Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Reading the Bible in Sawles Warde and Ancrene Wisse

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Reading the Bible in Sawles Warde and Ancrene Wisse

Article excerpt

I

In the introduction to Ancrene Wisse, its author draws attention to the structure of his work: 'Nv mine leouc sustren, [MS hoc ich todeale on eahte destinctiuns, bet 3C cleopieð dalen' (fol. 4^sup r^/p. 6: 'Now, my dear sisters, I divide this book into eight distinctions, which you call parts').5 J. A. W. Bennett noted that 'destinctiuns' is borrowed here from a scholastic milieu (and translated for the benefit of the anchoresses).6 The Latin word distinctio ('division, distinction') had a range of meanings including a punctuation mark, section of a book, and drawing a distinction, hence also distinguishing different meanings of a word.7 Distinctio thus describes both a way of organizing information, and a technique for analysing it. Collections of distinctiones - often alphabetical compendia distinguishing the exegetical meanings of scriptural words - were popular in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries.8 The Ancrene Wisse author uses 'destinctiuns' in his introduction to mean 'sections of a book', but later he uses the exegetical method associated with distinctio collections, reflecting their widespread application in reading and citing scriptural texts.9

Although distinctiones as a genre became well known in the late twelfth century, the use of similar techniques was not new. An early forerunner of distincio collections is the fragmentary Clavis once attributed to the second-century saint Melito of Sardis. This was commented on and extended by Carolingian writers including Hrabanus Maurus, and by twelfth-century scholars such as Peter the Chanter. The Clavis matches excerpts from the Bible with scriptural, patristic, and later comments, indicating their exegetical significance. The first chapter, for example, headed 'De Deo', starts with general references and then addresses different aspects of God, such as 'Alac Domini, protectio divina. In psalmo: "In umbra alarum tuarum spcrabo" [Psalm lvi.2|.'10 The layers of accreted material in the Clavis are indicative of a wider process of commentary exemplified by Isidore of Seville's encyclopaedic Etymologiae (early seventh century) and Dcfcnsor of Liguge's Liber scintillarum (c.700).11 The Liber scintillarum, for example, provided a list of lemmata for a given topic, drawn from Scripture and the Fathers for use in sermons or excgetical work. Such compendia both complemented and catalogued the patristic exegetical tradition, and formed a basis for the more systematic productions of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, though patristic writers had themselves developed similar techniques, as for example Gregory the Great in his Moralia in Iob and Homiliae super Evangelia.12

Despite the growth of reference works, however, direct reading and meditating on Scripture and commentaries (the lectio divina) remained central to biblical engagement in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Sophisticated memorial techniques enabled writers to combine references and allude to biblical texts with great freedom, and without the weight of excgetical apparatus, in the knowledge that their audience was equally well versed.13 This deep engagement with Scripture is integral to the process of meditative reading, or rumiatio, which has far-reaching implications for the style and structure of medieval religious writing.14 In his classic account of monastic devotional culture, for example, Jean Leclercq defends Bernard of Clairvaux from the charge that his Sermons super Cantica canticorum are too loose in structure by placing them in the context of the monastic collectio, whose informal quality allowed the speaker to travel through the Scriptures as one word, phrase, or image suggested another. Bernard's Sermones use 'hook-words' to trigger this movement and link his ideas together in verbal chains, or catenae.15 Leclercq draws a distinction between these habits of mind, which he calls 'monastic', and an analytical, codified approach which he defines as 'scholastic'. This is to overplay the differences: the 'monastic' Cistercians themselves established a college in Paris, the centre of scholastic activity,16 and in practice most scholars and preachers no doubt combined memorial recollection and ruminatio with written aids to reading and preaching. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.