Sunday, January 18, 2009

Our Debt to the Monks

I guess not everybody knows what happened to the bible between the time of St. Paul and his correspondence and the time of the Reformation. So this is a little bit of info of what happened before the age of the printing press.

From Henry Graham's Where We Got the Bible:

Our Debt To the Monks, page 74.

Day by day, year after yer, the monks would persevere in their holy labors, copying with loving care every letter of the sacred text from some old manuscript of the Bible, adorning and illuminating the pages of vellum with pictures and illustrations in purple and gold and silver colouring, and so producing real works of art that excite the envy and admiration of modern generations. Some Bishops and Abbots wrote out with their own hands the whole of both the Old and New Testaments for the use of their churches and monasteries. Even nuns, and this point I would bring under special notice- nuns took their share in this pious and highly skilled labour. We read of one who copied with her own hands two whole Bibles, and besides made six copies of several large portions of the Gospels and Epistles. Every monastery and church possessed at least one, and some possessed many copies of the Bible and the Gospels. In those ages it was a common thing to copy out particular parts of the Bible (as well as the whole Bible); for example, the Gospels or the Psalms or Epistles so that many who could not afford to purchase a complete Bible were able to possess themselves of at least some part which was specially interesting or popular. This custom is truly Catholic, as it flourishes amongst us today. At the end of our prayer books, for instance, we have Gospels and Epistles for the Sundays and various publishers, too, have issued the four Gospels separately each by itself and the practice seems to me to harmonise entirely with the very idea and structure of the Bible, which was originally composed of separate and independent portions, in use in different Churches throughout Christendom. And so we find that the monks and clergy often confined their work to copying out certain special portions of Sacred Scripture, and naturally the Gospels were the favourite part.

The work, we must remember was very slow, and expensive as well. Dr. Maitland reckons that it would require ten months for a scribe of those days to copy out a Bible; and that L 60 or L 70 would have been required if he had been paid at the rate that lawstationers pay their writers. Of course, with the monks it was a labour of love,and not for money; but this calculation of Dr. Maitland only refers to teh work of copying; it leaves out of account the materials that had to be used, pen and ink and parchment. Another authority (Buckingham) has made a more detailed calculation, and assuming that 427 skins of parchment would have been needed for the 35,000 verses, running into 127,000 folios, he reckons that a complete copy of Old and New Testaments could not have been purchased for less than L 218. Yet Protestants stare in astonishment when you tell them that not everybody could sit by the fireside in those days with a bible on his knees!

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