Rebirth, Reform, And Revision


Rebirth, Reform, and Revision

Reading the Bible during the Reformation — Part 1

Understanding and relating the stories of the Bible have been vitally important to Christians for nearly two millennia. Each society and generation has found new ways to approach these dual missions, however. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther initiated a series of changes for Western Christianity that both offered a radical departure from the received modes of interaction with the Bible and complemented broader changes in the intellectual and spiritual approaches to living in accord with Biblical teaching. The two parts of this exhibit offer a brief overview of Biblical study and reception during the 15th to the 17th centuries, encompassing the received traditions for Bible study from the later Middle Ages, the tumultuous years of the 16th-century Reformation, and new modes for understanding the Bible in the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities. Our story proceeds roughly chronologically, starting in Part I with Bible manuscripts and fragments from the 14th and 15th centuries, and then continues with the advent of printing (including a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible). Part II begins with Martin Luther’s challenge to the authority of the Catholic Church and his goal of presenting the Bible in the language of the common folk. Then we turn to vernacular treatments of the Bible across Europe, the search for the purest form of the text and the early transmission of the Bible in English. Finally, we see examples of the flourishing Biblical art in 16th- and 17th-century woodcuts and engravings. The scope of this exhibit is limited to the change in Biblical scholarship and reading during this period. With that in mind, we must acknowledge that a large part of the story of the Reformation had to be omitted—especially its impact on European (and worldwide) society in political, social, educational, and economic terms. The collections at Saint John’s University contain many contemporaneous resources for the study of the Reformation, however those resources fell outside of the boundaries of the current exhibition, which features works from HMML's rare books and manuscripts collections.

Centuries of Handwriting

In their earliest form, the Bible stories were passed on orally from one generation or community to another. This form of transmission eventually gave way to handwriting, first on papyrus, then parchment (animal skins), and then paper. For several centuries the only way to make a new Bible was to copy it from another volume. However, just as oral versions can be subject to faulty memories or poetic elaboration, handwritten texts can also change over time and from one copier to the next. It was also impossible to compare two different Bibles that were located hundreds of miles apart to check for accuracy. The process of copying was not entirely arbitrary, however, as sacred texts like the Bible were usually corrected after they were copied in order to assure higher accuracy. Modern scholars of the Bible strive for greater accuracy by consulting all pertinent early manuscripts, the most famous of which include the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus B (both 4th century).

Early Printing, Humanism, and Commentaries

Disruptive Technologies: Printing Comes to Europe

Today we are frequently confronted with technologies that seem to turn our world upside down overnight. Such changes were not so instantaneous in the 15th century, but Johann Gutenberg (ca. 1400-1468) made a lasting and deep mark on European culture with his radical new way to make books using movable type with a new kind of ink. His most important printed book was a large Bible that was finished about 1455. Within a few years, the new technology of printing had spread across Germany and into many other European countries. During the century after Gutenberg’s discovery, the design of the book changed radically, at first assuming the guise of the manuscripts it was replacing, but then developing special characteristics of its own: a title page with author, publisher and other information, folio or page numbers, and consistent use of colophons, catch words, signatures, etc. Between 1450 and the start of the 16th century, the book that was printed most frequently was the Bible, especially in Latin but also in other languages. It, too, underwent the same evolution as other printed books.

Ad fontes – A Renewed Interest in Greek and Hebrew for Biblical Studies

Along with printing, the 15th century also saw the rise of the Renaissance in art and music, as well as Humanism in the scholarly world. The Humanists were a highly educated network of scholars across Europe who looked back for stylistic models in classical Antiquity, both in its culture and in writing or script. The study of the early Latin and Greek languages and literatures (e.g. Juvenal, Ovid, Terence, et al.) led also to a renewed interest in Hebrew and Biblical literature. The “Prince of the Humanists” was Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) who maintained his own network of scholarly friends across Europe, including Thomas More in England and Johann Froben in Basel. The Reformers were especially indebted to Erasmus’ edition of the Greek New Testament for their own study, translation and preaching. While Erasmus often used his studies to challenge the Catholic Church, he remained a loyal member of it—seeking above all to improve the Catholic Church by following a “middle way” during the first decades of the Reformation.


Dr. Matthew Z. Heintzelman


Special thanks for their contributions to Tim Ternes, who installed the original exhibition in 2017; Katherine Goertz, who helped locate and identify materials from the Arca Artium Art Collection; David Calabro, who provided an improved romanization for the title of the Syriac New Testament; Wayne Torborg and Mary Hoppe, who provided the digital photos throughout the exhibition; and to John Meyerhofer, who prepared the online version.


Rebirth, Reform, and Revision

Late Medieval and Early Modern Sources on the Bible in Special Collections at HMML/Saint John’s University: a selection

I. Bible Manuscripts

Mabon Book of Hours, 15th century. SJU Ms. 1, Saint John’s Rare Books.

Latin New Testament, ca. 1300. SJU Ms. 12, Saint John’s Rare Books.

Gospel of Luke, fragment, 13th century. Ms. Frag. 19, HMML Special Collections.

Latin Bible, fragment. Arca Fragment 26 (AAP1306), Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Gospel of Matthew, fragment. HMML Ms. 2, HMML Special Collections.

II. Printed Bibles in Exhibition

Bibles, Polyglot (by date)

Psalterium, Hebraeum, Graecum. Arabicum, & Chaldaecum: cum tribus Latinis interpretatonibus & glossis. [Genoa]: Petrus Paulus Porrus, for Nicolaus Justinianus Paulus, 1516. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Nouum Testamentum omne multo quàm antehac diligentius ab Erasmo Roterodamo recognitum. Basel: Johann Froben, 1519. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Basil Hall. The great polyglot Bibles: including a leaf from the Complutensian of Acalá, 1514-17. San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1966. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Biblia Sacra Hebraice, Chaldaice, Graece, & Latine: Philippi II. Reg. Cathol. pietate, et studio ad Sacrosanctae Ecclesiae usum. Antwerp: Christopher Plantin, 1569-1572. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Biblia sacra polyglotta: complectentia textus originales, Hebraicum, cum Pentateucho Samaritano, Chaldaicum, Græcum. Versionumque antiquarum, Samaritanæ, Græcæ LXXII Interp., Chaldaicæ, Syriacæ, Arabicæ, Æthiopicæ, Persicæ, Vulg. Lat. quicquid comparari poterat. London: Thomas Roycroft, 1657. Saint John’s Rare Books.

Bibles, Arabic

Al- Inǵīl al-muqaddas li-rabbinā Jasūʻ al-Masīḥ ... Mattā wa-Marqus wa-Lūqā wa-Jūḥannā; Evangelium Sanctum Domini nostri Iesu Christi, conscriptum a quatuor evangelistis sanctis. Rome: Typographia Medicea, 1590/1591. Saint John’s Rare Books.

Bibles, English (by date)

Allen Paul Wikgren. A leaf from the first edition of the first complete Bible in English, the Coverdale Bible, 1535. San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1974. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Here begynneth the Pystles and Gospels of euery Sonday and holy daye in the yere. [Rouen : N. le Roux], 1538. Bound with the Primer in English and Latin (1538). Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

The Byble that is to say all the holy Scripture: in whych are contayned the Olde and New Testamente, fragment. London: S. Mierdman for John Daye and William Seres, 1549. Arca Artium Art Collection.

The Nevv Testament of Iesvs Christ: translated faithfvlly into English, out of the authentical Latin, according to the best corrected copies of the same … Reims: Jean de Foigny, 1582. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Thomas Sternhold. The whole booke of Psalmes. London: John Daye, 1584. Saint John’s Rare Books.

The Holie Bible faithfully translated into English, out of the authentical Latin, Diligently conferred with the Hebrew, Greeke, and other editions in divers languages. Douai: Laurence Kellam, 1609-1610. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Thomas Sternhold, et al. The Whole Booke of Psalmes. London: Robert Young, 1633. Bound with the Book of Common Prayer; A Briefe Concordance or Table to the Bible of the Last Translation; and: The Way to True Happinesse … (all dated 1633). HMML Special Collections.

The Holy Bible : Contayning the Old and New Testaments, newly translated out of ye originall tongues, and with ye former translations diligently compared and revised. London (?): John Field, 1657.

The Holy Bible, Containing the Bookes of the Old & New Testament. Cambridge: John Field, 1660. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

The Holy Bible, containing the Old Testament and the New, newly translated out of the original tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and revised. London: Henry Hills and John Field, 1660. Saint John’s Rare Books.

Bibles, French (by date)

Le premier volume de la Bible en francois ; Le second volume de la Bible en francoys. Paris: [Pierre II Regnault], 1544-1546. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

La Bible, qui est toute la Saincte Escriture du Vieil & du Nouueau Testament: Autrement l’anciene & la nouuelle alliance. Geneva, 1588. Saint John’s Rare Books.

Les Pseaumes de David mis en rime françoise. Sedan: Jean Jannon, 1623. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Bibles, German (by date)

[Bible in German], fragment. Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1483. Arca Artium Art Collection.

[Bible in German], fragment. Strasbourg: Johann Grüninger, 1485. Arca Artium Art Collection.

Bibell, Alle Bücher alts und news Testaments, translated by Johann Dietenberger. Cologne: Gerwin Calenius and the heirs of Johan Quentel, 1572. Saint John’s Rare Books.

Biblia, das ist, Die gantze heilige Schrifft deutsch, translated by Martin Luther. Wittenberg: August Boreck, 1626. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Bibles, Greek (by date)

Hē kainē diathēkē. Paris: Simon de Colines, 1534]. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Tēs Kainēs Diathēkēs hapanta; Nouum Testamentum: ex Bibliotheca Regia. Paris: Robert Estienne, 1546. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Tēs Kainēs Diathēkēs hapanta. Euangelion kata Matthaion. Kata Markon. Kata Loukan. Kata Iōannēn. Praxeis tōn Apostolōn.; Nouum Iesu Christi D.N. Testamentum. Paris: Robert Estienne, 1550. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Bibles, Italian

Il Nuovo ed eterno Testamento di Giesu Christo. Lyons: Jean de Tournes and Guillaume Gazeau, 1556. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Bibles, Latin (by date)

A. Edward Newton. A Noble Fragment: Being a Leaf of the Gutenberg Bible, 1450-1455. New York: Gabriel Wells, 1921. College of Saint Benedict Rare Books.

Psalterium Benedictinum, fragment Mainz: Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer, 1459. Arca Artium Art Collection.

Biblia Latina [with the Glossa Ordinaria]. Strasbourg: Adolph Rusch for Anton Koberger, 1481. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Biblia Integra. Basel: Johann Froben, 1491. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Biblia cum concordantijs Veteris et Noui Testamenti et sacrorum canonum: summa cum diligentia reuisa correcta et emendata. Venice: Lucantonio Giunta, [15 October 1519]. Saint John’s Rare Books.

In hoc libello contenta Psalterium Dauidicum cum aliquot canticis ecclesiasticis, litanie, hymni ecclesiastici. Paris: C. Chevallon, 1536. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Biblia Sacra vtrivsqve Testamenti, et Vetvs qvidem post omnes omnivm hactenus aeditiones : opera D. Sebast. Mvnsteri euulgatum, & ad Hebraicam ueritatem quoad fieri potuit redditum. Zurich: Christoph Froschauer, 1539. Saint John’s Rare Books.

Biblia Sacra ad optima quaeque veteris, ut vocant, tralationis exemplaria summa diligentia, parique fide castigata. Lyons: Jean de Tournes, 1558. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Biblia Sacra Vvlgatae editionis. Rome: Ex typographia Vaticana, 1598. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Bibles, Slavonic

Biblīa sirēch knigy vetkhago i novago zavĕta po i͡azykū slovenskū. Ostroh (Ukraine): Ivan Fyodorov, 1581. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Bibles, Syriac

Ktābā d-ʼEwangeliyon qadíšā d-Māran w-ʼAlāhan Yešúʻ Mšíḥā: Liber sacrosancti evangelii de Iesv Christo Domino & Deo nostro. Vienna: Michael Cymermannus, 1555. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

III. Other Printed Works in this Exhibition

Théodore de Bèze. Les vrais povrtraits des hommes illvstres en piete et doctrine. [Geneva]: Jean de Laon, 1581. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Jean Calvin. Commentarii in Isaiam prophetam. Geneva: Jean Crispin, 1559. Saint John’s Rare Books.

Johann Ludwig Lindhammer. Der von dem H. Evangelisten Luca beschriebenen Apostel-Geschichte ausführliche Erklärung und Anwendung. Halle: Waisenhaus, 1725. Saint John’s Rare Books.

Martin Luther. Colloquia, oder Tischreden Doctor Martini Lutheri. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Schmid and Sigmund Feyerabend, 1569. Saint John’s Rare Books.

Martin Luther. Tomus primus [-quartus et idem ultimus] omnium operum. Jena: Christian Rödinger, 1556-1570. Saint John’s Rare Books.

Mordecai Nathan. Sefer ya’ir nativ : Concordantiarum Hebraicarum capita. Basel: Heinrich Petri, 1556. Saint John’s Rare Books.

Nicholas of Lyra. Postillae perpetuae in Vetus et Novus Testamentum, vol. 3 Rome: Conrad Sweynheim and Arnold Pannartz, 1470. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Ordnung des Herren Nachtmal: so man die Messz nennet, sampt der Tauff vnd Insegung der Ee. [Strasbourg: Johannes Schwan], 1525. Saint John’s Rare Books.

Claude Paradin and Bernard Salomon. Quadrins historiques de la Bible. Lyons: Jean de Tournes, 1553. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

Thomas Aquinas. Diui Thome Aquinatis continuum in librum ewangelij secundum Mattheum. Venice: Andreas de Asula and Thomas de Alexandria, 1486. Saint John’s Rare Books.

Thomas Aquinas. Catena aurea. Rome: Conrad Sweynheim and Arnold Pannartz, 1470. Fragment. Arca Artium Rare Book Collection.

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