“Numberless portions of the wisdom of God are wanting to us. Many books of the Sacred Text remain untranslated, as two books of the Maccabees which I know to exist in Greek; and many other books of divers Prophets, whereto reference is made in the books of Kings and Chronicles. Josephus, too, in the books of his Antiquities, is altogether falsely rendered as far as concerns the chronological side: and without him nothing can be known of the history of the Sacred Text. Unless he be corrected, in a new translation, he is of no avail, and the Biblical history is lost. Numberless books, again, of Hebrew and Greek expositors are wanting to the Latins: as those of Origen, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Damascene, Dionysius, Chrysostom, and other most noble Doctors, alike in Hebrew and in Greek. The Church, therefore, is slumbering. She does nothing in this matter, nor hath done these seventy years; save that my Lord Robert, Bishop of Lincoln, of holy memory, did give to the Latins some part of the writings of St Dionysius and of Damascene, and some other holy Doctors. It is an amazing thing, this negligence of the Church: for, from the time of Pope Damasus there hath not been any Pope, nor any of less rank, who hath busied himself for the advantaging of the Church by translations, except the aforesaid glorious Bishop.”
It would be difficult to find a better statement, in the same compass, of those gaps in the knowledge of Western Christendom which the Christian Renaissance was to fill. Roger Bacon, the author of the passage, and Robert Grosseteste, who is in part the subject of it, were the two men who, to all appearance, first realised the scientific needs of the Church. If they did not actually initiate the Christian Renaissance they at least stood very close to its beginnings,—as close, one may say, as Petrarch to the beginnings of the Classical Renaissance.
We shall see reason to believe that their influence upon their contemporaries and successors was very great in this respect: and it must also be said that their actual achievements in the way of preparing materials, and in work done, were far from inconsiderable. They merit a more detailed notice than has commonly been accorded to them.