Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/642

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Hebraist. Though in England, France, and Italy it has been easy to name scholars throughout the medieval period who had more or less knowledge of the language, such has not been the case as regards Germany. Yet this slowness to receive the New Learning was more than compensated by the ardour and thoroughness with which it was utilised when once its value had been recognised.

If the beginnings of a revival in Christian learning can be traced to Bacon and Grosseteste in the thirteenth century, there can be little doubt that the central figure of the whole movement is Erasmus. This is a commonplace: and when it has been set down, the difficulty of deciding how much detail should be added to the bare statement is very great. His personality cannot be adequately set forth within the limits of a single chapter. His career has been shortly traced elsewhere in this volume. The most that can be done here is to summarise the work done by him in reopening the long-closed pages of the Church's early literature.

We have spoken already of what is usually accounted his greatest service in that department, the publication of the Greek text of the New Testament. But we have seen that his best work was not put into this. It was a hurried production; and the task of forming a really good Greek text of a set of documents, with so long and complex a history as the books which compose the New Testament, was a task beyond the powers of any individual. Many generations of textual critics were destined to collect materials and to elaborate theories before the principles on which the work must be done were formulated; and even in our own day perfection has not been attained.

Erasmus was far more at home, and far more successful, in dealing with patristic texts. His hero among Christian scholars was St Jerome. Before the close of the fifteenth century we find him giving expression to his desire that he might be enabled to improve the text of this Father's works, and, in particular, that of his Epistles. In these, as is well known, there is a multitude of Greek and Hebrew quotations. Any one who has looked at, say, a twelfth century manuscript of the Letters will remember what a scene of confusion is certain to take place when the scribe is confronted with one of these passages. The best that one can hope for is an unintelligent imitation of the Greek uncial characters, upon which conjecture more or less scientific may be founded. Too often the copyist's courage deserts him, and a blank is left. The earlier editions of Jerome were no better than the manuscripts. Erasmus is never tired of saying that before his time Jerome could not be read. Johann Amerbach the printer had set on foot the enterprise of a new issue of Jerome's writings, and had engaged the services of Reuchlin and others to emend the text. Reuchlin's work- which had to do more especially with the Greek and Hebrew quotations just mentioned-was, it seems, done more by conjecture than upon