Page images
[blocks in formation]

will appear obvious. Clearly it was a principle recognised among Christians from the first that the church was to give the Bible to the world, not in a learned tongue, but in the vernacular. Wherever Christian missionaries went in the first age, thither went the Scriptures ; so that, within four hundred years after Christ, not only the people of Syria, Greece, and Rome, but the natives of Egypt, of Ethiopia, and, soon after, of Armenia, Arabia, and, by and by, of central and northern Europe, all possessed, and could read in their own languages, the word of Godthe glad tidings of eternal life.

It may be added, that before the time of Jerome the Latin language had spread over a large part of Gaul and Spain. Indeed, till the eighth or ninth century, that language was the common speech among all persons of intelligence and learning throughout the western part of Europe ; the vernacular languages which then sprang up in those countries being, like the Italian, modifications of that tongue. .

It is equally clear that those versions were made, not from the Vulgate, but, in the case of the New Testament, from the original Greek, or, as in the case of the Syriac Old Testament, from the original Hebrew. It is a Romish novelty to claim for the Vulgate inspired or even exclusive authority.

It is a question of some interest how far copies of the Scriptures were sufficiently multiplied in those early times to meet the wants


BIBLE CIRCULATION. of the people ; for, after all, the influence of Scripture depends, not on the existence of a translation, but on the facility afforded for reading it. A translated Bible is no blessing unless it is easily accessible and frequently used.

In answering this question, it must be admitted that there was no such facility of access to Scripture as is now enjoyed in most Protestant countries. On the other hand, it is certain that Scripture was much more accessible than in the middle ages. This statement may seem paradoxical, but it is sustained by ample evidence; and as the subject is both interesting and important, part of that evidence we may supply.

Long before the Christian era, large libraries were formed in different parts of the ancient world, and existed for centuries. Pisistratus, who formed one of the earliest libraries in Greece, (A.D. 520) gathered an immense collection of the works of the learned. The Egyptian Ptolemies founded and enriched the vast library at Alexandria, and though it was partly destroyed by fire, and in the fourth century was much injured during some disturbances between the Pagans and Christians, yet it was so large that, on the Saracen invasion, the books are said to have been numerous enough to serve the four thousand ovens of the city for six months. In Rome there were, about the time of our Lord, several libraries both private and public: one was formed by Paulus Emilius, who placed


61 in it the books be had taken from Perseus, of Macedon; another had been formed by Sylla ; another by Regulus, who received from the people all the books that were taken at Carthage. Later than these last, Crassus, Cæsar, Cicero, Augustus, and Lucullus, each formed collections which excited the admiration of their contemporaries. There must, therefore, have been some thousands of volumes in Rome at that time. Some of the libraries of the Christians rivalled even these imperial collections. Pamphilus, the presbyter of Cæsarea, who lived at the close of the third century, collected a library in that city which contained thirty thousand volumes. This collection seems to have been made chiefly for the use of scholars of that day, as the books were lent out very freely to all who were religiously disposed. Jerome mentions this collection, and Dr. Adam Clarke remarks upon it, “that this is the first notice we have of a circulating library.” Of this library it may be added, some traces reinained even to modern times. Montfaucon describes minutely two manuscripts, one in the Royal Library, and the other in the Jesuits' College at Paris, both of which profess to have belonged to this library at Cæsarea. The greater part of this collection was destroyed by the Saracens. * Contrast with these facts the following :-In the year 1364, the Royal Library of France, which now numbers half a million of volumes, did not contain twenty. * See Clarke's Succession of Sacred Literature, vol. i. p. 227. 62 EARLY STUDY OF THE BIBLE. Shortly afterwards, Charles the Fifth increased it to nine hundred ; and about the year 1440, the whole was transferred by the duke of Bedford to London, as one of the choicest treasures which either war or money could gain. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the library of Oxford consisted of “ a few tracts kept in chests."

The conclusion which is thus rendered probable by the comparatively large multiplication of books in early times is confirmed by other evidence. Augustine remarks, that in his day (the fourth century) there were many versions of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, and of the Greek Scriptures into Latin. “ The translators of the former may be computed,” says he, “but the number of those who have translated the latter cannot.” “I think," says Fenelon, “ that much trouble has been taken in our times very unnecessarily to prove what is incontestible, that in the first ages of the church the laity read the Holy Scriptures. It is as clear as daylight that all people read the Bible in their native languages; that as a part of education children were made to read it; that in their sermons the ministers of the church regularly explained it to their flocks; that the sacred text of the Scriptures was very familiar to the people; that the clergy blamed the people for not reading it, and considered the neglect of the perusal of Scripture as a source of heresy and immorality.”* This statement is the literal

* Euvres Spirituels, tom. iv. p. 241.


63 fact, and it proves that copies of the sacred writings abounded, for exhortations to read the Bible must have been worse than useless if the Bible itself was not accessible.

Nor, when judging of the general knowledge of Scripture in early times, ought a third fact to be overlooked. In the early ages of the church there were many ecclesiastical writers. Jerome mentions as inany as a hundred and twenty who flourished during the first four centuries, and of those who wrote in the first seven, fragments of no less than a hundred and ninety remain. Their works are chiefly comments on Scripture. They quote very largely and accurately from the sacred text. From the fragments which have come down to us, the whole text of the New Testament might be gathered, even if the original Scripture had perished. Lord Hailes, in Scotland, and Dr. Bentley, in England, made the experiment, and confirm this statement. The authors of these works resided and taught in Gaul, Germany, Italy, Syria, and Africa. The works themselves were written in the Greek, Latin, and Syriac tongues. They were read by thousands, and could not have been read without giving an insight into the doctrines and phraseology of the Bible.

If it be asked what has become of these ancient volumes which were once so numerous ? the answer is at hand. A considerable number remain, and a much larger number have been destroyed. The Romans burned the books of

« PreviousContinue »