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5614Re: [textualcriticism] Re: Oldest Example of Written English Discovered in Church?

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  • Larry Swain
    Mar 3, 2010
      Before responding to the below, I have some information on your previous remarks about Nerses to type up: in the end it won't change the practical nature of your assumption, but it was fun for me to think and find information outside my geographical place and beyond the languages I usually work in.

      --- In textualcriticism@yahoogroups.com, Heterodoxus wrote:
      > "What is believed to be the first ever example of English in a British church has been discovered.
      Tim Tatton Brown, the cathedral's consultant archaeologist, explained: 'The Cathedral's conservators quite unexpectedly found some beautifully written English text behind the Henry Hyde Monument on the cathedral's south aisle wall when the monument was temporarily removed as part of the on-going schedule of work.
      "And what the experts now think is that this could be the first example of English written in a church context - scholars were executed for translating the bible into English at that tune.

      Source: The Telegraph, 2010 March01<<

      >>It's puzzling what they could mean by "English written in a church context." The Bible had a long history of being translated into English, going all the way back to Bede--a scholar and a churchman if there ever was one. Except that the "English" of his day was not the same language as what we now use.<<

      I too have been puzzled by that remark. Certainly even if we are restricting the comment to only inscriptional evidence in English churches, we have the Bewcastle and Ruthwell crosses, the inscription on the Brussels Cross, or the Old English inscription on the wall of a church in Breamore, among several others that could be pointed to. If we are only looking to Middle English or early Modern there's the English inscription at Newland from circa 1457, and another almost a century earlier from Cawston. That leaves aside the large number of homilies in both Old and Middle English that would have been written and preached in a "church context" and so on, much less other kinds of texts in Old, Middle, and early Modern English in church contexts of various kinds.

      Re: Bede: Bede seems to have written largely in Latin. The only evidence of anything in English we have from him is Cuthbert's statement that Bede was translating John's gospel into Old English. Cuthbert also records Bede's Death Song, but there is question as to whether this was Bede's composition or a pre-existing hymn/song that Bede quoted in the context of quoting certain Scriptural passages. So one could claim Bede as a writer of things in English in a church context.

      I suppose I should query just what is meant about the statement that "Except that the "English" of his day was not the same language as what we now use." It is the same language, just at a different stage in history. Yes, it has changed significantly in the intervening 1400 years or so, but is still recognizably the same language.

      >>English emerged as a written language a couple of centuries after the Norman Conquest, and there is plenty of manuscript evidence that among its first uses was writing glosses in several different versions of the Latin Psalter.<<

      English emerged as a written language long before that! I mentioned above the runic inscriptions on the crosses...the language is English, as well as the Franks Casket. The Northumbrian version of Bede's Death Song and of Caedmon's Hymn are both eighth century, and it is agreed generally that Genesis A and Beowulf are both likely eighth century works and at least in the case of the former was written down. There are other literary works in English from before the Conquest, both prose and poetry, but too many to go into here.

      As for Middle English after the Conquest, the earliest Middle English is simply a continuation of Old English practices. Poems such as "The Grave" and the last entries in the Peterborough Chronicle, Proverbs of Alfred and the like are examples. As for specifically Biblical materials, there glosses on Psalters come into play, but so do other things such as paraphrases, homilies, harmonies, and the like, much less Biblical lyrics, Richard Rolle's psalms translation, and the like.

      >>This was followed about the middle of the 14th century with an Enlglish translation of the Anglo-Norman Apocalpse with commentary by Berengaudus.<<

      Berengaudus wrote in Latin; further he's earlier than the 14th century. The standard opinion is that he was an eleventh century writer on the continent and his commentary became very popular in the late 11th and 12th century and was often quoted from and used as gloss on the Apocalypse thereafter. Derk Visser wrote a book on early medieval Apocalypse commentaries in the mid-90s published with Brill that argued, I think fairly convincingly, that Berengaudus was a late Carolingian writer and not an 11th century writer.

      >>It wasn't until Wycliffe's time, toward the end of the century, that there was any apporbation attached to translating the Bible into English.<<

      And not even then. As with the earlier Peter Waldo and the Waldensians the issue as relating to Biblical translation was the issue of "control." Both Waldo, not a cleric, and Wycliffe who was decried the secularization of the church and the involvement of churchmen in secular affairs with the attendant corrupting wealth. According to his detractors, Wycliffe's "translation" (and he likely only did the four gospels and perhaps the epistles) (and Waldo's preaching---Waldo had paid a priest to translate the Bible into French for him, and developed his theology out of that translation--) was inaccurate and and wrong and was done to support his views on the poverty of the church, royal power, predestination and the like rather than being an accurate translation. Remember that almost every homily contained passages of the Bible in the vernacular, and there were vernacular sections of the Bible aplenty...the psalms and the gospels being the most popular portions. Most nobles in Wycliffe's day had a Bible or at least parts of it in French.

      Thus, it wasn't the fact of the Bible being in the vernacular, but the how and why it was in the vernacular--to undermine church authority.

      >> And even Wycliffe wasn't burned at the stake until many years after he'd been dead and buried.<<

      Yes, but not for his Bible translation.

      Larry Swain

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