The Bible as Book: The Reformation, 28-31 May 1997
Organised by the Van Kampen Foundation and The Scriptorium: Center for Christian Antiquities, this conference was the third in a series entitled The Bible as Book. According to the program, its aim was to provide the voices and the forum for afresh examination of the printed Bibles of the Great Reformation. The four-day event began with a reception on the evening of Wednesday 28 May. It took place in Hampton Court, Herefordshire, the largest medieval house in England, set on a breathtaking estate of over 1,000 acres. Chairing was Prof. David Daniell, who had gathered an impressive group of speakers from various disciplines, sharing a desire to interrogate and enrich the area of Reformation Studies.
The papers were to be limited to 20 minutes, leaving ample time for questions and comments. In his opening speech David Daniell voiced his one wish for those present: that they would talk and talk and talk to each other for the next three days. His request was granted, and the discussions which ensued after the talks were continued over lunch, lasted through to the evening, and were often reflected in the papers that followed. Between the sessions, participants were free to wander through the house and to stroll around the magnificent grounds, while pianist Kayleen Bobbitt played a range of music which won the hearts of all attending.
The scope of the conference was wide, encompassing English, French and American experiences of the Reformation. The opening session consisted of two papers: Andrew Hope provided a fascinating, impressive account of Robert Necton and the contraband book trade in England; and Richard Duerden successfully tackled the metaphysics of the English Bible, with the issues touched upon subsequently resounding through the work of the next few days. The two papers set the pattern for the entire conference, those speakers focusing upon the minutiae of specific texts complemented those approaching the Reformation from a more abstract perspective. Scott Carroll gave a thought-provoking lecture on the influence of a late fourteenth-century Bohemian New Testament on vernacular German Bibles before Luther, while David Norton imagined for us (with hilarious results) the painstaking work of the translation committee working under King James, and Guido Latré spoke on bibles that Tyndale might have seen in Antwerp.
There was considerable emphasis on highlighting neglected areas in Reformation scholarship: I spoke on the bible translations of George Joye, and Kimberly Van Kampen delivered a very interesting paper on the theological influence of the West Saxon Gospels. Various aspects of the Reformation in the New World were addressed by Herbert Samworth and Andrew Hadfield. Herbert provided a piece on the history of the Algonquin Bible of 1663, translated by the Puritan John Eliot. His account of the pioneering work was engrossing, and brought a great deal of unfamiliar material to light. Andrew delivered an entertaining and illuminating paper entitled The Revelation and Early English Colonization, which considered the iconographic depiction of colonisers and colonised, and the extent to which they were perceived as being either unified with their surroundings, or intruding upon them. Particularly valuable was his detailing of the contradictory sitings of the indigenous people as both morally superior and spiritually backward, and the role of the Bible in these characterisations.
This interest in the art of the Reformation was continued by Tatiana String, who spoke on Politics and Polemics in English and German Bible Illustration. She skillfully traced the use of anticlerical icons (such as the three-tiered crown of the papacy), demonstrating the way in which these politically-loaded images, common in German vernacular Bibles, were often effaced in later English Bibles. One of the most interesting aspects of Tatiana's stimulating, important lecture was her assertion that the scriptural woodcuts came to be used arbitrarily in English printing houses. Printers simply grabbed whatever was at hand, resulting in bibles filled with woodcuts of conflicting styles, dates, and religious positions.
Some of the more staple elements of Reformation scholarship were of course included: William Campbell ended the sessions on Friday afternoon with his detailed paper on Martin Luther and Paul's Epistle to the Romans. This concentrated on the christocentric approach of Luther, who favoured a thematic interpretation of scripture, in contradistinction to modern biblical scholars, who prefer to deal with each text or epistle separately. William detailed the various possible influences of Luther's interpretation, pointed out certain gaps between the Lutherans and Martin Luther, and sought to modify the current opinion on Luther's anti-Judaism, the seeds of which were inherited from Augustine. David Wright's topic was the Bible of John Knox. The basic assertion was that Knox's Bible was in essence oral: he did not approach the scripture as a work to decipher. Instead his biblical quotations remained in a state of flux, and were faithful to no single source text. This led to a very interesting discussion, in which the collective effort
of the participants identified several similar cases. It appears that the modem emphasis on correct quotation is simply that-modem, and that for the reformers, writing at a time when there was no concept of the English Bible, the emphasis lay firmly on transmitting the sense rather than specific words.
Importantly, the conference also gave time for ongoing scholarship. Bastiaan Van Elderen and Scott Carroll presented a paper on one of The Scriptorium's projects: a new edition of the Bible, based primarily on the Septuagint but also encompassing the Hebrew texts. The questions following soon developed into philosophical considerations of the notion of truth and the aesthetics of bible translation. Two speakers filled the place of Gerhard May, who unfortunately could not attend due to illness. Deborah Pollard discussed her current work on the formation of a concordance to Tyndale's translations, and gave us all an insight into the problematics of such an immense undertaking. Guido Latré offered a possible place of printing for Miles Coverdale's 1535 Bible, based on a woodcut containing certain distinctly Flemish words.
For many, the highlights of the conference were the
papers given by Susan Fe1ch and Andrew Pettegree. Susan's topic was the sonnet
sequence of Anne Lock, based on Psalm 51. She set out to prove two things: that
Anne Lock was a reformer by birth and by choice, and that for her sonnet
sequence she relied on a surprising source. Having compared A Meditation of
a Penitent Sinner with an extensive range of psalters (including George
Joye's and Miles Coverdale's), Susan's research revealed that one of the most
significant sources for the sonnet sequence was in fact the orthodox Latin
Vulgate. This paper was witty, entertaining, and above all it was delivered
with an absolute clarity and an intellectual focus which impressed upon the
participants the need to re-evaluate the use of the Vulgate throughout the
period of the Reformation.
Andrew Pettegree's talk Militant Scripture: The Vernacular Bible in the French Wars of Religion was quite simply a tour de force, based upon work begun in St Andrews Reformation Studies Institute. He examined the use of vernacular scripture in France between 1555 and 1562, during which time the French brethren underwent a massive upheaval from being a small, educated, secret church to boasting a public congregation of some two million, the great majority of which was illiterate. Andrew argued that the process by which this was brought about could be explained in large part through the force of vernacular scripture. The price and bulkiness of complete Bibles made them difficult to use for widespread teaching. One response to this was the production of many popular, small books and pamphlets, but these did not have the theological depth necessary for religious edification. Out of these contraries emerged the popularity of the Book of Psalms. Psalters could be easily carried and smuggled, and represented an effective teaching tool, bridging the gap between oral and the literate cultures. When sung, the psalms fixed the text exactly, therefore the songs functioned as printed texts would at a later date. In brief, the Psalter provided the perfect catechising tool for a movement expanding to include the illiterate. Andrew delivered this monumental piece of scholarship in a clear, straightforward manner, with an ease that derives only from a comprehensive knowledge of the subject. That this represents merely the beginning of the St Andrews Refoundation Studies Institute's research into this area makes its finding all the more impressive.
Our appreciation of Andrew's discussion of the music of the Psalms was considerably enriched by the concert of Refoundation music held on Thursday evening. Arranged by Kayleen Bobbin, the selection included Lutheran, Calvinist and Anglican psalms and hymns. The Angela Richey String Quartet provided the music, and Judith Van Kampen and Karla Van Kampen-Pierre recreated beautifully the way in which the psalms would have been sung in the sixteenth century.
Further aid in visualising the world of the Reformation was provided on Saturday morning, with a tour of the chained library at Hereford Cathedral and a visit to the Mappa Mundi exhibition. It was here that David Daniell delivered his plenary lecture, which ably drew together the themes and implications of the papers given over the previous two days, and suggested a vast amount of research possibilities inspired by the proceedings. The conference ended as it had begun, with each participant being greeted by the Van Kampen family and David Daniell, and welcomed into Hampton Court to enjoy a beautifully orchestrated evening. The Gala dinner which closed The Bible as Book: The Reformation exemplified the generosity of and the tremendous effort made by the Van Kampen Foundation and The Scriptorium: it was immaculately presented, flawlessly carried out, and highly enjoyable. Their original intent to provide an arena within which to re-examine the vernacular bibles of the Reformation was achieved with no little success. The people, the setting, the high quality of academic work, and the resulting vibrant discourses all converged to make this an exceptional and a memorable conference, where even the weather exceeded reasonable expectations.
© Orlaith O'Sullivan
Trinity College, Dublin