The Psalms through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of Witnesses

By William L. Holladay | Go to book overview

11
The Psalms
for Reformation Protestants

In the year 1054 the split between the Eastern and Western churches became definitive, with mutual excommunications; it was a split that was the result of centuries of divergence between Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking Christians, between the erstwhile political centers of Constantinople and Rome. But the Reformation, the split within the Western church beginning in 1517 that resulted in the birth of various Protestant churches, was the result of theological, cultural, political, and economic causes that were by comparison sudden in their emergence and awesome in their consequences.

As with the historical background for chapters 9 and 10 (the history of the Jews in the last two millennia and the story of the spread of the Christian faith until the sixteenth century), I can only sketch a suggestion of the historical background for the Reformation. But I must note a few details, particularly as they bear on the use of the Psalms in the Reformation churches.

The perfection of the art of printing from movable type in about 1450 reshaped the lives of Europeans as much as the advent of television in the middle of our own century has reshaped our own lives. As the sixteenth century began, printed material was everywhere, not only books but pamphlets and leaflets, the latter two often illustrated with woodcuts to reinforce the word. And though the ecclesiastical and political authorities tried, they could not really control the production of printed material any more than the recent Communist government of Romania could insist on the governmental registration of typewriters, or the former Soviet Union on the control of photocopying machines. The spread of the printed word encouraged literacy, and literacy encouraged the spread of the printed word.

And that printed word was in vernacular languages as well as in Latin. It is a wonderful thing to see and comprehend, in neat ranks of letters, one’s own tongue.

By this time, too, the knowledge of Greek was spreading in the West, reinforced by the Greek manuscripts that were brought west by refugees fleeing Constantinople as it fell to the Turks in 1453. Humanist scholarship encouraged the study of the New Testament in Greek and the comparison of the text traditions of

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