Last Updated:

Aug 10, 2010

Turner: Wordsworth

Excerpt from: C.H.Turner, The Oldest MSS of the Vulgate Gospels, (Oxford, 1931)

Page Index

Excerpt: - Turner on Wordsworth

Turner on Wordsworth

with mention of Bentley, Lachmann (p.xix fwd)

C.H. Turner was a thorough Hortian, as can be seen from other parts of his book. It is all the more remarkable that Turner dismisses Lachmann's (admittedly shabby) work in favour of Wordsworth, who supported the authenticity, or at least the historical integrity of the Pericope Adulterae. He speaks here of the Textus Receptus in passing as if it were extinct, but that was the naive assumption in the 1930s, so soon after Hort's initial success (among academics).

"... it was the Carolingian movement which substituted the study and circulation of the works of Augustine and Jerome and dethroned in their interest the favourite writer of the seventh and early eighth centuries, Pope Gregory the Great.

Naturally the Bible took the first place in this revival of learning. But four hundred years had passed since Jerome issued his Vulgate text, and it is not likely that either Alcuin of Theodulf, in their homes at Tours or Orleans, had access to MSS of the same or anything like the same value as Cassiodorus two and a half centuries earlier with, the resources of Italy instead of Gaul at his command. The apparatus to Bishop Wordsworth's text records the readings of two Alcuinian MSS, K and V, and of one Theodulfian MS, Θ. They contribute to our knowledge of the history of the Vulgate, but that is all. Where the reading of Jerome's text is doubtful, their evidence is negligible : it must be settled on earlier testimony.

A fortiori is this the case for the Middle Ages. Interest in the Bible of the Western Church never quite died out, especially in France : a text of the scholars of Paris had a more or less official recognition. Even in England individuals like Prior Senatus of Worcester or Bishop Grandisson of Exeter busied themselves with the text or history of the Vulgate. But Italy, the proper home of scholarship, contributed nothing. The condition of the Vulgate went from bad to worse. When in the middle of the fifteenth century Lorenzo Valla,, a canon of the Lateran basilica, took up the study of the text of Scripture, the Greek movement of the Renaissance was already beginning to be dominant ; the most-vcorrupt copy of the inferior text that prevailed in Constantinople was assumed to be of superior value to anything extant in Latin. Valla's attitude was inherited by Erasmus, and in only one of Erasmus's five editions of the Greek Testament was a place allowed to the Vulgate translation. The services of Erasmus to sacred learning in popularizing the knowledge of the New Testament in its original language were of incalculable value ; but it never occurred to him that a purer text of the version he despised would have brought Western Christianity to a closer acquaintance with the sense of the New Testament documents than the depraved Greek text of which he was so proud.

So the defence and purification of the Latin Vulgate was left to the scholars of the Roman obedience : with the queer result that throughout the sixteenth century the greatest contributions to the improvement of the text of Scripture were not made by Protestants but by Roman Catholics. Cardinal Ximenes' Complutensian Polyglot was an infinitely better text of the New Testament, whether Greek or Latin, than were the editions of Erasmus. The Sixtine edition of the Septuagint, published under the auspices of Pope Sixtus V in 1587, is a splendid monument of scholarship. The Vulgate texts of the Stephanus family at Paris, the work of the Louvain savants like Hentenius and Lucas of Bruges, and finally the official Roman editions of Pope Sixtus V and Pope Clement VIII constitute between them a record of which the Roman Church has no reason to be ashamed. 1

But the inevitable result of the publication of an official Roman edition, meant to supersede all private and independent texts, was that nothing was done on the Vulgate for three hundred years within the Roman Church. The Benedictines of St Ma,ur produced indeed the most elaborate undertaking ever devoted to the study of the Latin Bible, Dom Pierre Sabatier's Bibliorum Sacrorum Versiones Antiquae in three enormous folio volumes, 1 743-9 ; but this, as its name implies, was limited to the collection of pre-Vulgate material. All that was done on the Vulgate was done by non-Roman scholars, of whom the two most important were Englishmen, worthy successors of the English Alcuin, Richard Bentley and John Wordsworth.

BENTLEY had planned an edition of a Graeco-Latin New Testament in which were to appear side by side an improved Greek text (the Textus Receptus being at last dethroned) and a critical text of St Jerome's Vulgate. His basic principle was that these were not two texts but one : the true Jerome and the true texts of the apostolic writers would be found to be in such close agreement that there would not be, he asserted, twenty places in which they differed, throughout the whole New Testament.

Bentley's plan never came to fruition : all that remains of it are numerous notes and collations, preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. The idea of a parallel Graeco-Latin edition, with the Vulgate representing the Latin, was carried out in LACHMANN'S editio maior, Berlin 1842-1850. It was, however, not till Bishop John WORDSWORTH that the scholar was found to prepare, and the Clarendon Press to publish, a really critical text, after 1500 years, of St Jerome's revised translation of the Vulgate.

Wordsworth was in the fullest sense a pioneer, and in the work of a pioneer it is inevitable that scholars of the next generation should find it comparatively easy to pick a certain number of holes. But it must never be forgotten that we who follow build on the foundations laid by him : and whatever criticisms are embodied in the succeeding pages of this Introduction not only would have been meaningless without his edition, but are trivial in comparison with the benefit which Western Christianity has reaped from his book. I wish to make this clear in limine: all that I can claim to perform is to do some gleaning in the field which he made his own.

If I am to set down frankly what seems to me the only fundamental criticism of Wordsworth's work that can be ventured on, it is that he has perhaps given too much consideration to the history of the Vulgate and too little to the effort to get behind the history to the original. I would gladly have exchanged all collations of Alcuin's and Theodulf s Carolingian texts for more knowledge of the earliest MSS. The Claromontane MS (Vat. lat. 7223), though suspect from its giving St Matthew in an Old-Latin form, has Vulgate texts of the other three; and though it is Gallican, it is of very early date. The St Gall fragments do not contain more than about half the whole matter of the Gospels, and it is not to be denied that in questions of orthography they often present a tendency to replace the Hieronymian standard by a reaction to Old-Latin practice. But in spite of that, in all questions of text its witness is of the highest value: there are not wanting occasions in which it is right against the combined testimony of all our other MSS, and throughout it gives, and especially when it is reinforced by the sixth century Milan MS, M (Ambros. C. 39 Inf.), a North-Italian tradition, which is an invaluable check upon an exclusive reliance on the South-Italian or Cassiodorian tradition, in substance reproduced by Wordsworth. I am sure that the pains taken in transcribing and editing 5 (so I call the St Gall fragments) have not been in vain."

1. See the admirable chapters in Dom Henri Quentin's Memoire sur l'etablissement du Texte de la Vulgate, Iere Partie, - Octateuque (Rome and Paris, 1922).

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional Valid CSS!

This page powered by: