard-
ing medieval exegesis, but cannot explain why layfolk were so eager for
Luther's Bible and so receptive to his reading (in translation) of Biblical
texts. Robert Scribner studied the propaganda and strategy aspects of
Luther's and Lutheran publications in an attempt to address the ques-
tion of how the Reformation spread, but he completely ignored the
question of pre-existing knowledge of the Bible outside ranks of the
male clergy. 80
The intersection of textual tradition and particular contexts of belief
gave rise to particular forms of Bible reading tethered to tradition but
rich in possibilities and potential. Reformation Biblicism (and Bible-
centered religion in general, from the Waldensians through Wycliffe
and Hus, the Protestant reformers and on to current evangelical funda-
mentalism) owes a great debt to the ways in which Biblical texts were
discussed, contextualized and transmitted to later generations in the
period roughly II50 to 1520, especially by such pioneers of 'literal' read-
ing of Biblical texts as Andrew and Hugh of St. Victor and Nicholas of
These forms of Bible reading and interpretation certainly did
not meet with the approval of many clerics, nor of all the Protestant
reformers. Their zeal to produce new Bible translations based on the
original versions is testimony to this disapproval, as well as a systematic
effort to counter and undermine the papal insistence on the exclusive
right of the church hierarchy to authorize translations and interpret
scripture according to the magisterium. Yet precisely the medieval trans-
lations and especially the other vernacular Bible versions that were so
suspect to the reformers may have done more than anything else to
prepare the ground for a new, thoroughgoing Protestant Biblicism.
79 This series is published by Beauchesne at Paris; e.g., Guy Lobrichon and Pierre
Riche, eds., Le Moyen-Age et la Bible (Paris: Beauchesne, rg84).
80 Robert Scribner, For the Sake qf Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German RifOrma-
tion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, rg8r).
81 See Nicholas qf Lyra: The Senses qf Scripture, Philip D.W Krey and Lesley Smith, eds.
(Leiden: EJ. Brill, 2000); and Gow, 'Christian Colonialism,' ibid.
Conclusions and perspectives
Many different kind of materials afford us access to lay Bible read-
ing and interpretation in the later fifteenth and early sixteenth cen-
turies: mainly printed broadsheets, pamphlets and books in a number
of European vernaculars (especially late medieval Netherlandish, Low
German and High German). Crucial for a sub-literary, sub-theological
history of Bible reading is an examination of the play between estab-
lished inter-textual conventions and 'outside' (non-scriptural) influences
and medieval compilations, historiated Bibles, folk belief,
popular magic, literary legends, and pre-Christian practices. As regards
non-clerical practices of reading and understanding the Bible, difficul-
ties accrue at various levels. It is hard to find more than spotty infor-
mation regarding burghers' possession of books, though inventories at
death do survive in many city archives. The mere possession of books
does not, of course, guarantee that they were read, so other texts writ-
ten by burghers (e.g., letters, official documents, speeches and the like)
for references to Biblical images, phrases, stories, parables and illustra-
tions must also be considered in future studies of the Bible in the later
Middle Ages.
The understanding of the Bible on the part of layfolk and the lower
clergy, and interpretive works by them and written in vernacular lan-
guages before the Reformation were heavily influenced by the Historia
scholastica (c. u6g) of Peter Comestor, the Compendium theologicae veritatis
by the Strasbourg Dominican Hugo Ripelin (c. the Eluci-
darium, the Historiated Bibles and a number of lesser compilations. The
nature oflate medieval lay piety is attracting increasing attention,82 but
there is relatively little work on lay piety in the German-speaking world,
and what there is concentrates on theology83 and preaching, not inter-
pretation or reading of vernacular Biblical texts, and not on laypeople's
reading of Biblical texts of any kind.
82 E.g., Curtis Bostick, The Antichrist and the Lollards. Apocalypticism in Late-Medieval
England (Leiden: EJ. Brill, I998), Jane Dempsey-Douglass, Justification in Late-Medieval
Preaching, 2
edition (Leiden: EJ. Brill, I989), and Berndt Hamm, The RifOrmation if
Faith in the Context if Late Medieval Theology and Piety: Essays (Leiden: Brill, 2004) and
Spatmittelalterliche Frijmmigkeit zwischen Ideal und Praxis (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 20or).
83 E.g., Hermann Schussler, Der Primat der Heiligen Schrift als theologisches und kanonistis-
ches Problem im Spatmittelalter, Verbffentlichungen des Instituts fur europaische Geschichte
Mainz, 86 (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, I977).
To sum up: late-medieval nobles, burghers, lay brethren and sisters,
and nuns had access to and read a variety of Biblical texts and devo-
tional works both in manuscript and printed vernacular versions (in the
widest sense) of the Bible. Their readings of these texts helped create a
demand for more complete and accessible versions of the Bible in the
period known as the Reformation.
The role of the Bible in Early Modern Catholicism is a complex sub-
ject, and one that challenges some of the received wisdom about the
Bible in the Middle Ages. Political, social and theological revolutions
in the European Christian world between the thirteenth and the six-
teenth centuries led to a number of changes in Biblical scholarship,
changes which are well documented by the scholarship in this volume.
For instance, the locus of Biblical learning moved from the cloister to
the schools, and with the rise of the Mendicant orders, into the towns.
By the fifteenth century, preaching (which had always been one of
the important end products of Biblical interpretation) took the fore-
front for Biblical exposition. And, in spite of the Tridentine insistence
on Latin as the proper language of theological learning, vernacular
languages, even vernacular Biblical knowledge, became a part of the-
ological discourse. This is especially true among those who brought
the Bible to the masses through vernacular preaching (like the Mendi-
cants), and among those who were not a part of formal school learning
~ i k women). The protagonist of this study is both a Mendicant and a
Lucia Brocadelli da Narni was a Dominican Penitent (a female
member of the Third Order of Saint Dominic)
who was famous for
her prophetic gifts at the turn of the sixteenth century in Italy. Among
the 'Sante Vive,' the early modern Italian 'Live Women Saints' studied
by Gabriella Zarri,
she cuts a particularly tragic figure, so it is worth
spending a few moments here on her life story. At the turn of the
sixteenth century, Suor Lucia da N ami was the official prophet of the
1 For Dominican Penitents, see Maiju Lehmijoki-Gardner, Wordry Saints: Social Inter-
action if Dominican Penitent Women in Itary 1200-1500 (Helsinki: Suomen Historiallinen
Seura, I999), and the translations edited by Lehmijoki-Gardner in Dominican Penitent
Women (New York: Paulist Press, 2005).
2 Gabriella Zarri, Le sante vive: cultura e religiositafemminile nella prima eta moderna (Turin:
Rosenberg & Sellier, I990).
court of Ercole I d'Este ('Ercole il Magnifico') of Ferrara.
She had
been brought to Ferrara, through an elaborate ruse by which she was
stolen from the city of Viterbo in a gambit reminiscent of St. Paul
escaping from Damascus, especially to fill this prophetic, yet civic,
function. In Ferrara, Lucia was established in the new convent for a
community of Dominican Penitent Women formed around her and
named, appropriately, Santa Caterina da Siena.
Suor Lucia inspired her patron, Ercole, to publish a treatise praising
female prophets at court, in which Ercole suggested that every Chris-
tian ruler had need of one.
Ercole's defense of female prophecy may
reflect some uneasiness about the way he found a woman prophet
for his court, or perhaps it reflects his concern to appear orthodox
in the wake of the burning of his former spiritual mentor, Girolamo
Savonarola, in 1498. Nevertheless, Ercole here describes a number of
other women who served the same function in other Italian cities:
Osanna Andreasi in Mantova, Stefana Quinzani in Crema for the
Dukes of Milan, Colomba da Rieti in Perugia.
The little book was
elegantly printed with woodcuts from Albrecht Durer's workshop, and
was known throughout the Empire as a confirmation of the stigmata
borne by Dominican holy women, particularly those of Catherine of
In the broad political and religious context of her time, Lucia
Brocadelli's role in Ferrara made perfect sense.
Suor Lucia's fame declined precipitously after the death of Ercole
in 1505, however. As part of a movement restricting women's public
3 For details of Lucia Brocadelli's life of prophecy, see E. Ann Matter, 'Prophetic
Patronage as Repression: Lucia Brocadelli da Narni and Ercole d'Este,' in Christendom
and its Discontents: Exclusion, Persecution, and Rebellion, IOOO-IjOO, ed, Scott L. Waugh
and Peter Diehl (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 168-176; Edmund
G. Gardner, Dukes and Poets in Ferrara: A Study in the Poetry, Religion and Politics if the
Fifleenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries (New York: Haskell House, 1904/1968), and Adriano
Prosperi, 'Brocadelli (Broccadelli), Lucia,' in Di;;,ionario biograjico degli italiani (Rome:
Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1972) XN:381-383.
4 Many documents from this house are found in Ferrara, Biblioteca della Curia
Arcivescovale, Cartelle 25-26.
5 Letter of Ercole I dated March 4, 1500 (Modena, Archivio di Stato, Iurisdizione
Sovrana, Santi e Beati 430 A), printed as Spiritualium personarumfeminei sexusfacta d'amira-
tione digna (Nl1rnberg in 150!), a tract of twelve unpaginated leaves (six in Latin, six in
6 These figures are discussed by Zarri in Le sante vive.
7 For example, the story of Lucia, the Dominican Tertiary with the five wounds
of Christ, was known to the German chronicler Johannes Trithemius, Joannis Trithemii
Sponheimensis ... Annalium Hirsaugiensium Opus (Monastery of St. Gall: Joannes Georgius
Schlegel, 1890). Thanks to Gabriella Zarri for this information.
roles that would culminate in the decrees on monastic enclosure at the
last session of the Council of Trent in 1563, the new Duke, Alfonso
d'Este, quickly decreed that the Dominican Penitents' house should
be a strictly enclosed community.8 This obviously limited Lucia's social
and political roles, a consequence Alfonso may have planned in order
to distance himself from Lucia's mentor, Girolamo Savonarola, who
had been executed in Florence in 1498.9 Her reputation suffered even
more after she was reported to have lost the marks of the stigmata, thus
losing at least one aspect of her religious power. This was especially
catastrophic since Lucia's fame as a stigmatist was one of the reasons
for which Ercole had sought her in the first place; and because the
possibility, likelihood and sanctity of women stigmatists was a hotly
debated issue in the early sixteenth century.1O
One consequence of this dramatic change of fortune was that, for
the last three decades of her life, Lucia Brocadelli was isolated and
strictly controlled (if not an out-and-out prisoner) in the very house that
had been built for her. During these years, Suor Lucia is said to have
written a number of collections of visions, but only one is extant, or
at least positively identified. This text, the Liber or Seven Revelations of
Lucia Brocadelli, is a richly imaginative spiritual text. According to a
note written by a second hand in the single surviving manuscript, the
text was copied by the author's own hand in 1544, the year of Suor
Lucia's death. II
8 For these decrees, see Raymond Creytens, 'La riforma dei monasteri femminili,'
in his Il concilio di Trento e la riforma tridentina (Rome: Herder, 1963) 1:45-83.
9 The relationship between Lucia Brocadelli and Savonarola has been proven by
recent groundbreaking scholarship, see Tamar Herzig, 'The Rise and Fall of a Savona-
rolan Visionary: Lucia Brocadelli's contribution to the Piagnone Movement,' Archivfor
RiformationsgeschichteiArchivefor Riformation History 95 (Z004) 34-60.
10 Lucia Brocadelli's role in the disputes between Dominicans and Franciscans about
whether or not Catherine of Siena, or indeed any woman, could bear the stigmata of
Christ has been discussed by Gabriella Zarri in the joint article of E. Ann Matter,
Armando Maggi, Maiju Lehmijoki-Gardner and Gabriella Zarri, 'Lucia Brocadelli da
N arni: riscoperta di un manoscritto pavese,' Bollettino della Societa Pavese di Storia Patria
100 (zooo):173-199, see especially 189-199.
11 'Liber a Beata Lucia Narnien.(sic) manu propria Scriptus. Anno D(omi)ni
MDXLIY,' Pavia, Biblioteca Civica 'Bonetta' MS II. lIZ (gia BIZ), flyleaf, See Xenio
Toscani, Gatologo dei manoscritti della Biblioteca Givica 'Bonetta' Givici Istituti di Arte e Storia
Pavia (Pavia: Tipografia del Libro, 1973), 79-80. I am grateful to Professor Toscani for
his generous help, particularly in the early days of the discovery of the manuscript.
This attribution and the title are written on the flyleaf in an eighteenth-century hand,
but the hand of the seven revelations can be shown to be Suor Lucia's through
The Seven Revelations is an important text for the study of women's
religious expression in early modern Catholicism, especially since these
visions are remarkably unmediated descriptions of spiritual experience,
in the voice and the hand of a women author. They are, it is clear,
directed towards a father confessor, perhaps Martino da Tivoli, who
encouraged Suor Lucia to write about her life, or Arcangelo March-
eselli, who was her confessor in Ferrara just before her death.
cannot be sure if they were written down immediately after, or many
years after, the experiences described, since the text is not specific as
to the year in which the revelations were experienced. But even if the
act of writing was an exercise in memory by an aged nun recalling her
once powerful visionary gifts, it is a remarkable first-person record of a
sixteenth-century woman's spiritual world.
In the course of her seven visions, Suor Lucia is given a tour of Par-
adise. Suor Lucia's Paradise is, perhaps unsurprisingly, an old-fashioned
world, based in a traditional Christian apocalyptic cosmology and
showing a medieval religious imagination. Her guides point out palaces,
gardens, angels, maidens carrying cups, altars covered with cloths,
heavenly seats, often in groups of four or seven. What is revealed to
her comes straight from a long line of Christian apocalyptic literature,
beginning, of course, with the last book of the New Testament, the
Apocalypse or Revelation to John, although the text does not include
even one direct quotation from the New Testament. This apocalyptic
material is, instead, mediated through a long history of exegetical and
comparison with autographs of letters she wrote to Ercole, Archivio di Stato di Mod-
ena, Giurisdizione Sovrana, Busta 430, 'Lettere autografe e copie de lettere della Beata
Suor Lucia da Narni.' I would like to thank Gabriella Zarri for help in locating these
documents. For reproductions of Suor Lucia's hand in manuscripts in Modena and
Pavia, see Matter et al., 'Lucia Brocadelli,' Fig. 3 and Fig. 4. We do not know when
or how the manuscript came to Pavia, but the text designated as the Liber of Lucia
Brocadelli appears as number I27-B 12 in Renato Soriga's list dated December I9IO,
cf. Registro degli oggetti arrivati nel Museo (Pavia: Museo Civico di Storia Patria) quaderno
18 (1908-1927). For a critical edition of the text, 'Le Rivelazioni of Lucia Brcadelli da
Narni,' ed. E. Ann Matter, Armando Maggi, and Maiju Lehmijoki-Gardner, Archivum
fratrum praedicatorem 71 (200I):3II-344; see also Matter, et al., 'Lucia Brocadelli,' 174-177,
for further information about this manuscript.
12 Giacomo Marcianese says that Martino da Tivoli encouraged Lucia to write
about her life, and that Marcheselli copied these memorials, but both the original
and the copies have been lost, Narratione della nascita, vita e morte della beata Lucia di
Narni dell'ordine di San Domenico, Fondatrice del monastero di Santa Caterina da Siena in Ferrara
(Ferrara: Vittorio Baldini, 1616),113-125.
homiletic texts; but its most obvious and important source is a treatise
by Lucia's fellow Dominican, the martyred spiritual and political leader
of Florence, Girolamo Savonarola.
Savonarola's Compendium if Revelation
was published in his own life-
time in both Latin and Italian, and was widely circulated.
It would
not have been difficult for Suor Lucia to have owned a copy, espe-
cially since her patron, Ercole d'Este, had carried on a spiritual cor-
respondence with Savonarola.
Savonarola's message of reform had
attracted a large following of religious women, and continued to influ-
ence women's religious life even after his death.
Tamar Herzig has
recently suggested that, in fact, Lucia Brocadelli had been a follower
of Savonarola when she was still in Viterbo, that this connection was
part of her attraction for Ercole, and that her eventual fall from grace
in Ferrara was directly related to Savonarola's execution in 1498.18 The
historical evidence Herzig adduces gives a fascinating background to
the obvious close correspondence between the end of Savonarola's
vision text and the beginning of Suor Lucia's Seven Revelations. The
Compendium ends with a journey through a heavenly garden, where
Savonarola, with Saint Joseph as his guide, sees such wonders as heav-
enly palaces, legions of saints, and all the orders of angels. The journey
ends with an audience with the Virgin Mary, who addresses Savonarola
13 On Savonarola, see Roberto Ridolfi, The Lifo if Girolamo Savonarola, trans. Cecil
Grayson (New York: Knopf, 1959). For the cults that surrounded Savonarola, see Patrick
Macey, Borifire Songs: Savonarola's Musical Legacy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).
14 Girolamo Savonarola, Compendia di Rivelazioni: Testa fVlgare e Latino, Edizione Nazio-
nale delle Opere di Girolamo Savonarola, ed. Angela Cruucitti (Rome: Angelo Belar-
detti Editore, 1974). English translation by Bernard McGinn in Apocalyptic Spirituality
(New York: Paulist Press, 1979), 192-275.
15 See the 'Nota critica' of Crucitti, 887-456.
16 For the correspondence between Savonarola and Ercole d'Este, see Antonio Cap-
pelli, Fm Girolamo Savonarola e notizie intorno a suo tempo (Modena: Coi tipi di Carlo Vin-
cenzi, 1896).
17 Cf. Gabriella Zarri, 'Colomba da Rieti e i movimenti religiosi femminili del suo
tempo,' in Una santa, una citta edited by Giovanna Casagrande e Enrico Menesto (Spo-
leto: Centro italiano di studi sull'alto medioevo, 1990), 89-108; Domenico Di Agresti,
Sviluppi della riforma monastica savonaroliana (Florence: L.S. Olschki, 1980); F. William
Kent, 'A Proposal by Savonarola for the Self-Reform of Florentine Women (March
1496)' Memorie domenicane n.s. 14 (1983): 335-341; Lorenzo Polizzotto, 'Savonarola, savo-
naroliani e riforma della donna,' in Studi savanoroliani. Verso il V centenario, edited by Gian
Carlo Garfagnini (Firenze: SISMEL, Edizioni del Galluzzo, 1996).
18 Tamar Herzig, 'The Rise and Fall of a Savonarolan Visionary.'
as 'my son,' 'Figluol mio.' All of these narrative elements are amply
present in Suor Lucia's Seven Revelations. 19
Explicit echoes of Savonarola's heavenly tour can be seen right at the
beginning of Suor Lucia's First Revelation, where, led by the Virgin,
she sees four crowns and four thrones; Savonarola, with St. Joseph
as his guide, is shown one triple crown, a symbol of the Trinity, and
a throne, designated as the Throne of Solomon, but occupied by a
mother and child, symbols of the Church in the world.
Like Savona-
rola' too, Suor Lucia is graced with a vision of many saints, including
the Holy Innocents slain by Herod when Jesus was born,21 and the
Nine Orders of the Angelic Host, as described classically in the Celestial
Hierarchies of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite.
But, there are also striking differences between Suor Lucia's trip
through heaven and that of the formidable Fra Girolamo. First and
most striking is the fact that, while Suor Lucia's Revelations are the
whole of her narrative, Savonarola's heavenly tour is only the last part
of a series of visions that begin with a long debate with the devil in the
guise of a friar. Whereas Lucia is mosdy interested in justifying herself
against the unfair treatment she has endured, Savonarola is largely
concerned with God's will for a good government in Florence. All of
the Compendium if Revelation, even the tour of heaven, as so much of
Savonarola's spirituality, is expressed in the context of the spiritual state
of Florence; even the saints and angels he is shown by St. Joseph are
explicidy related to Florence. In contrast, Lucia's visions, although in
some ways theologically sophisticated, are not at all politicized. The
Seven Revelations is instead overwhelmingly personalized.
There are also striking differences in the use of the Bible in the two
texts. Savonarola shows his theological learning by quoting widely from
scripture. In just the last part of the Compendium, the part that is congru-
ent with Suor Lucia's visions, he cites the Bible 49 times, quoting from
19 For a close comparison between the two visionary treatises see the translation of
the Seven Revelations by E. Ann Matter in Maiju Lehmijoki-Gardner, Dominican Penitent
ftOmen, 212-243.
20 'Le Rivelazioni,' 316, trans. Matter, 216; compare to Savonarola, ed. McGinn,
pp. 242- 247.
21 'Le Rivelazioni,' 317, trans. Matter, 217; compare to Savonarola, ed. McGinn,
P230 .
22 See the English translation of the Celestial Hierarchies by Colm Luibheid, Pseudo-
Diol1)isius: The Complete ftOrks (New York: Paulist Press, 1987),143-191. 'Le Rivelazioni,'
317, trans. Matter 217-218; the parallel scene in Savonarola's Compendium is on pp. 256-
264 ofMcGirm's translation.
Exodus, Kings, Psalms (21 times), Proverbs, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Lamenta-
tions, Zechariah, Daniel, Judith, Wisdom, Matthew, Luke, John, Ro-
mans, 2 Corinthians, Hebrews, James and Apocalypse. Most of these
are single allusions, a few are quoted twice or three times, but the
Psalter is quoted no fewer than 2 I times. All of the Biblical quotations
in Savonarola's trip to Paradise are proclaimed (usually by saints or
angels) in Latin. In one passage, the visionary goes up a staircase of the
Orders of the Angels, quoting serial verses from Psalm 19.
The use of the Bible in Lucia Brocadelli's Seven Revelations is quite
a different story. For one thing, only nine Bible verses are quoted by
Suor Lucia, in seven different places. Not one of these is a verse quoted
by Savonarola in his tour of Paradise. In other words, if Suor Lucia's
visionary imagery borrowed heavily from Savonarola, her use of the
Bible seems to be all her own. And it is a creative and idiosyncratic use
of the Bible, so interesting that it is worth looking closely at all seven
instances in which Suor Lucia quotes from scripture.
In the First Revelation, Suor Lucia sees three angels of the Order of
the Seraphim who present a cup to the Lord. The text continues:
And then that sweet goodness called this, his daughter, by her own
and said: 'Sweetest daughter, come to me.' And she went before
the presence of her spouse, and she knelt down. And then sweet Jesus
went above that cup and said to her: 'Daughter, look in this cup.' And,
looking, she saw inside four liquids, which were these: the first was bal-
sam, the second was oil, the third was liquid gold, the fourth and last was
wine. And the divisions that separated these four liquids were of crystal.
And sweet Jesus said to his daughter: 'I want to tell you, 0 most beloved
daughter, what this cup is, and what these four liquids mean. So, daugh-
ter, know that this cup signifies my humanity. Balsam denotes my wis-
dom, that which is given to my soul. But, since balsam is superior to
all other liquids in goodness and virtue, odor and medicine, so was the
wisdom given to my soul superior to all created wisdom.
Oil, dearest daughter, signifies the humility and meekness given to that
soul and its action; and this is because oil humbles everything on which
it is placed, and is good for many things. It is a peaceful liquid, just as
my soul was peaceful. I know how to suffer every evil and torment, as I
did at the time of my Passion when I preached with all humanity.
23 In McGinn's translation, 262-264.
24 'Le Rivelazioni,' 318, trans. Matter, 218. This is the first of five times Lucia
mentions that she is called by name in the visions. The first four times the speaker
is Jesus, the final time, the only time her name is actually recorded in the text, trans.
Matter, 239; the speaker is the Virgin Mary.
And gold signifies my divinity because, just as gold is superior to all other
metals in beauty, in the same way, my divinity is superior to all created
things. And first this shows the humanity of the divinity25 because the
divinity conserves all created things and keeps those things lost by the
The wine denotes my Passion and the wine is more like me than other
liquids because since wine is pressed by clogs,26 thus did my blood flow
out of my humanity by the great force of my torments. But since wine
gladdens the heart of men,'27 so is my blood a comfort to the human
The quotation at the very end is to Vulgate Psalm 103, quoted in
Italian: 'Pero che Eel] vino comforta el core dell'omo,, instead of the
Latin 'Et vinum laetificit cor hominis.'28 There is a theological message
in this account, but it has to do with the humanity and divinity of
the Incarnate Christ, to which this Biblical quotation is almost an
The second use of the Bible is in the Second Revelation, where
Suor Lucia sees a beautiful palm tree with seven large roots and nine
branches. Angels from each of the nine Orders sat on the branches,
and the angels and the branches moved in unison. Jesus says to her:
'0, my dearest daughter, 0 my beloved, what do you think, of the beauty
of this tree and its branches and roots?' She answered: 'My sweetest
spouse, it seems to me of such and so much beauty that if I had all
the understanding of all the men of our world, and of all creatures, I
would not be able to nor know how to tell it.' My sweet love, Jesus,
answered: 'You speak the truth, beloved daughter, unless it happened
by my wish.' And rising up after this speech, he stepped down from
his throne and said to her: 'My dear daughter, come with me, for I
wish to show you still greater marvels than this tree.' And so sweet Jesus
took her by the hand, and kissed her sweetly, and went toward the tree.
And coming near it, sweet Jesus leaned down and touched the root of
the tree, saying to this his servant, 'Look, 0 my sweet daughter, my
much beloved, at these roots.' And she, looking, saw on each root a
verse that said: '0 God of love. '29 And when she saw this, sweet Jesus
25 'la umanitade de la divinitade,' 'Le Rivelazioni,' 318 trans. Matter, 218, one of
Lucia's many references to the human nature of Christ, a focal point of her devotional
theology. See especially Revelation Three.
26 'per Ii zioculari,' 'Le Rivelazioni,' 318, a reference to the stamping out of wine by
27 'Le Rivelazioni,' 318, c Psalm 103 (104).15.
28 Pavia, Biblioteca Civica 'Bonetta,' MS II. 112 (gia BI2), fols. 3'-4
29 '0 Dio de amore,' c 2Corinthians 13.II, IJohn 4.7-
said to her: 'Dear daughter, now look well, first I want to open these
doors so that you can see what is inside.'30
Again, the Biblical quotation, this time to 2 Corinthians I3.II and IJohn
4.7 is in Italian: '0 Dio de amore.' But it is immediately followed by
another Biblical quotation more in the style of Savonarola, a para-
phrase of Ecclesiasticus 39.25. The text continues:
And just as soon as sweet Jesus had said these words, all the doors were
opened with great and sweet sounds, and much wonder, so that all the
heavens were heard, and sounds of marvelous harmony, in such a way
that all the angels, and the saints major and minor, and all the blessed
souls sang lauds, all according to their own eternal understanding. Sweet
Jesus said to this his servant: 'Tell me, 0 my beloved daughter, does this
not seem a great thing?' She answered: 'Domine mi, nihil est mirabile
magne tue potentie.'3J 'My Lord,' she said, 'nothing is as greatly mar-
velous as your power.' To this sweet and good Jesus replied: 'You speak
truly, most beloved daughter, but human understanding is also mar-
Here, Lucia answers Jesus in Latin, and translates into Italian for the
sake of her audience, or perhaps of the implied reader, since we could
assume that her confessor understood Latin. This Latin quotation and
Italian translation are interesting. It happens frequently in the text,
although not usually in the form of a Biblical quotation. Perhaps it
reflects Savonarola's Italian version of the Compendium, where quotations
from the Bible and liturgy appear in Latin, although these, on the
other hand, are not translated, not even in the Italian version of the
The next Biblical quotation, in the Third Revelation, is also given
first in Latin and then translated into Italian. This revelation takes place
in a marvelous castle, in which Suor Lucia sees Jesus and his mother,
the Virgin Mary. Jesus is seated on a throne. Mary is seated beside him;
then she gets up and bows down and kisses his feet. All the angels follow
her in this; then the Virgin sits down again on her seat. When all of the
heavenly host were in place:
Then this sweetest Jesus called this, his servant, and said to her: 'Does
it seem to you, dearest daughter and my beloved, a marvelous and
beautiful thing that they all recognize me according to their intellect,
30 'Le Rivelazioni,' 321-322, trans. Matter, 218-219.
3J Cf. Ecclesiasticus 39.25: 'a saeculo usque in saeculum respicit et nihil est mirabile
in conspectu eius.'
32 'Le Rivelazioni,' 322, trans. Matter, 222.
and that some thank me with their intellect and their merits, through
which they are saved?' To which she replied: 'Domine mi nihil est tibi
peris quia omnia potes quecunque volis.' 'My Lord,' she said, 'Nothing
is marvelous in your presence, since you can do anything you want.'33
Then sweet Jesus came down from his throne and, holding his sweetest
mother, the Virgin Mary, by the hand, he said to this, his servant: '0
my most beloved daughter, do you still see this castle?' And she, looking
around, saw nothing of that castle, but she saw its form, with all beauty,
in the face of the Divine Majesty.34
Once again, Lucia speaks to Jesus in Latin and then translates into
Italian for the benefit of her readers. The phrase 'omnia potes' is
attributed to God twice in the Vulgate: in Job 42.2 and Wisdom of
Solomon 11.24. The allusion here to a miracle of reflection (a theme
found a number of times in the Seven Revelations, where something (in
this case the castle in which they were sitting) vanishes, only then to be
seen in the face of Jesus.
As Armando Maggi has pointed out, the image of the mirror is used
by Suor Lucia to emphasize the dual roles of Jesus, who reflects both
our humanity and his divinity.35 In the Fourth Revelation, the visionary
is again invited to look into the face of Jesus:
And she, with all patience, looked into the face of her sweetest love. And
at once she recognized three persons in one essence, and she knew how
the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. And when this
was done, the Divine Majesty stood up from his chair onto his feet, and
gave witness to the Trinity in the Unity and Divinity of the Person of
the Son, of the True Person of the Father and of the divinity of the Holy
Then the city she had been shown in this vision disappears:
And that sweet goodness said to this, His unworthy servant: 'Now, dear
daughter, where is this city?' And he murmured: 'I am
all of these
things, and I humble myself to show you my own self before you in this
form.' And when this His servant looked at that Divine Majesty, she
sawall of that aforementioned city in his breast. And then that Infinite
Goodness said to this, his useless servant: 'My dearest daughter, to me
very beloved, I do not wish to tell you more about this.'38
33 Cf.Job 42.2, Wisdom of Solomon 11.24.
34 'Le Rivelazioni,' 328, trans. Matter, 229.
35 Matter et aI., 'Lucia Brocadelli,' 179-181.
36 'Le Rivelazioni,' 330, trans. Matter, 231.
37 C( Exodus 3.14.
38 'Le Rivelazioni,' 330-331, trans. Matter, 232.
The words spoken by Jesus are a Macaronic combination: '10 sum,'
a mixture of Latin and Italian, and a possible reference to God's
description of himself to Moses on Mount Horeb: 'I AM WHO AM,'
in the Latin 'EGO SUM QUI SUM.' Like the last quotation, the Bible
is used to emphasize the powers of Christ, and specifically at a moment
when there is a reflection (this time of a sort of Augustinian City of
God) in the face (this time, the bosom) of Jesus.
The Fifth Revelation begins in a marvelous piazza, filled with saints
and angels singing wonderful lauds to Jesus. Lucia relates:
Then all the saints kneeled before the Divine Majesty with new songs
and softest lauds. Then he gave each of them a new garment, and as
soon as they saw themselves clad in it, they went before the Lord and
kneeled down. That sweetest Lord stretched out his hand to them, and
each angel placed his hand in the hand of the sweet Lord. And they all
stayed like this. And then that sweet goodness said 'My daughter, look
carefully at these things so that you can tell your confessor.' And then
he said to the angels 'And what thing do you say about me?'39 And they
answered saying: 'Lord, we say that your power is great and high.' And
when the angels had said this, the Lord made them all sit in their places,
and they, seeing each one sit in his place, thanked the Divine Majesty for
his great glory according to their intellect.
The Biblical allusion is to Matthew 16.15, where Jesus asks his disciples,
'Vos autem quem me esse dicitis?' and Peter answers, 'Tu es Christus,
filius Dei vivi.' In the Gospel, as in the revelation of Suor Lucia, Jesus
rewards his followers for understanding his true power, as the angels
say here: 'Signore nostro, noi dicemo che e magna e alta la tua poten-
tia.' Again, the Biblical reference is used to underline a Christological
All of this makes the last Biblical allusion in the Seven Revelations
particularly interesting, for its message is not about the divinity of
Christ, but about the special power of the Virgin Mary. This happens in
the Sixth Revelation, where Suor Lucia comes before the throne of the
Virgin, just as Savonarola does at the end of his heavenly journey in the
Compendium. This time, the Virgin calls Lucia by name: '0 figliola mia
e sposa de mio fioglio e tuo nome Luce perche sei fiola de la e[teJrna
luce,'41 that is, '0 my daughter and spouse of my son, your name is
Light because you are the daughter of the eternal light.'
39 Cf. Matthew 16.15.
40 'Le Rivelazioni,' 331, trans. Matter, 233.
41 Ibid., 337, trans. Matter, 239.
The Virgin continues: 'non ti pare a ti, fiola, che io sia pulcra e bela?'42
'Do I not seem lovely and beautiful to you, daughter?' As Lucia tries
to describe the beauty of the Virgin, Jesus explains that he could show
her even more wondrous beauties, except for the fact that Lucia's eyes
could not bear it.
At this point, Suor Lucia's voice breaks through the text with an
intertexual comment: 'This is not well written, Father Confessor, I will
go back again to say it better so that there will be passages that you
can see in this glory as much as you can see it in its fullness, how the
triumphs of heaven are marvelous and adorned above all things, and
the one who does this will be blessed. '43 Such a metatextual interruption
of the narrative has happened twice before in the Seven Revelations, but
this one is particularly interesting because in rephrasing, Suor Lucia
quotes for the last time from the Bible, and gives her quotation a special
And when the Divine Majesty had said this, all the angels moved and
made a great reverence to the Empress of Heaven, with lauds, with
sweet and high songs. Then the Divine Majesty took his mother by
the hand and made her sit with him on his throne, saying: 'Hec est
regina da qua semper delectatus sum.' 'This is the Queen of whom 1
am always pleased, even to the highest delight.'44 And as soon as sweet
Jesus had said these words, all the blessed souls and all the male and
female saints knew the beauty of sweet Mary, some more, some less.
And sweet Jesus said to this his servant: 'I would like you to know, my
most beloved daughter, that my mother is always pure and beautiful and
remains always in such beauty, but this cannot be known by all. 1 wished
to spill out my grace on your eyes so that you could knOw. '45
The reference here is to Matthew 17.5, where, at the baptism of Jesus,
God the Father pronounces that he is pleased with his Son. This time,
Jesus speaks in Latin: 'Hec est regina de qua semper delectatus sum,'46
an echo of the Vulgate 'Hie est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi bene
complacui,' and Lucia translates into Italian: 'Hec la regina de la quale
sempre me delectai, e somi dilectato,' literally, 'This is the Queen, of
whom I am always delighted, even to the highest delight.'
42 Ibid., 337, trans. Matter, 239.
43 Ibid., 337, trans. Matter, 239-240.
44 Here as in other places, the Italian adds some commentary to the Latin, rather
than translating it exacdy. There is an allusion in this phrase to the voice from Heaven
at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, cf. Matthew 17.5.
45 'Le Rivelazioni,' 337, trans. Matter, 240.
46 Ibid. 337.
Two things are striking about this allusion to the Gospel of Matthew:
first, it shows a very high level of marian devotion, even to likening the
Virgin to Jesus, since in Suor Lucia's molding of Matthew, Jesus is to
God the Father as the Virgin Mary is to Jesus. Second, and perhaps
more surprising, is the fact that Suor Lucia is actually molding the
reference; making a recognizable allusion, but changing it even at such
a basic level as changing the interlocutors, and then further changing
the translation from Latin to Italian by adding the emphatic phrase
'a somi delectato,, even more pleased than the Father was with the
Son at the baptism of Jesus. In other words, here Suor Lucia is not
just referring to the Bible, and certainly not quoting from it directly,
but using it in a loose way to make a theological point. The text of
the Gospel of Matthew becomes a vehicle for expression of something
related but quite different: not exactly an allegorical interpretation,
but rather a rephrasing of the Bible. In fact, all of the five places
where I have uncovered references to the Bible are equally creative and
independent references.
When I began this essay, I was working through the obvious paral-
lels between Suor Lucia Brocadelli's visions of Paradise and the sim-
ilar scenes described by Savonarola in the Compendium qf Revelation.
For this reason, I assumed the Bible used by Suor Lucia would be
a 'Savonarolan' Bible, that is, that it would echo Savonarola's choices
of Biblical texts and interpretations. But I was wrong. Certainly, there
is a direct influence here, and as far as the heavenly scenes revealed
to the visionary are concerned, the Seven Revelations could be called
a Savonarolan text. Yet, Suor Lucia's use of the Bible is remarkably
idiosyncratic and, like the Seven Revelations in general, very personal.
Savonarola's Bible shows his context and training: for example, the
large number of references to the Psalms is just what one would expect
from a friar; but Suor Lucia, who says in the Fourth Revelation that she
says her Office once a week, with no sense that she should say it every
day, does not reflect this liturgical use of the BibleY In short, Lucia
Brocadelli is not just following Savonarola's use of the Bible, but has
made her own very personal selection.
Was this selective Bible the product of dissidence? Not in a Savona-
rolan way, to be sure. Fra Girolamo's Compendium qf Revelation relates
every bit of the visions of Paradise to the spiritual welfare of the City of
47 Ibid., 329, when the angels praise her, Suor Lucia says: 'E questo credo che
procedese perche a[s]sai tempo che lei fa ogni setimana una volta 10 suo oficio.'
Florence; Suor Lucia's enemies were emphatically personal, and so was
her use of the Bible. Yet it is clear that she has one great theological
concern: the defense of the divinity of Christ. Why is Suor Lucia so
interested in Trinitarian, and specifically Incarnational theology? What
accounts for the particular concern of this text with the Incarnation
of Christ and the simultaneous humanity and divinity of the Second
Person of the Trinity? I can think of two possible answers to these
One possibility is social and has to do with the theological worlds
that Lucia Brocadelli may have witnessed in Ferrara. It just may be
that she was aware of an established, wealthy, educated, important and
influential community in Ferrara that denied these very things that
her Revelations insist upon: the simultaneous humanity and divinity
of Christ. That community was, of course, the Jews. 48 Especially during
her period of glory at the court of Ercole I, Lucia may have met influ-
ential Jewish scholars, or at least heard a description of their beliefs,
including the rejection of a triune God. In this scenario, the Seven Reve-
lations takes on a dialogical, if not polemical, tone.
The second possible explanation does not necessarily contradict this
idea of a dialogue with non-Trinitarian theological ideas, but focuses
instead on the traditional Christian trope of imitation of Christ. This
devotional approach is especially evident in the Fourth Revelation,
where Suor Lucia's psychological and physical sufferings, even her
toothaches, are related to Christ's Passion. Especially as a repudiated
and spiritually disinherited visionary, a self-understanding in imitatione
Christi would also explain Suor Lucia's use of the Bible.
In any case, the idiosyncratic Bible of Suor Lucia Brocadelli da
Narni shows us several aspects of the 'new' biblicism that will become
dominant in the sixteenth century. Here is a woman who uses the Bible
more as a series of proof texts, that is, as verses lifted out of context to
make a particular point, than as part of a more elaborate interpretative
scheme following a theological, allegorical or liturgical system. Most
often, she quotes scripture in Italian, and when she does cite a text
in Latin, she is careful to translate it immediately. One really has to
48 For the Jews in Ferrara, see David B. Ruderman, The World qf a Renaissance Jew:
The Lift and Thought qf Abraham ben Mordecai Farissol (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College
Press; New York: Distributed by KTAV Pub. House, Ig81). Abraham ben Mordecai
Farissol and Lucia Brocadelli were exact contemporaries. See also Abramo Pesaro,
Memone stonche sulla comunita israelitica firrarese (Bologna: Forni, 1967). I thank Deeana
Klepper, who first suggested this connection to me.
wonder: how did she know the Bible? How did she read it? In Latin?
In Italian? Outside of her notably infrequent recitation of the Office?
Perhaps we will never be able to answer these questions completely;
but it would be hard to imagine any answer that did not include the
fact that these Biblical references have been crafted, each for a specific
purpose, by an original, creative, and rather learned religious woman
of Early Modern Italy.
The apocalyptic worldview is inherently violent. Based on a vision of
cosmos and history as the arena for an ongoing struggle between the
forces of good and evil, the apocalyptic mentality sees violence all
around-in past, present, and especially in the near future as the final
contest looms. The conflict model at the heart of apocalypticism is also
fundamentally mythical. The Jewish scribes who created apocalypti-
cism during the Second Temple Period made use of ancient mythic
paradigms to understand contemporary issues, mingling together the
old story of origins and the new story of current events.
Thus, cos-
mogony centering on the battle between the Warrior God (Baal, Mar-
duk) and the dragon representing the forces of chaos was projected into
the present and near future in order to set contemporary conflicts into
a transcendental framework.
Apocalyptic scenarios of history, however, unlike Norse myths for
example, do not see evil, death and destruction as triumphant at the
end. Conflict is not eternal. Despite the presence of malign powers,
both in heaven and on earth, God still controls history. The world is
ethically, but not metaphysically, dualistic. At the end of the present age
God will triumph definitively over evil and his loyal followers will be
rewarded for their suffering and constancy, especially by resurrection
from the dead in order to enjoy final peace in the terrestrial messianic
1 This essay originated in a lecture delivered at Ohio State University on April 3,
2003, as part of a symposium on the relation of religion and violence. I wish to thank
the organizers of this symposium and the audience for their help in furthering my
reflections on this important topic.
2 See Adela Yarbro Collins, ThR Apocalypse (Wilmington: M. Glazier, 1979), xi.
For a summary of the relation of apocalyptic literature to ancient mythology, see
Richard]. Clifford, Sj., 'The Roots of Apocalypticism in Near Eastern Myth,' inJohn
]. Collins, ed., The Encyclopedia qf Apocalypticism: The Origins qf Apocalypticism in Judaism and
Christianity (New York: Continuum, 1998) I, 3-38. For a general introduction to Jewish
apocalypticism, see John]. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination. An Introduction to the Jewish
Matrix qf Christianity (New York: Crossroad, 1984).
The VISIOn of the no-holds-barred conflict between good and evil
found in the apocalyptic texts created by Jews from the third century
BCE to the second century CE made use of striking symbols, especially
images of opposition painted in strong, even lurid, colors. A good
example can be found in chapter seven of the Book of Daniel, the
only apocalyptic text found in the Hebrew Bible, where four monstrous
beasts emerging from the sea are contrasted with the heavenly 'Son of
Man' who is given eternal sovereignty. The apocalyptic seer does not
argue or invite-he sets down in writing a secret message sent by God,
one which, when revealed, claims a total hold on the imagination and
actions of believers. In this world everything is black or white; there
are no grays, no room for ambiguity. In the Revelation of John, for
example, the Son of Man commands the seer to write to the Angel (i.
e., the bishop) ofthe unhappy Church of Lao dice a: 'I know your works;
you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were either hot or cold.
So, because you are lukewarm ... I am about to spit you out of my
mouth' (Rv. 2.15)
If apocalyptic texts employ a cosmic and transcendental sense of
conflict to give meaning to current historical trials, does this mean that
the apocalyptic worldview necessarily encourages believers to indulge
in acts of violence? Are all apocalyptically inclined prophets, seers, and
groups inherently 'revolutionary millenarians,' to use a phrase from
the subtitle of Norman Cohn's influential book, The Pursuit if the Mil-
lennium?3 The answer is surely no. The relation between apocalyptic
belief systems and physical violence such as guerilla action, subver-
sion, and open warfare is far more complicated and therefore more
interesting than any simple correlation between belief in the imminent
end of the age and willingness to engage in actual violence. The rela-
tion between apocalypticism broadly conceived and conflict-religious,
social, political-is ambiguous and often tangential, complicated by a
host of social and ideological factors. Nevertheless, the history of the
interaction of apocalypticism and violence is not merely random. When
we investigate the history of apocalyptic beliefs in Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam, an interesting set of patterns begins to emerge. It is to these,
or at to least some of them, that this essay is addressed.
3 Norman Cohn's The Pursuit if the Millennium was first published in 1957 with
the subtitle Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and RifOrmation Europe and Its Bearing on
Modern Totalitarian Movements. The second edition of 196r bore the subtitle, Revolutionary
Millenarians and Jvfystical Anarchists if the Middle Ages.
To gain some perspective on such a large issue it will be helpful
to begin by briefly sketching four different attitudes toward violence
found in the apocalyptic literature of Second Temple Judaism.
broad paradigms need to be understood in light of two caveats. The
first is that not every holy war need be seen as an apocalyptic, or
final, war. The books of Maccabees that provide the propaganda for
the revolt of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers against the rule of
Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the subsequent history of the Hasmonean
house certainly make use of holy war motifs (e.g., I Mc. 4.30-33, 5.62,
7.40-42; 2 Mc. 2.21-22, 5.1-4, IO.2g-30, 15.8-16). Nevertheless, there
is no evidence that the Maccabees were inspired by apocalyptic ideas,
such as those found in the contemporary apocalypse of Daniel.
theocratic kingdom looked backward to the rule of David; not forward
to a final messianic realm. The second cautionary observation concerns
the difficulty of identifying the social context of the authors of many
apocalyptic texts. Apocalypticism arose among circles of Jews in periods
of political and religious oppression. There is little doubt that in its
origins, at least, apocalypticism is a view of history designed to provide
hope and consolation for the persecuted. Early apocalypticism was also
a scribal phenomenon, the product of learned circles who hid their
identity under the pseudonyms of ancient seers. While many attempts
have been made to give further precision to the class and social location
of the Jewish apocalypticists and their audience, there is little general
agreement among scholars with regard to the background of many
texts. It is true that we can discern the political position of some
apocalyptic works by the opponents they mention, but in other cases
the human enemies are difficult to determine with any certainty.
Fundamental to apocalyptic belief systems is the conviction that God
controls the course of history and that he has revealed his plan for the
future to the elect. Victory over the forces of evil belongs to the Lord
alone. But what should be the attitude of the faithful to whom he has
disclosed the secret of his coming triumph?
Four models of reaction to persecution, or at least perception of
persecution, can be found in Jewish apocalyptic texts. They range from:
4 For what follows, I am indebted to the important article of Adela Yarbro Collins,
'The Political Perspective of the Revelation of John,' Journal of Biblical Literature 96
(1977):241-256, though my categories are somewhat different from hers.
5 For an introduction to the theology of I and 2 Maccabees, see John J. Collins,
Daniel, 1-2Maccabees (Wilmington: M. Glazier, 1981), especially 149-152 and 259-267-
(1) passive submission such as we find in the book of Daniel; through
(2) willingness to undergo martyrdom in order to bring on the final
conflict; to (3) a belief that believers will soon be called to take up arms
and fight on the side of the heavenly forces in the last battle; and finally
(4) truly revolutionary apocalypticism that encourages armed resistance
to the forces of evil.
Daniel, written around 167 BCE, at least in its apocalyptic chapters
6-12, is a classic expression of what is the dominant apocalyptic reac-
tion to violence directed against the faithful-the counsel to endure and
to wait patiently for divine deliverance. In a typical vaticinium ex eventu
in Daniel 11.33-35, the supposed sixth-century seer foretells the per-
secution of Antiochus Epiphanes who will set up the 'abomination of
desolation' in the Temple and divide the Jewish people into those who
submit to flattery and abandon the Law and the remnant who stand
firm. The text continues:
Those of the people who are learned will instruct many; for some days,
however, they will be brought down by sword and flame, by captivity and
plundering ... Of the learned some will be brought down, as a result of
which some of them will be purged, purified and made white-until the
time ofthe end, for the appointed time is still to come (11.33-35).
Later, in chapter 12.2-4, we hear of a resurrection from the dead (the
earliest Biblical appearance of this e l i e ~ in which some awake to
shame, but 'the learned will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven.'
Daniel obviously expects some of his learned audience to suffer mar-
tyrdom, but he does not encourage human resistance to Antiochus-
Antichrist, noting in 8.25 that 'by no human hand he shall be broken,'
something which goes contrary to the insurrection against Antiochus
initiated by the Maccabees. The persecutor's destruction is soon to
come, but by divine, not human, action: 'He [the evil one] will pitch
the tents of his royal headquarters between the sea and the mountains
of the Holy Splendor. Yet he will come to his end-there will be no help
for him' (11.45).
Daniel knows that the just will suffer death in the time of persecu-
tion, but be rewarded for their sufferings. A later Jewish apocalypse
known as the Assumption, or better, Testament qf Moses, probably dating to
the early years of the first century CE, envisages a different scenario,
one in which martyrdom is actively welcomed in order to hasten the
final battle and deliverance of the just.
Cast as a death-bed speech
6 On the Assumption of Moses, see the translation and discussion by J. Priest in The
by Moses, this text foretells the history of the Jews down to the time
when a Levite named Taxo and his seven sons submit to martyrdom.
In chapter nine the mysterious Taxo (the name is still open to interpre-
tation) and his offspring retire into a cave. 'There let us die,' continues
the account, 'rather than transgress the commandments of the Lord of
Lords,. the God of our fathers. For if we do this, and do die, our blood
will be avenged before the Lord' (9.7). Immediately after, in chapter
ten, we find a powerful description of the apocalyptic triumph of God
over the devil and the exaltation of Israel in the last days. Though some
have questioned whether the martyrdom and the eschatological victory
are necessarily connected, this seems the most likely explanation.
A third attitude toward apocalyptic violence can be found among
the sectaries who established their own form of Judaism in the area of
Qumran near the Dead Sea in the second century BeE. The mem-
bers of the Qumran community did not compose apocalypses, but they
read them with avidity and there is little question that their outlook was
deeply apocalyptic.
With regard to their dualistic and deterministic
view of history, their division of history into epochs, and their expec-
tation of an imminent and final intervention of God to destroy evil
once and for all, the texts produced at Qumran express an apocalyp-
tic worldview. What is new in the literature of the Qumran community,
especially in the second-century 'War Scroll,' to quote the words of Flo-
rentino Garcia Martinez, is the development of 'the apocalyptic idea of
an eschatological war in which the heavenly forces help Israel to defeat
the nations in a final war in which all evil will be destroyed.'9 So, while
the Qumran community did not summon believers to immediate mili-
tary action, they did believe that the community must be ready to take
up arms when the divine call would come.
The militancy of Qum-
Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, James H. Charlesworth,
ed. (Garden City: Doubleday, 1983), 919-934, as well as the comments ofJohnJ. Collins
in Michael E. Stone, ed., Jewish Writings qf the Second Temple Period (Philadelphia: Fortress,
1984), 344-349
7 See, e. g., J. Licht, 'Taxo, or the Apocalyptic Doctrine of Vengeance,' Journal qf
Jewish Studies 12 (1961):95-103.
8 For an introduction to Qumranic apocalypticism, see Florentino Garcia Martinez,
'Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls,' in Collins, vol. 1, 162-192.
9 'Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls,' 191.
10 The preparation for the final conflict is most evident in the text known as the
'War Scroll.' For a translation of this text and related fragments, see Florentino Garcia
Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qymran Texts in English (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1996, 2
ed.), 95-125. For further discussion, see Stone, 426-427; 515-517-
ranie apocalypticism is different from that of the Assumption if Moses-
believers should be ready to fight.
Were there Jewish apocalypticists of the Second Temple Period who
actually did take up arms on the basis of their beliefs about the end?
None of the more than twenty surviving Jewish texts that can be called
apocalypses supports this view, but the apocalyptic mentality cannot be
limited to these texts alone. If the Maccabean revolt was not apocalyp-
tically motivated, what about the insurrection of the Zealots of the first
century CE and the revolt of Bar Kochba in the second century? Mar-
tin Hengel among others has argued for an eschatological motivation
for the Jewish War instigated by the Zealots that led to the destruc-
tion of Jerusalem in the year 70, but the evidence is fragmentary.ll The
argument seems stronger for the Bar Kokhba revolt that lasted from
132 to 135 CEo Bar Kokhba and his followers were fighters not writ-
ers; the letters discovered by Yigael Yadin and others, valuable as they
are, are brief military and business documents.
Nevertheless, the coins
minted during the brief kingdom established by Bar Kochba and his
group show that they conceived of their initially successful resistance
against Roman rule as the onset of the messianic age, as is evident from
inscriptions that read 'Year One [or Year Two] of the Freedom [or
Redemption] of Israel [or Jerusalem].' Also indicative is the witness of
the rabbis, most of them bitter opponents, who accused Bar Kokhba
of being a false messiah. A passage from the tractate Ta'aniyot, for
example, criticizes Rabbi Akiva for having hailed Kochba (Koziba) as
Bar Kokhba's revolt, therefore, appears to be an early exam-
ple of Norman Cohn's 'revolutionary millenarianism.' In any case, his
militant messianism shows that early Jewish apocalypticism allowed for
a wide variety of reactions to persecution and repression, from com-
plete passivity to the translation of cosmic violence into present military
II Martin Hengel, Die :?,eloten (Leiden: Brill, 1961), 265-277; 289-292.
12 Yigael Yadin, Bar-Kokhba. The Rediscovery if the Legendary Hero if the Second Jewish
Revolt against Rome (New York: Random House, 1971). This work describes the discovery
of the letters and includes translations.
13 PT Ta'aniyot 4:68d: 'R. Shimon b. Yohai taught: My master Akiva would ex-
pound: "A star has risen from Jacob" (Num. 24.17): Koziba has risen from Jacob.
When R. Akiva would see bar-Koziba he would say: "This is the King the Messiah."
R. Yohanen b. Torta said to him: "Akiva, grass will grow out of your cheeks and the
Son of David will still not come.'" For Rabbinic texts on Bar-Kokhba, see Yadin, Bar-
Kokhba, 23-26.
The attitudes of Christian and Islamic apocalypticists to the use of
violence were also varied, though this essay allows only for a discus-
sion of Christian evidence. It is worth noting, however, that a number
of scholars of Islam, such as Paul Casanova and Said Arjomand, have
argued that early Islam was far more apocalyptic, and often violendy
apocalyptic, than standard Western views have allowed.
The apoca-
lyptic fervor behind current Islamic rejection of the Western world is
not a recent phenomenon.
The development of apocalypticism over almost two millennia of
Christian history is complex and controversial, but a tentative inter-
pretive framework may help understand some of the variations in the
way in which apocalyptic beliefs, at least in antiquity and the Middle
Ages, have viewed armed violence. Although apocalypticism in Judaism
and Christianity began with persecuted minorities, it is important to
remember that in the case of Christianity the scattered and persecuted
early Christian communities eventually triumphed to become the dom-
inant majority in the Roman empire. It is no accident that the first
four centuries of the history of Christian apocalyptic beliefs display atti-
tudes towards violence similar to the first two Jewish types sketched
above-that is, passive acceptance of suffering, and even willingness to
undergo martyrdom, in the light of the coming divine reward. Mter the
conversion of the Roman Empire, however, accessibility of apocalyptic
rhetoric to powerful political and ecclesiastical elites produced a situa-
tion in which apocalypticism could be employed in an active way, that
is, to encourage military action against threats to the imperium romanum
et christianum.
The extent to which Jesus of Nazareth can be seen as an apoca-
lyptic prophet has been a subject for debate for over two centuries. A
generation ago the regnant New Testament scholarship was strongly
opposed to an apocalyptic view of Jesus. Recent trends in New Testa-
ment research that have reconnected Jesus to the Jewish world of his
time have allowed for a more apocalyptic reading of his message.
any case, most recent historians of the early Church agree that Chris-
tianity, the religion begun by those groups of Jews who confessed the
14 See Said Arjomand, 'Islamic Apocalypticism in the Classic Period,' The Encyclo-
pedia if Apocalypticism. Vol. 2. Bernard McGinn, ed., Apocalypticism in Western History and
Culture (New York: Continuum, 1998), 238-283, and the literature cited there.
15 On the apocalyptic Jesus, see, e. g., Dale C. Allison, Jesus if Nazareth: Millenarian
Prophet (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998); and Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet
if the New Millennium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
risen Jesus as Lord and Messiah, originated as an apocalyptic sect
within Judaism. Nevertheless, the earliest forms of Christianity, as rep-
resented by texts that span the half-century between c. 50 and 100 CE,
already display a variety of forms of apocalypticism, as well the begin-
nings of reactions against belief in the imminent return of Christ to
establish a messianic realm on earth.
The more closely studied it is,
the more complex early Christianity appears.
The best-known early Christian apocalypse, the late first-century
Jewish-Christian Revelation, or Apocalypse, of John, shares the view of
the Testament of Moses concerning the value of welcoming martyrdom
as the best way to hasten God's final intervention. The author of Rev-
elation was strongly opposed to Rome; his book is filled with calls for
vengeance on the great persecutor. Particularly savage is the account in
chapter nineteen of the battle between Christ, the Rider called 'Faith-
ful and True,' and his heavenly armies, all seated on white horses, and
the Seven-Headed Beast, the kings of the earth, and their forces. In
this battle, however, as well as in the final struggle in which Satan is
released from prison to summon Gog and Magog to attack 'the camp
of the holy ones and the beloved city' (Rv. 20)-10), there is no talk of
the human warriors fighting with the heavenly forces.
Modern interpreters of Revelation have debated whether revenge
upon one's enemies or the triumph of divine justice over evil is the
dominant motif of the book.
Since both themes intermingle through-
out the text, the answer is very much in the eye of the beholder. What
is clear is that the slaughter (real or imagined) of innocent Christians by
the satanic power of Rome is seen as helping hasten the end because a
fixed number of martyrs must die before God intervenes. In Revelation
6.g-II, for example, at the opening of the fifth seal, the seer beholds
under the altar 'the souls of those who had been slaughtered because
of the witness they bore to the word of God.' They cry out: 'How long
will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgement and avenge
16 For an introduction, see 'Part 3. Apocalypticism in Early Christianity,' in Collins,
vol. 1.
17 A good example of the dismissal of Revelation as the vengeance-filled production
of a second-rate mind can be found in the noted posthumous work of D.H. Lawrence,
Apocalypse (New York: VIking Press, 1932). Among modern interpretations that have
sought to vindicate the ongoing theological significance of the work, see, e.g., Jacques
Ellul, Apocalypse: The Book qf Revelation (New York: Seabury Press, 1977); and Elisabeth
Schussler Fiorenza, The Book qf Revelation. Justice and Judgement (Philadelphia: Fortress
Press, 1985).
our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?' They are told to be patient
for a little while longer until their number is complete. 18
There is evidence for strong anti-Romanism in other currents of
early Christian apocalypticism, such as the Christian Sibyllines and
the poet Commodian, who probably wrote in the mid-third century.19
There are also accounts indicating that apocalyptic beliefs helped trig-
ger social disruptions, such as those associated with the wandering
prophets of the Montanist movement (c. 170), or at the time of the
persecutions under the emperor Severus (c. 200-203).20 However, there
is no evidence that ardent Christian apocalypticists ever took up arms
against imperial Rome, even in times of persecution. A growing major-
ity of Christians sought accommodation with the empire, following the
advice suggested by the Apostle Paul in Romans 13.1-7.
Among the most important patristic apocalyptic authors was the
Roman rhetorician, Lactantius, the seventh book of whose Divine Insti-
tutes (c. 313) contains a fully realized account of the last events.
tius believed that before the end Rome would perish in a welter of war
and cosmic disturbances (7.15-16). Two Antichrists will arise to perse-
cute the faithful-the first a Nero redivivus; the second 'a king, born of an
evil spirit, who will arise from Syria' (7.17). In the midst of the latter's
persecutions the just will flee into the desert. The wicked king and his
army will pursue them and lay siege to the holy mountain where they
have taken refuge. Again, it is telling that the just do not fight against
him, but rather 'call out to God with a great voice and beg divine aid.'
Lactantius continues: 'God will hear them and from heaven will send
the Great King who will rescue them and free them. He will destroy all
18 See A. Collins, 'The Political Perspective of John,' 245-256, arguing on the basis
of such texts as Rev. 6.9-1I, 16.5-7, 19.1-8, and 20.4-6.
19 On the Sibylline literature, both Jewish and Christian, see JJ. Collins, 'Sibylline
Oracles (Second Century B.C.-Seventh Century A.D.). A New Translation and Intro-
duction,' in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 317-472. For the poet Commodian, see Brian
E. Daley, The Hope qf the Ear!J Church: A Handbook qf Patristic Eschatology (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1991), 162-164, who, however, accepts a fifth-century dat-
ing for the poet.
20 See Gustave Bardy, ed., Eusebius, Histoire ecclisiastique (Paris: Editions du Cerf,
1952): VI.VII; Ernest Evans, ed., Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1972): III.XXN; and Hippolytus, Commentaire sur Daniel (Paris: Editions du Cerf,
1947) rv.XVIII-XIX. For an account of this disturbance, Robert M. Grant, From
Augustus to Constantine (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 138-140.
21 For a translation and commentary on Book 7 of the Institutiones Divinae, see
Bernard McGinn, Apoca!Jptic Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), 17-80.
the wicked with fire and sword' (7.17).22 Lactantius was a firm believer
in a literal thousand-year reign of Christ and the resurrected saints on
earth (7.24), though most Christians had spiritualized this apocalyptic
promise by his time. Into his account of the millennial kingdom he slips
a note of future revenge taken by the just on their human foes: 'The
nations are not to be totally destroyed, but some will be left for God's
victory so that the just can triumph over them and subject them to
eternal servitude' (7.24).
Lactantius was the tutor of the sons of Constantine. With the new
emperor's conversion to Christianity a decisive change in Christian
apocalyptic traditions became possible. The Jewish apocalypse known
as Fourth Ezra of about 100 CE had already identified the fourth and
last empire symbolized in the statue vision of Daniel 2 with Rome.
This identification became standard in the early church. The church
father Tertullian, furthermore, had identified Rome as the mysterious
'restraining force' holding back the Antichrist mentioned in 2 Thessalo-
nians 2.6.
In the light of Constantine's conversion, Lactantius's con-
temporary, the imperial advisor Bishop Eusebius, went a step further in
identifYing the increasingly Christian empire with the millennial king-
dom promised in Old Testament texts.
In short, apocalyptic rhetoric
and symbolism were now being put into service to support rather than
subvert the political and ecclesiastical power of Rome.
The adoption of apocalyptic language in the service of political
power rather than in opposition to it need not imply violence as long
as that power remains supreme and unchallenged. But a new situation
emerged when the Christian Roman Empire entered into its time of
troubles from the late fourth through the seventh centuries. If Rome
22 A second and longer description, found in 7.19 mentions a series of four battles,
but once again Antichrist and the forces of human evil fight against Christ and an
army of angels, not human combatants. After the millennial kingdom, similar to John's
Revelation, there is a final attack of the Prince of Demons and his human allies against
the holy city recounted in 7-26, but again the just are passive-'For three days God's
people will hide in the caverns of the earth until his wrath against the nations and the
LastJudgement will end.'
23 4Ezra 12:10-12, as found in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 550.
24 T.R. Glover, Gerald Henry Rendall, and Walter Charles Alan Kerr, eds., Tertul-
lian, Apology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977) XXXII; Earnest Evans, ed.,
De resurrectione carnis liber (London: S.P'C.K, 1960), 24. For a survey, see R.A. Markus,
'The Roman Empire in Early Christian Historiography,' The Downside Review 81
25 For a survey of these texts, see Glenn F. Chestnut, The First Christian Historians
(Paris: Beauchesne, 1977), 102, 160-161.
was now viewed as being on God's side, attacks on her could be viewed
as attacks against God. It is even possible to take a further step and
view such assaults as part of an apocalyptic scenario, that is, as having
an intimate connection with the impending final battle between good
and evil. In such a situation it could be argued that passive resistance
and willingness to undergo martyrdom were not enough. Violence must
be met by violence.
Making this possibility a reality required two important develop-
ments. The first was the emergence of an adversary of sufficient apoc-
alyptic weight to epitomize, if not the ultimate earthly adversary (i.
e., the Antichrist), at least his shock troops, or immediate predeces-
sors. The second was the move from abstract theory to new symboliza-
tion, since the apocalyptic mentality, as argued above, ultimately works
through its powerful symbolic force.
Although the barbarian invaders of Rome, such as the mid-fifth-
century Vandals, were occasionally painted in apocalyptic terms,26 bar-
barians came and went with depressing regularity and rapidity, if all
too-real destruction. The rise of Islam in the seventh century was a
different matter. Initially seen as just another barbarian attack on the
sacred empire (not a new religion), it was the persistence of Islam and
the way in which it rapidly became a dangerous political rival to Rome
that first alerted Christian propagandists that Islam could be inter-
preted in apocalyptic terms. The most important early witness for this
is found in the late seventh-century Revelations qf Methodius, an apoca-
lypse first written in Syriac, but soon translated into Greek and Latin.
This popular text saw the 'sons of Ishmael' who had come forth 'from
the desert of Ethribus' as the immediate predecessors of the Antichrist
and the coming end.
In less than a century Islam and its prophet
passed into the symbolic world of apocalyptic opposition-and have
remained there ever since. While Muhammad was sometimes spoken
26 See, for example, the passage from Augustine's student, Bishop Quodvultdeus,
translated in Bernard McGinn, Visions I!f the End. Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2nd ed., 1998), 53.
27 The Syriac original has been edited by GJ. Reinink, Die syrische Apokalypse des
Pseudo-Methodius, CSCO 540 (Leuven: Peeters, 1993). The Greek and Latin versions can
be found in WJ. Aerts and G.A.A. Kortekaas, Die Apokalypse des Pseudo-Methodius. Die
iiltesten griechischen und lateinischen Ubersetzungen, CSCO 569-570 (Leuven: Peeters, 1993).
There is a translation of the Syriac text of one manuscript version by Paul]. Alexander
in The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition (Berkeley: University of California, 1985), 36-5I. For
a translation of sections from the Latin version, see McGinn, Visions I!f the End, 70-76.
of as 'an antichirst,' it was the entity of Islam itself that most puzzled
and threatened the Christian view of history.
The other new development was legendary: the creation of the most
important post-Biblical apocalyptic figure, the Last World Emperor.
Potent emperors and rulers, of course, were long a part of the apoc-
alyptic imagination, though they usually had appeared on the neg-
ative side. The Last Emperor was something new: a symbolic real-
ization of the new positive role for Rome in the end time through
the creation of the image of a coming quasi-Messiah, or stand-in for
the Returning Christ. The Last Emperor Legend is probably another
result of the Islamic attack. A text known as the Tiburtine Sibyl in its
surviving Latin version (eleventh century) speaks of a Last Roman
Emperor fittingly called Constans who will 'devastate all the islands
and the cities of the pagans and will destroy all idolatrous temples;
and he will call all pagans to Christ .... Whoever does not adore
the Cross of Christ will perish by the sword.'29 Mter a reign of 112
years, Constans will voluntarily surrender his throne to God, thus clos-
ing out the last empire and allowing for the rise of Antichrist. The
Greek original of this text, probably produced in the late fourth cen-
tury, is lost; but since a Greek version of the sixth century (i. e., prior
to Islam) does not contain the Last Emperor prophecy, it seems likely
that the later Latin version was influenced by the earliest text in which
an identifiable Last Emperor does appear. This is the Revelations if
Methodius written about 690 by a pro-Byzantine author who encour-
aged the counter-attack of the Christian empire against the Muslim
Methodius's view of history is crudely providential. The sins of the
Christians moved God to allow the irruption of the sons of Ishmael
to do bloody judgement on the wicked, but after a sufficient cleansing
God will relent. 'Then suddenly,' says Methodius, 'there will be awak-
ened perdition and calamity as those of a woman in travail, and a king
of the Greeks will go forth against them [i. e., the Ishmaelites] in great
28 The figure of the Last Emperor does not appear in the Bible, but its creators
utilized a series of Biblical passages to serve as prophetic proof-texts: 2Th. 2.7 (the
'Restrainer'); I Cr. 15.24; Mt. 24.37; Ps. 68.31; and Ps. 78.65. For an introduction to the
legend, see Paul J. Alexander, 'Byzantium and the Migration of Literary Motifs: The
Legend of the Last Roman Emperor,' Mediaevalia et Humanistica n.s. 2
29 The standard edition of the Tiburtine Sibyl remains that of Ernst Sackur, Sibylli-
nische Texte und Forschungen (Halle: Niemeyer, 18g8), For this translation, see
McGinn, Vzsions if the End, 49.
wrath, and he will be roused against them like a man who shakes off
his wine [ps. 77-65], and who plots against them as if they were dead
men. '30 The king and his sons will make war against the Ishmaelites,
completely defeat them, and inflict on them a yoke a hundred times
harder than what they had inflicted on the Christians. During the Last
Emperor's reign, the invasion of Gog and Magog will be defeated by an
angelic host, before the Emperor retreats to Jerusalem and lays down
his crown to signal the end of the Roman empire and Antichrist's com-
The author of the Revelations if Methodius, like many early apocalyptic
scribes, was the spokesman for a persecuted group; but, unlike them,
he looked for help from a powerful earthly redeemer. In his presentation
of the dawning apocalyptic era brought on by the incursion of Islam
he gives a positive role to the militant earthly power of Byzantium not
as an abstraction, but concretely set forth in the figure of a conquer-
ing ruler who will set everything right before the final struggle against
Antichrist, a conflict that can be won only by God. In the midst of the
struggle between Christianity and Islam, the author does not recom-
mend passive acceptance of persecution, or even voluntary martyrdom
for the sake of bringing on the end, but rather encourages active adher-
ence to the cause of Byzantine Rome and the coming last and greatest
Roman conquerer. Christian apocalyptic had, for the first time, issued
a call for taking up arms against current foes.
The immediate success of the Pseudo-Methodius text testifies to how
well it expressed an important shift in the relation between apocalyp-
ticism and violence in the history of Christianity. Believers were now
summoned to defend the Christian empire in its hour of need, and
to do so on apocalyptic grounds, that is, so that the divinely ordained
last ruler might realize a quasi-millennium on earth before the end.
While the initial perspective of Methodius was one of reaction to the
onslaught of Islam, such forms of apocalyptic militancy (oddly fore-
shadowing what we see around us today) could easily slide into pre-
ventive violence. If we think that the forces of evil, ultimate or penul-
timate, are ready to attack, we may decide it is better to attack them
30 Translation of Alexander, The Byzantine Apoca!Jptic Tradition, 4 8 ~ 4 9 On this text
and the history of the Pseudo-Methodius, see also Bernard McGinn, Antichrist: Two
Thousand Years qjthe Human Fascination with Evil, 2
ed. (New York: Columbia University
Press, 2000),87--92.
The Crusades have often been viewed as an example of such pre-
ventive apocalyptic violence.
Such an interpretation is attractive and
has some documentary backing, notably in the account given by Guib-
ert of Nogent of Pope Urban II's speech at Clermont in 1095,32 but
the picture is more complicated. There are maximalist and minimalist
views of how much apocalyptic fervor had to do with the origins of the
Crusade. (I prefer the camp, for reasons that cannot delay
us at present.) One cannot exclude all apocalyptic motivation from the
armed masses that marched on Jerusalem at the end of the eleventh
century to overthrow Muslim rule, but a full survey of the evidence
makes it difficult to think that either the papal curia, or the knights who
made up the core of the fighting force, were primarily apocalyptically
orientated. It is more difficult to be sure about the large number of non-
combatants. One thing that does seem clear, though, is that the surpris-
ing success of the Crusaders in capturing Jerusalem in 1099, and its
subsequent loss to Muslim forces in lIS7, focused attention on the role
of the apocalyptic city par excellence in the late Middle Ages and beyond.
Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that as the Last Emperor Leg-
end developed and proliferated over the centuries between 1100 and
1700, one aspect became more and more central-the Last Emperor's
initial task would be to defeat Islam and recapture Jerusalem in order
in inaugurate his program of church reform and messianic peace on
We need not think that all the medieval kings and emperors who
were willing to have their propagandists suggest that they )ust might
be' the Last Emperor were governed primarily by an apocalyptic men-
tality. Rulers like Henry IV Germany, the Emperor Frederick II, the
French Philip Augustus, and later the Hapsburg Charles V, were gen-
erally political pragmatists who acted out of reasons of state. My point
is that within the arsenal of weapons that they and their advisors could
use to support their political and military agendas the legend of the
Last Emperor played a role, especially at times when inter-religious
conflict loomed. A few figures, like the half-mad young French king
Charles VIII, whose ill-fated campaign into Italy in 1494-1496 was
deeply colored by his conviction of his apocalyptic destiny, may have
31 See Paul Alphandery and Alphonse Duprant, La Chretiente et ['idee de la croisade, 2
vols. (Paris: Albin Michel, 1954-1959).
32 Guibert of No gent, Gesta Dei per Francos, ed. R.B.C. Huygens, CCCM 4 (Turnhout:
Brepols, 1996). For a translation, McGinn, Visions rifthe End, 91--g2.
made these predictions more central to their plans.
While it is often
difficult to know how powerful pro-imperial apocalypticism actually
was, there is no question that this form of belief about the end not only
encouraged hope for final divine intervention, but also emphasized the
conviction that military action could be seen as a part of God's apoc-
alyptic plan. Such beliefs lasted a long time. It is said that broadsheet
German versions of the Methodian Revelations were distributed to the
troops defending Vienna during the last Turkish siege of the city in
Not all medieval seers adopted the bellicose attitude implied in
Christian apocalyptic imperialism. The most important medieval apoc-
alyptic author, Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202), like his early Christian coun-
terparts, had no positive role for the Christian empire and ignored the
figure of the Last Emperor totally. The Calabrian abbot did regard
present persecution as a marker for the imminence of the end of the
second status, or age of history. Violence was being inflicted on the
Church and believers from inside Christendom by simoniacs, heretics,
and evil emperors, as well as from outside by Islam. But Joachim's
advice was to bear suffering patiently, knowing that God would soon
intervene to reward the faithful in the coming Third Age of the Holy
Spirit. 35 Joachim was a medieval representative of the first model of the
attitudes toward violence found in the earliest strands of apocalypti-
Joachim historicized Biblical images of the last events, especially
those from Revelation, to explain past, present, and future events. For
example, the seven heads of the dragon of Revelation 12 were iden-
tified as the seven persecutors of the second age-Herod, Nero, Con-
stantius, Muhammad, the Emperor Henry II (or sometimes 'Mese-
moth,' apparently a North Mrican Muslim ruler), Saladin, and the
33 Charles VIII and his advisors made use of a Francophile version of the Last
Emperor found in the 'Second Charlemagne Prophecy' first created about 1380 for
Charles VI. There is a translation in Visions qf the End, 250. See also Maurice Chaume,
'Une prophetie relative a Charles VI,' Revue du mqyen age latin 3 (1947):27-42.
34 Michael Krnosko, 'Das Ratsel des Pseudomethodius,' Byzantion 6 (1931):273-274.
35 Joachim's attitude toward the German empire as a necessary evil has been inves-
tigated by Alexander Patschovsky, 'The Holy Emperor Henry "the First" as One of the
Dragon's Heads of Apocalypse: On the Image of the Roman Empire under German
Rule in the Tradition of Joachim of Fiore,' Viator 29 (1998):291-322. For the abbot's view
of Islam, see E. Randolph Daniel, 'Apocalyptic Conversion: The Joachite Alternative
to the Crusades,' Traditio 25 (1969):127-154.
coming Antichrist.
In the thirteenth century such historicizing of Bib-
lical apocalyptic images was sometimes utilized during times of con-
flict to demonize one's opponents and cast the seriousness of a political
struggle in ultimate terms. The best example of this apocalyptic appeal
to violence is found in the bitter conflict between Frederick II and the
papacy between 1236 and his death in 1250. During this struggle both
sides employed apocalyptic images and language to vilifY the other. 37
Frederick had been hailed as a messianic ruler by a propagandist as
early as 1229, but his papal opponents, Gregory IX and Innocent Iv,
issued letters attacking him as Antichrist in language taken from Rev-
elation. Frederick and his supporters responded in kind. In a letter of
1241, the emperor wrote:
He who is pope in name alone has said that we are the beast rising
from the sea full of the names of blasphemy and spotted like a leop-
ard (Rv. 13.1-2). We maintain that he is the monster of whom we read:
~ o t h r beast rose from the sea, a red one, and he who sat there-
upon took away peace from the earth so that the living slaughtered one
another' (Rv. 64)38
No one would claim that apocalyptic expectations were at the origin
of the quarrel between Frederick and the papacy, but not a little of the
savagery of this encounter between sacerdotium and imperium came from
the apocalyptic tenor in which the struggle was often framed.
Prior to the end of thirteenth century there are, to my knowledge,
no examples of revolutionary uses of apocalypticism, that is, violent
actions against the established powers of church and state initiated by
persecuted groups motivated by belief in the onset of the last events. 39
But from 1300 to at least 1650 Western Europe saw a succession of
apocalyptic movements from below that were often willing to engage
36 Joachim often discussed the seven heads of the dragon and their historical mani-
festations, most notably in the fourteenth figure of the Liber figurarum. For a translation
of this text, see McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality, 135-141.
37 On the war of apocalyptic rhetoric that accompanied the struggle between the
popes and their allies against Frederick, see McGinn, Vzsions qf the End, 168-179;
and Robert E. Lerner, 'Frederick II, Alive, Aloft, and Allayed in Franciscan:Joachite
Eschatology,' The Use and Abuse qf Eschatology in the Middle Ages, Werner Verbeke, Daniel
Verhelst, and Andries Welkenhuysen, eds. (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1988),
38 For this text, see Vzsions qfthe End, 174-175.
39 For a recent survey of the medieval radical apocalyptic movements in the last
centuries of the Middle Ages, see Gian-Luca Potesta, 'Radical Apocalyptic Movements
in the Late Middle Ages,' McGinn, The Encyclopedia qf Apocalypticism, vol. 2, 110-142.
in violence against dominant elites. In the words of Gian-Luca Potesta:
'The new apocalyptic movements of the late Middle Ages acquired a
much stronger social and political connotation. Their discourse tended
to move from a criticism against the worldly church and hope for its
reformation toward a longing for deep changes in society in all its
political aspects. '40
The possible influence of these movements on modern revolutionary
uprisings in Europe is still undecided. In purely political terms these
medieval revolts were all failures-no millennium ever ensued. Still, the
willingness of some groups to engage in violence to achieve their goal,
that is, the subversion of the present order of society in the light of
a better apocalyptic future, has made the movements popular with
historians of European radicalism.
Medieval revolutionary apocalypticism begins with the Italian
prophet Fra Dolcino, who about 1300 preached a coming perfect fourth
age of the church to his followers, the apostolici, or 'Apostolic Brethren.'41
Persecution of the Brethren by northern Italian clergy and rulers even-
tually forced his core following of perhaps a thousand disaffected peas-
ants into the high valleys of the Piedmont where they awaited the com-
ing Last Emperor and a Holy Pope who would slaughter and destroy
their enemies. Pressed by military forces summoned by local authori-
ties, the Brethren took up arms, probably convinced that the final strug-
gle was beginning and the expected imperial deliverer would soon res-
cue them. Mter a few victories in skirmishes, they were cut down in bat-
tle. Dolcino was captured and public ally tortured to death in 1307. The
survival of his letters provides us with information about the group's
apocalyptic scenario based on imminent divine intervention to chas-
tise the corrupt church and her adherents. The evidence suggests that
while Dolcino rejoiced in the expected bloodbath, it was the attack of
his opponents that forced him and his followers into a militant stance.
Later, larger, and more violent apocalyptic movements are found in
the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. The Taborites, the
apocalyptic wing of the Hussites of the second and third decades of
the fifteenth-century in Bohemia, are the best known medieval exam-
40 Potesta, 'Radical Apocalyptic Movements,' III.
41 Some of the documents of the Apostolic Brethren are available in Visions qf
the End, 226-229. Recent literature on the Apostolici includes Raniero Orioli, Venit
perfida hieresiarcha: Il movimento apostolico-dolciniano dal 1260 al 1307 (Rome: Istituto Storico
Italiano per il Medio Evo, 1988).
It was among the Taborites that we find for the first time the
creation of an apocalyptic theology of vengeance to justifY the use of
armed aggression to bring about the realization of the millennial king-
One of their Hussite opponents,john ofPribram, described the
violence of the Taborite priests as follows:
Then the seducers, wanting to bring the people to that freedom [i.e., the
millennial kingdom of Rev. 20] and somehow to substantiate their lies,
began to preach enormous cruelty, unheard-of violence, and injustice to
humanity They said that now was the time of vengeance, the time of the
destruction of sinners and the time of God's wrath ... 44
The violence associated with the more extreme forms of the Radical
Reformation (c. I520-I550) also had apocalyptic roots, at least in part.
Two tragic examples of this appeal to revolutionary violence have been
much studied. The Peasants War of I524-I525 does not appear to have
been apocalyptically inspired at the start, but the reformed preacher,
Thomas Muntzer, who became its spokesman, propagated the farm-
ers' radical social and religious program under an apocalyptic banner.
Muntzer summoned the peasants to violence against the princes in the
name of the approaching apocalypse in almost hysterical terms:
At them, at them, while the fire is hot! Do not let your sword get cold, do
not let your arms go lame! Strike-cling, clang!-on the anvils of Nimrod.
Throw their towers to the ground! As long as the godless live, it is not
possible for you to be emptied of human fear .... God leads you-follow,
follow! The story is already written: Matthew 24, Ezekiel 34, Daniel 7,
Revelation 6-scriptural passages that are all interpreted by Romans I3.
The second, and even more tragic, revolutionary use of apocalypticism
in the sixteenth century involved the reformed takeover of the city of
42 The literature on the Hussites is large. For a sense of the recent scholarship, see
the papers in Alexander Patschovsky and Frantisek Smahel, eds., Eschatologie und Hus-
sitismus: Internationales Kolloquium Prag I.-4. September I993 (Prague: Historisches Institut,
43 Potesta, 'Radical Apocalyptic Movements,' 128.
44 For this text, see Vzsions qf the End, 265-266.
45 There is a survey in Walter Klassen, Living at the End qf the Ages: Apocalyptic
Expectation in the Radical RifOrmation (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1992).
46 Thomas Miintzer, Letter 75. To the League at Allstedt. Miihlhausen, 26 or 27
April 1525, as translated by Michael G. Baylor, Revelation and Revolution: Basic Writings
qfThomas Miintzer (Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press, 1993), 190--191. Miintzer inter-
preted Romans 13 to mean that tyrannous political power could be overthrown. For an
overview of Miintzer's thought, see Hans:Jiirgen Goertz, trans. Jocelyn Jaquiery, Peter
Matheson, ed., Thomas Miintzer. Apocalyptic Mystic and Revolutionary (Edinburgh: T&T
Clark, 1993).
Munster in Westphalia between 1532 and 1535. Most such annexa-
tions to the cause of Reformation were victories for Luther's theolog-
ically challenging but politically conservative views. In Munster a set
of special circumstances led to the dominance of radical apocalyptic
thinkers, who, like Muntzer, went far beyond what Luther could toler-
ate. Inspired by the apocalyptic theology of the Anabaptist Melchior
Hoffinan,47 the reformers of Munster moved in increasingly radical
directions under the leadership of Jan Matthijs, a Dutch baker and
visionary, and later Jan van Leiden. Matthijs declared Munster the
New Jerusalem and established an apocalyptic totalitarian theocracy,
exiling all who would not follow him and predicting that the end of
the world would come on Easter, April 5, 1534. Sallying forth on that
day to defeat the forces of evil besieging the city, Matthijs was killed.
Jan van Leiden took over the doomed city and pushed Matthijs's pro-
gram of terror and reversal of societal norms even further, beyond com-
munity of ownership into community of wives. In September Jan had
himself crowned messianic king of the world. His spokesman, Bernard
Rothmann, in a pamphlet entitled Announcement if Vengeance, proclaimed:
'The glory of all the Saints is to wreak vengeance .... Rev'tnge without
mercy must be taken of all who are not marked with the sign [of the
Anabaptists] .'48 Munster held out for many months under the increas-
ingly irrational, perhaps insane, Jan van Leiden. When the city was
taken in August of 1535, he, like Dolcino, was publically tortured to
The later history of radical apocalypticism in the seventeenth cen-
tury, especially in England during the Civil War, cannot be pursued
The apocalyptic elements in the beliefs of shifting groups among
the Radical Puritans-Ranters, Diggers, Fifth Monarchy Men, and the
like-provide further proof about how hopes and fears of the last days
functioned to encourage violence in late medieval and early modern
47 On Hoffinan and his relation to the radicals of Munster, see Klaus Deppermann,
trans. Malcolm Wren, Benjamin Drewery, eds., Melchior Hqifman. Social Unrest and Apoca-
lyptic Visions in the Age if the RifOrmation (Edinburgh: T &T Clark, 1987).
48 As cited in Cohn, The Pursuit if the Millennium, 274.
49 The large literature relating to radical forms of English apocalyptic movements
in the seventeenth century cannot be surveyed here. A classic general study is that of
Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution
(Viking Press: New York, 1972). For the most apocalyptic groups, see, e.g., B.S. Capp,
The Fifth Monarchy Men: A Study in Seventeenth-Century English Millenarianism (London: Faber
& Faber, 1972); and T. Wilson Hayes, Winstanlry the Digger: A Literary Analysis if Radical
Ideas in the English Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979)'
Europe. They do not, I believe, introduce new models of the relation
between apocalypticism and violence.
Radical forms of apocalypticism, however, became rare, at least in
Western Europe, after the mid-seventeenth century.50 Reasons for the
decline of apocalyptically inspired violence are not hard to find. The
orgy of wars of religion in seventeenth-century Europe, abetted, if not
fueled, by apocalyptic motifs, eventually proved self-defeating. No reli-
gious confession managed to win out; all were tainted by their call to
destruction of the other in God's name, whether apocalyptic or not.
Cynical rulers, ecclesiastical and political, realized that transcenden-
tal appeals to justifY violence were having less and less effect, save
with fringe groups that had no loyalty to any human institution. The
Enlightenment, with its critique of literal Biblical views and traditional
religion, helped reduce what was once a powerful rhetoric of opposi-
tion to a worn-out coin of opprobrium that could be applied to almost
any group whatsoever. Apocalyptic eschatology did not die out, but its
social power was reduced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
If the reasons for the decline of appeals to apocalyptic violence are
relatively clear, the roots of the emergence of such movements between
roughly I300 and I650 are more difficult to determine. Granted that
each of the revolutionary movements of these centuries had its own
context and story, it does not appear to be wholly accidental that
violent apocalyptic sects flourished at this time, but were almost non-
existent previously. But precisely why is hard to determine. Marginal
groups had always existed in medieval society, but why was it that only
around I300 some of the di!affected began to turn to apocalyptic ideas
as justification for resistance and rebellion? While there appears to have
been a greater dissemination of apocalyptic beliefs in popular culture in
the late Middle Ages, this does not appear to be a sufficient explanation
in itself
Despite any generally agreed-upon explanation for the spurt in polit-
ically violent forms of apocalypticism between I300 and I650, the long-
range view sketched in this essay suggests that a variety of ways of
relating the transcendental violence of the apocalyptic imagination to
actual historical tensions has existed for over two millennia. Potential
for violence, both metaphorical and real, is inherent in apocalypticism,
50 I will not take up New World revolutionary forms of apocalypticism, on which see
Frank Graziano, The Millennial New UVrld (New York and Oxford: Oxford University
Press, I999).
but this potential has been played out in many ways over time. Apoca-
lyptic incentives and apologies for overt violence are on the rise today
in the Fundamentalisms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-sometimes
implicitly; more often quite openly. A survey of the history of apoca-
lypticism shows that there has always been a variety of ways in which
belief in an ongoing conflict between good and evil heading for a final
decision mayor may not be translated into willingness to engage in
actual violence. Recognition of this fact may be helpful in trying to
understand alternatives to the contemporary malign effects of the apoc-
alyptic imagination. If we cannot escape apocalypticism, we can at least
attempt to understand it better.
Dr. Thomas E. Burman is Lindsay Young Associate Professor and
Director of Graduate Studies in the department of history at the Uni-
versity of Tennessee. He is the author of Religious Polemic and the Intel-
lectual History if the Mozarabs, c. I050-1200 (Leiden: EJ. Brill, 1994), and
Reading the OJLr'iin in Latin Christendom, II40-1560 (forthcoming from the
University of Pennsylvania Press).
Dr. Andrew Colin Gow is Professor of History at the University of
Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta). He is the author of The Red Jews: Anti-
semitism in an Apocalyptic Age, 1200-1600. Leiden: Brill, 1995; co-author,
with Lara Apps, Male Witches in Early Modern Europe. Manchester: Man-
chester University Press, 2003. Dr. Gow's areas of interest are medieval
and early modern religion, Jewish-Christian relations (specifically as
regards apocalypticism), history of cartography, cultural history / cultur-
al studies, and the theory of narrative.
Dr. Sidney Griffith is Professor of Semitic Languages and Literatures at
the Catholic University of America. He is a leading authority on the
Syriac and Arabic writings of Christians living in the medieval Islamic
world. Among his enormous number of publications are Arabic Chris-
tianity in the Monasteries if Ninth-Century Palestine (Aldershot and Brook-
field, VT: Variorum, 1992), A Treatise on the Veneration if the Holy Icons,
Written in Arabic by Theodore AbU OJLrrah (c. 755-c. 830). Introduction, Trans-
lation, and Notes (Leuven: Peeters, 1997), and 'The Signs and Wonders of
Orthodoxy: Miracles and Monks' Lives in Sixth-Century Palestine,' in
Miracles inJewish and Christian Antiquity: Imagining Truth, ed.John C. Cava-
dini (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999).
Dr. Thomas J. Heffernan is the Kenneth Curry Professor at the Uni-
versity of Tennessee. He is the author of Sacred Biograp1ry: Saints and
their Biographers in the Middle Ages (Oxford University Press, 1988); The
Liturgy qf the Medieval Church (Medieval Institute, Kalamazoo, MI; The
Medieval Institute Press for TEAMS, 2001; second revised edition 2005;
co-edited with Ann Matter); Sermons and Homilies, (New Haven, 2005;
with Patrick Horner). Dr. Heffernan's areas of interests are church his-
tory, hagiography, historical linguistics and ancient and medieval biog-
raphy. He is currently completing a critical edition of the Passio Sanc-
tarum Perpetua et Felicitatis for the series Ancient Christian Writers.
Dr. Frans van Liere is Associate Professor of History at Calvin College.
He published a critical edition of Andrew of Saint Victor's commen-
tary on Samuel and Kings for the series Corpus Christianorum) continuatio
mediaeualis (a translation of which will appear in the TEAMS Commen-
tary series). He has written several articles on twelfth-century intellec-
tual history and fourteenth-century papal history. His critical edition
of Andrew's commentary on the Twelve Prophets, together with Mark
Zier, is set to appear in 2006.
Dr. E. Ann Matter is the Professor and Chair of Religious Studies at the -
University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of such books as The Voice
if A1Y Belovd: the Song if Songs in Western Medieval Christianiry (Philad<rl-
phia:University of Pennsylvania Press 1990); Creative Women in Medieval
and Early Modern Italy: An Artistic and Religious Renaissance (Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994, co-edited with John Coakley);
The Liturgy if the Medieval Church (Kalamazoo, MI; The Medieval Insti-
tute Press for TEAMS, 20or; second revised edition 2005, co-edited
with Thomas Heffernan). Dr. Matter's areas of intellectual interest: His-
tory of Christianity, medieval and early modern, history of Christian
women, the study of the Bible in the Middle Ages.
Dr. Bernard McGinn is Naomi Shenstone Donnelly Professor of His-
torical Theology and the History of Christianity at the University
of Chicago. Among his many publications are The Calabrian Prophet:
Joachim if Fiore in the History if Western Thought (New York: McMillan,
1985), Antichrist: Two Thousand Years if Human Fascination with Evil (New
York: Columbia University Press, 2000), and Visions if the End: Apocalyp-
tic Traditions in the Middle Ages (Columbia University Press, 1998).
Dr. Constant]. Mews is Associate Professor in the School of Historical
Studies, Monash University, Australia, where he is Director of the
Centre for Studies in Religion and Theology. A specialist in twelfth-
century thought, he is author of The Lost Love Letters if Heloise and Abelard:
Perceptions if Dialogue in Twelfth-Century France (New York: St. Martin's
Press, 1999) and Abelard and Heloise (New York: Oxford University Press,
2005). He is also editor of Listen Daughter: The Speculum Virginum and
the Formation if Religious Women in Medieval Europe (New York: Palgrave,
2001), and co-editor (with Cary Nederman and Rodney Thomson) of
Rhetoric and Renewal in the Latin Tt-est IlOO-I54o: Essays in Honour if John
0. Ward (Turnhout: Brepols, 2003) and (with Karen Green) Healing the
Body Politic. The Political Thought if Christine de Pizan (Turnhout: Brepols,
Dr. Michael A. Signer is the Abrams Professor of Jewish Thought and
Culture in the Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame,
and Fellow of the Medieval Institute. He is editor of Andrew if St.
Victor on Ezekiel in the Corpus Christianorum, continuatio mediaeualis; editor
of Memory and History in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, and with John
van Engen, Jews and Christians in Twelfth Century Europe.
Dr Lesley Smith is Fellow and Tutor in Politics and Senior Tutor,
Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford. She is the author
of such books as: Masters if the Sacred Page (Notre Dame, 2001); with
P.D.W Krey, Nicholas if Lyra: the Senses if Scripture (Brill, 2000); with Jane
Taylor, Women and the Book, 3 vols (British Library and Boydell & Brewer,
1995-1996); and Codices Boethiani, 3 vols (Warburg Institute, 1995-2002).
Dr. Anne Marie Wolf is Assistant Professor of History at the University
of Portland. She completed her doctorate in 2003 at the University of
Minnesota, successfully defending a thesis entitled Juan de Segovia and
Western Perspectives on Islam in the Fifteenth Century.'
Tobit 80
72,86, I98 Judith 80, I99
Esther 80
Leviticus 86
I Maccabees
Numbers 86, I27 6.28-I 2Il
20.2I 2Il
Deuteronomy 86
7.40-42 2Il
2 Maccabees
I3 I- 2 2Il
Joshua 79,86
630ff. I3
2.I-I 2Il
I5 8- I6 2Il
I Samuel
4 Maccabees
5. 62
2 42.2 202
2 Samuel
80, 86, 90, 92-93,
I27, I86, I98-
I Kings
63,79-80,86-87, I99, 205
I98 I9 I99
2 Kings
63, 79-80, 86-87,
I Chronicles
2 Chronicles
Ezra n, 80
Nehemiah n, 80 27.46 Acknowledgements
Song of Songs 86, 167
Joel 87
11.24 202
7 ll- 12
39. 25
34, 63, 65, 79-81, 14. 2
85-88,91, 159,
198 Gospels 16-17,28,35-36,
89 46-49,53,55-57,
80, 84-86, 89,
6 72,92,
7 93, 126-127, 175,
6 89
182, 186
IOO Matthew
34, 86, 130, 154,
0 184, 199
2 IO.29-3
50.1- 2
0 67 52
Jeremiah 63,79,81,85,93
89 4. 29 9, 204-205
183 137
147, 149
85, 198- 199 24
63-64, 79, 81, 85- 28.19-20
86, 91, 93, 198
17 136 Mark
15, 130
226 1.1
29-ll 16
IO, 63, 84, 93, 199,
2IO-212 17. 6- 1
226 Luke
8.25 212
2.1-1 212
212 2.1
2.1-1 212 IO.I6
2334 52
2 John
86, I04, 199
47 5.
9 50
7. 14-1
3. 18- 1 16
11. 25
2 Thessalonians
2.6 218
20.17 51-52 Hebrews
147 IO3
1 13
Acts 16, 65-66, 80, 86, James
147, 149, 155, 183
7.59-60 16 IJohn
6.38- 1
15 147, 152
Revelation 7, 16, 80, 86, 127,
127, 130, 199 150- 152, 159, 165,
99, I03, II8 196, 199, 216,
233 134
3. 28 171 2.15 2IO
226 6 226
13. 1-7
2-1 16
I Corinthians
69-II 216
67 15
2.1 IOO
2 Corinthians
II 20I 2.1-1
20 226
130, 154 207-IO 216
8 III. 78
52 IV 157
II. I05
6 V47 3
VII.IS7 S ~ 6 XXXIII. 40
8 XL.78
42 LXIS 41
LXI. 6
Abelard, Peter, 59-61, 73, 96, 98-99,
I03, I05, 1II-II3, II5-II6
Abraham, 29, 31,55-56, 130, 132
Abu Qurrah, Theodore, 46--48
Adam, 29, 35, 55, 150
Africa, 19, 27
Alan ofLille, 96, II9
Ambrose, Saint, IOI, II2
Andrew of St. Victor, 5-6, 8, 60-75,
82,88-89, 189
Anselm of La on, III-II3, II5, II7
Apuleius, 27, 127
Aquinas, Thomas, 120
Aristotle, 7, 99, I03, I07, III, II5,
121, 124, 127, 130
Artz, Frederick, 59
Augustine, 13, 80-81, 88, 95-96,
IOO-I03, ro6, IIO, II5, II7-II8,
120, 127, 158
Avicebron, 127
Avicenna, 124, 127, 139-140, 142
Bacon, Roger, 69, 74
Bar Kokhba, IO, 214
Basil the Great, IOO-Ior, I03
Baudri, abbot ofBourgueil, II2
Baumstark, Anton, 37-43
Bernard of Chartres, 64-65, II3-II6
Bernard of Clairvaux, 13, II8-II9,
Berndt, Rainer, 96
Blandina, 23-24, 26-27
Bliemetzrieder, Franz, II3
Blondheim, D.S., 69
Blumenberg, Hans, 97, II7
Boethius, I02-I03, I05, II4
Bonaventure, II9
Brocadelli da Narni, Lucia, 9, 193-
Calvin,Jean, 120-121
Carthage, 19, 21
Cassiodorus, 79, 81
Chalcidius, I06
Chenu, Marie-Dominique, 96
Chrysostom,John, roo
Christ, 6-8,9,46-53,55, 65,72,77,
85, 88, I02, I04, IIO, II2, II7-II8,
130, 137, 147, 150- 151, 153-158,
imitatio Christi trope, II, 21, 25, 206
Islamic beliefs about, 5, 29, 35-
name of (nomen Christz), 3, 5, II-
Cicero, 18, 22, I09, II2
Clarembald of Arras, II4
Conan of Praeneste, I08
Conrad of Hirsau, I09-II1
fall of, 8, 145, 149, 152, 155
Curtius, Ernst, 97
David, 55, 83, 90, 133, 137, 2II
Dionysius the Areopagite (Pseudo-
Denis), 7, I03, I05-I06, II4, II6,
Eckhart, Meister, 177, 182
Eleazar, 13-14
Eliezar of Beaugency, 68
England, 61, 176, 227
Eriugena,John Scotus, 7, I03-I06,
Eusebius, 23, 218
Felicity, 25-27
Ferrara, 9, 194, 196, 206
Fishacre, Richard, II9
Florence, 195, 197-198
France, 5, 68,71, ro8, III-II2, 125,
162, 176-177
Frederick II, 222, 224
Galileo, 121
Germain,jean, 145, 153, 156- 158
Germany, 105, 108-109,177, 180
Gilbert of Poitiers, 103
Gratian, 5, 73
Gregory IX, 124, 224
Gregory of Nyssa, 103
Gregory the Great, II6
Guido de B n ~ s 120
Guillaume, Alfred, 37-43
Hamersleben, 107-108
Haskins, Charles Homer, 59
Heloise, II2
Herbert of Bosham, 69
Hermes Trismegistus, 127
Hugh of Fouilloy, II8
Hugh of St. Victor, 5-8, 59-62, 71,
75, 82-89,96- 100, 105-II8, 120-
122, 189
Huizinga,johan, 174, 188
Ibn Ishaq, Abu (Abd Allah Muham-
Isidore, 8 I, 84
Israel, 12, 72, 77-78, 81, 83, 90, 92,
Italy, 9, 82, 173, 193, 207, 222, 225
jerome, 5, 63-67,70, 72-74, 79-81,
84-85, 88-89, 151
jerusalem, 65-66, 147, 214, 221-222
jesus. See Christ
joachim of Fiore, 10,223
john, 14, 16,36,38,41
See also john in Index if Biblical
joseph ben Simeon Kara, 68, 82,
Josephus, 127
Juan de Cervantes, 145
Karlstadt, Andreas Bodenstein of,
161, 165-166
Kimhi, David (Radak), 68, 70
Kimhi,Joseph, 68, 82, 93
Knowles, David, 60
Lactantius, 217-219
Lippoldsberg, 107
Lombard, Peter, 73-74, 128-129
Luther, Martin, 161-174, 180, 187-
Lyons, 14, 23, 186-187
Maimonides, 124
Manegold of Lautenbach, 108-109
Marseilles, 107
Mary, 9, 29, 35-36, 38, 49, 52-53,
Maximus, 103
Moses, 29,40,42,46,48,53-54,56,
II8, 128, 130, 134, 203, 212-213,
Muhammad,4, 7,31, 33, 35-38,41-
Christian beliefs about, 49, 126,
129, 138-140, 142, 159, 219,
reformed takeover of, 226-227
Muntzer, Thomas, 165, 226-227
Neckam, Alexander, 69
Netherlands, 177, 180-181, 183
Nicholas of Cusa, 143, 145, 152, 154,
Nicholas of Lyra, 69,72, 159, 168,
186-187, 189
Ohly, Friedrich, 97, II7
Otloh of Emmeram, 109
Ovid, II2
Oxford, 70, 74, 176
Ozment, Steven, 167, 170-172, 188
Paris, 5-6, 66, 68, 70, 75, 82, 96,
105, 107, 124-125, 128, 177, 179
Paris, Cathedral School of Notre
Dame, 123
Paris, University of, 62, 104, 123
Paul, Saint, 4, 8, 14-17,65,86,99-
100, 103, IIO-III, 120, 127, 134,
153-154, 163, 184, 217
Pelikan,jaroslav, 169, 176, 189
Perpetua, 19-21, 25
Peter, Saint, 65-66
Piccolomini, Aeneas Sylvius, 145
Plato, 6, 96, I03, I06-I07, I09, II3-
II6, 121, 127
Pliny, 12, 14, 23
Poirel, Dominique, 98
Priscian, 64-65
Pseudo-Denis. See Dionysius the
Qumran, 78, 213-214
Ranke, Leopold von, 165, 175
Reinhard of Halberstadt, 107
Richard of St. Victor, 72, 82, 88-89
Rome, 13, 123, 174, 177, 216-220
Salamanca, University of, 143-144,
Sanctus, 26-27
St. Victor, abbey of, 59, 62, 66, I07-
I08, III
Savonarola, Girolamo, 9, 195, 197-
199, 201, 205
Segovia,Juan de, 8, 143-160
Shor, Joseph Behkor, 68
Sicard, Patrice, 96
Smalley, Beryl, 5, 61, 82, II9, 189
Solomon ben Isaac (Rashi), 5-6, 68,
71-72, 82-83,90-g2, 168
Southern, Richard, 5, 69, 74
Sylvester, Bernard, 96
Tertullian, 15, 21, 24, 26, 218
Tetzel,Johann, 171-172
Thierry of Chartres, I03, II4
Trajan, 14, 23
Trithemius ofHirsau, I09
Wigmore Abbey, 61
William of Auvergne, 7-8, 123-142
William of Champeaux, 62, I07-
I08, IIl-II5
William of Conches, 96
William of Hirsau, I09
William ofSt-Thierry, II8
Wolf elm of Brauweiler, I08
Y <sa de Gebir, 145
Acta martyrii, 3, II, 17, Ig, 21-24, 26,
Anabaptists, 165, 227
Animal sacrifices, 7, 131-132
Anima mundi. See World soul
Antichrist, 212, 217-221, 224
Apocalypticism, g-1O, 78, 150-151,
159, Ig6, 217-22g
in Judaism, 20g-216
Beghards, 176-178
Beguines, 177, 187
Bible, 95-96
in Arabic, 40, 43
in Aramaic, 37, 39-44
in English, 16g, 178
in French, 179-180, 186-188
in German before Luther, 179-
186, 188, Igo
in Greek, 6, 39, 42
Historiated, 177-179, 182, 186,
in Hebrew, 3, 5-7, 67, 6g-70, 74,
77, 79, 83-84, 93, 123, 127-128,
141, 148, 165, 167-168, 179,
in Latin Vulgate, g, 6g-70, 75,
164, 167, 179-180, 182-183,
188, 200-207
Luther, 162-170, 188-18g
New Testament, 3, g, II, 2g, 34,
II7, 162-163, 165, 186, 188,
Ig6, 215
Old Testament, g, 29-34, 40, 46,
48, 53-54, 62-63, 66, 73 -74,
77, 79, 82, 84, 87, II7, 155,218
of Paris, 70, 75
order of books of, 79-81, 84-86,
printing of, 8-g, 170, 179-181, Igl
in the vernacular, 8-g, 162-164,
176- 184, 18g-lgl, Ig4
in Walden sian translations, 167,
See also following entry
Bible, reading of, 2, 5, 8, 20, Ig8
allegorical, 86-87, II6, 136, 167,
by Arab Christians, 2-3, 45-55,
by early Christians, 3-4
Christological, 66, 79, g2, 102,
and exegesis, 2, 5-8, 30-31, 33,
48,57,61-75, 78-79, 82-87,
go, 106, II6, 127, 133-137, 142,
145-146, 148, 167-169, 18g,
by heretical movements, 3-4, 167,
176- 177
historical, 88-8g, II6-II7
by Jews, 5-6, 61, 66-68,71-72,
74,77-79, 81-83, 88, go-93,
during the Middle Ages, 8-g,
164-165, 176-lgI
by Muslims, 4-5, 29-45, 53, 55-
primacy of scripture, 145-146,
149, 156- 160
during the Reformation, 8-g,
161-16g, Igl
by scholastics, 7, 125, 135
senses of interpretation, 136-
senses of scripture, 134, 136
See also preceding andfollowing entries;
Biblicization, 4, 31-32, 36, 38, 45
Brethren of the Common Life, 177-
182, 187
Byzantine Empire, 220-221
Christian as sacred name, 12, 14, 20,
Arab Christians, 4-5, 3'2-35, 43,
Catholicism, 9, 174, 194, 196
Christian-Muslim encounter, 4, 8,
29-58, 60, 143-160, 219-223
early Christians, 17-21,25, 27,
Islamic refutations of, 30, 33-45,
Jewish identification with Edom
of, 84, 90 , 92
Jewish refutations of, 71, 78, 90-
persecutions of Christians, 4, II,
14, 17, 20-26, 217
Protestantism, 8-g, 161-175, 189
Reformation, 8-9, 161-176, 181,
188-191, 226-227
See also Judaism, Martyrs and
martyrdom, and individual
nonorthodox Christian movements
Christian Palestinian Aramaic
Lectionary: See Bible, in Aramaic
Christology. See Bible, reading of,
Circumcision, 132-133, 154
Compendium qf Revelation (Savonarola),
9, 197, 201, 205
Councils, Church, 146-149, 157,
Council of Basel, 144, 147-149
Council of Constance, 147, 179
Council of Soissons, 98, II5
Council of Trent, 174, 195
Crusades, 8, 127-128, 157-158, 222
Derash, 71-72, 82-83, 167
De civitate Dei (Augustine), 102
De fide et de legibus (William of Au-
vergne), 126-140
De inventione (Cicero), 109
Demiurge, 106
De sacramentis (Hugh of St. Victor),
II5, II7
De tribus diebus (Hugh of St. Victor),
99, 106-107, II5
De trinitate (Augustine), 96, 102
De universo (William of Auvergne),
Dialectic, I II
Didascalicon (Hugh of St. Victor), 84-
87,97, 105, 107, 109, III, II4
Fathers, Church, 105, 166, 178
Greek, 100, 102-103, 112, 125
Latin, 125
See also individual Fathers in the Index
qf Persons and Places
Gentiles, 100
Glossa ordinaria, 62-63
Gnosticism, 14, 27, 67, 77
God, 3-4, 19,26,28,41,47,50-52,
55,59,64,80,86-87,89-92, 3 6 ~
137, 140, 150, 153-154, 157-158,
160, 185, 198, 202-204
as giver of Jewish law, 46, 128-
132, 134, 141
Islamic beliefs about, 33, 36-37,
name of, 12-17, 22-23, 38, 48
and nature, 6, 95-96, 98-100,
102-104, 106-107, 110-121
in the Qur'an, 30, 35, 48-49
role in apocalypticism of, 78, 209,
211, 213, 217-221, 223, 226,
Gottesfreunde, 177-178
Grammar, III
Hellenism, 13, 27
Heretical movements, 2, 67, 127-
128, 141, 223
See also individual nonorthodox Chris-
tian movements
Historia calamitatum (Abelard), I I I
Holy Roman Empire, 105, 177-178,
Holy Spirit. See Paraclete
Homelies sur I'Hexameron (Basil the
Great), 100-101
Humanism, 59-61, 173-174
Hussites, 225-226
Idolatry, 130-131, 133, 136, 220
See also Paganism
Incarnation, doctrine of, 4, 14, 17,
Inquisition, 177-178
Involucrum, II6
Islam, 29-58
Christian desire for converts
from, 150-160
Christian refutations of, 33-35,
45-56, 129, 138- 142
Christian reception of scholarship
of, 124-126, 139-140, 142, 145
early development of, 29-35
See also Christ and Muhammad
in Index if Persons and Places;
Christianity; Crusades; God;
Judaism; Qur'an
Islamicization, 4, 31-32, 36, 38-39,
Judaism, 20, 49, 55
in ancient Israel, 13-14, 72, 77-78,
81, 89, 209, 2II
Christian interpretations oflaw
of, 128-135, 138, 141, 154
Christian reception of scholarship
of, 5-6, 68-13, 78, 81-83, 90-
93, 124-125, 128-130, 141
Christian refutations of, 66-67,
135, 140, 142, 206
desire for restoration of Israel in,
78, 81, 83-84, 89-90, 2II-214
Jewish communities in Middle
Ages, 2-3, 9, 68, 82, 84, 206
Jewish-Christian encounter, 5-6,
Jewish-Muslim encounter, 29-31
use of names as power in, 12-14,
See also Apocalypticism; Bible;
Bible, reading of; Christianity;
Martyrs and martyrdom
Last Emperor Legend, 220-223, 225
Logica, III
Maccabean revolt, 3, 13-14, 2II-212,
Martyrs and martyrdom, 3-4, II-
28, 215, 219
development of theology of, 15-
in Judaism, 3, 13-14, 212-213
legal proceedings involving, 14,
17-20, 23, 26-27
literature of, II, 13, 16-17, 19, 23-
of Lyons, 14, 23-24, 26-27
ofPerpetua and Felicity, 19-21,
torture of, 4, 17, 21, 23-24
Midrashim, 71-72, 81-82, 168
Monologion (St. Anselm), 107
Mundus sensilis, 99, 106-107, II4
Nature, 4, 6, 17-18, 96, 106-107,
Book of, 6-7, 95, 97-99, II6-122
Eriugena's idea of Natura, 103-104
Neoplatonism, 6, 19, 27, 103
Ottoman Turks, 8, 145, 152, 155-156,
158- 159, 223
Paganism, 2-4, 12, 21, 24, 27, 80,
99-100, 102-103, 107-109, II2,
II5, 140, 155, 220
See also Idolatry
Paraclete (Holy Spirit), 4, 15-16,
35-37,41-42,47,53,55, 66,80,
87-88,96, 102, II2-II3, II6, 144,
147-148, 152, 166, 202, 223
Paradise, nature of, 7, II6, 138, 139,
196- 205
Passio Sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis,
19-21, 24-26
Peasant's War, 165, 170-171,226
Peoples ofthe Book, 10, 29-30, 53
Peshat, 71-73, 82-83, 92, 167
Platonism, 6, 100, 107, II4-II6
Pluralism, religious, 2-5, 10, 22, 142
Policraticus (John of Salisbury), II4
Christian readings of, 4, 7, 45-50,
152- 153
Muslim readings of, 4, 33, 39,
41-42, 153
references to Bible in, 5, 29-30,
Rabbis of Paris, 5-6, 68-72
See also individual rabbis in Index if
Persons and Places
Reformation. See Christianity, RifOrma-
Renaissance of the Twelfth Century,
Revelations if Methodius, 219-221, 223
Rhetorica ad Herennium (Cicero), I09
Roman Empire, 3,18-22,67,174,
214-218, 220-221
Scholasticism, 7, 59-60, 125, 135
Sententie de divinitate (Hugh of St. Vic-
tor), I07
Sententie divine pagine, I 13
Seven Revelations (Lucia Brocadelli), 9,
Speculum virginum (Conrad of Hirsau),
Stoicism, 4, 13-15
Summary if the Wqys if Faith, 5, 47-55
Syncretism, 14-15
Taborites, 225-226
Talmud, 71, 81, 92, 141
Theologia Christiana (Abelard), I03
Theologia 'Summi boni' (Abelard), 98-
99, II5
Theophaniae, 104
Timaeus (Plato), 96, I06-I07, II4
Torah, 46, 78,91, 123, 127
Tridentine reformers, 169, 174,
Trinity, I02-I03, I07, II3
Victorines, 5-8, 61, 96, 123
Visions, 195-205
Waldensians, 2, 167, 176-178, 189
World soul, 96, I07, II6