Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/627

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

The critical labours of which we have been speaking were chiefly concerned with the text of the Old Testament; and it is a noteworthy circumstance that in the fourteenth century the knowledge of Hebrew, and the application of that knowledge to Biblical studies, was far commoner than the knowledge of Greek. It is not difficult to account , for this, so far as Western Europe is concerned. Teachers of Hebrew were, as Bacon tells us, very easily procurable. It is true that he adds that it was equally easy to acquire Greek; but it must be remembered that in the case of Hebrew, books in which the language could be studied, and on which critical and exegetical work could be done, were plentiful. Wherever a community of Jews existed, the Scriptures in Hebrew could be readily obtained. Not so with Greek. The few Greek manuscripts imported into England by Grosseteste, the Greek Gospels which the Byzantine Emperor had sent to St Louis, the two or three volumes at St Denis, were rarities of the first water. The stores of Greek literature in the Basilian monasteries of Southern Italy and Sicily, to say nothing of Greece and of Byzantium, were not yet unlocked. That ancient scholarship to which we owe the Graeco-Latin manuscripts of Southern France, the Laudian manuscript of the Acts that Baeda used, and the famous codices of St Gall, had altogether died. The eyes of a few far-sighted scholars were turned towards the Grecian lands; but as yet they could do no more than look and long.

Still, the truths to which Roger Bacon had given expression were not forgotten. Especially in the ranks of his own-the Franciscan- Order, men were found who realised and acted upon them. Scraps of Hebrew and Greek learning-alphabets, transcripts of the Lord's Prayer, and the like-are of not infrequent occurrence in manuscripts of Franciscan origin. These may be only straws showing which way the wind sets. More significant is the appearance among the Franciscans of the greatest exponent of the literal sense of Scripture whom the medieval world can show. This was Nicholas de Lyra, who died in 1340. It is not so much because of his learning that he is important, though his knowledge of Hebrew was highly notable; it is rather his attitude, his desire to ascertain what the words of the Sacred Text actually mean, which differentiates him from the ancient allegorists. The same tendency is seen in the work of a far less famous Franciscan of the same generation. Henry of Costessey is the author of a Commentary upon the Psalms which appears to exist in but one manuscript. In this the insistence upon the literal sense, the constant reference to the original Hebrew, and the independence of the writer's judgment, who is for ever canvassing and contradicting the opinions of Lyra, are such as would have rejoiced Bacon's heart. For a considerable time the Franciscan Houses at both Oxford and Cambridge must have kept alive the interest in this "New Learning." We are fairly well informed about the establishment at Oxford; and concerning the Cambridge House we can at least tell who