Jacques Maritain Center : Greatest of Centuries

XIV SOME THIRTEENTH CENTURY PROSE.

It would be unpardonable to allow the notion to be entertained that it was only in poetry that the writers of the Thirteenth Century succeeded in creating works of enduring influence. Some of the prose writings of the time are deeply interesting for many reasons. Modern prose was in its formative period, and the evolution of style, as of other things in the making, is proverbially worthy of more serious study than even the developed result. The prose writings of the Thirteenth Century were mainly done in Latin, but that was not for lack of command over the vernacular tongues, as we shall see, but because this was practically a universal language. This century had among other advantages that subsequent ages have striven for unsuccessfully, our own most of all, a common medium of expression for all scholars at least. There are, however, the beginnings of Prose in all the modern languages and it is easy to understand that the Latin of the time had a great influence on the vernacular and that the modes of expression which had become familiar in the learned tongue, were naturally transferred to the vulgar speech, as it was called, whenever accuracy of thought and nicety of expression invited such transmutation.

With regard to the Latin of the period it is the custom of many presumably well-educated men to sniff a little and say deprecatingly, that after all much cannot be expected from the writers of the time, since they were dependent on medieval or scholastic Latin for the expression of their ideas. This criticism is supposed to do away with any idea of the possibility of there having been a praiseworthy prose style, at this time in the Middle Ages. In the chapter on the Latin Hymns, we call attention to the fact that this same mode of criticism was supposed to preclude all possibility of rhymed Latin, as worthy to occupy a prominent place in literature. The widespread encouragement of this false impression has, as a matter of fact, led to a neglect of these wonderful poems, though they may in the opinion of competent critics, even be considered as representing the true genius of the Latin language and its powers of poetic expression better than the Greek poetic modes, which were adopted by the Romans, but which, with the possible exception of their two greatest poets, never seem to have acquired that spontaneity that would characterize a native outburst of lingual vitality.

As for the philosophic writers of the century that great period holds in this, as in other departments, the position of the palmiest time of the Middle Ages. To it belongs Alexander Hales, the Doctor Irrefragabilis who disputes with Aquinas the prize for the best example of the Summa Theologiae; Bonaventure the Mystic, and writer of beautiful hymns; Roger Bacon, the natural philosopher; Vincent of Beauvais, the encyclopedist. While of the four, greatest of all, Albertus Magnus, the "Dumb Ox of Cologne," was born seven years before its opening, his life lasted over four-fifths of it; that of Aquinas covered its second and third quarters; Occam himself, though his main exertions lie beyond this century, was probably born before Aquinas died; while John Duns Scotus hardly outlived the century's close by a decade. Raymond Lully, one of the most characteristic figures of Scholasticism and of the medieval period (with his "great art" of automatic philosophy), who died in 1315, was born as early as 1235. Peter the Spaniard, Pope and author of the Summulae Logicales, the grammar of formal logic for ages as well of several medieval treatises that have attracted renewed attention in our day, died in 1277.

With regard to what was accomplished in philosophic and theologic prose, examples will be found in the chapter on St. Thomas Aquinas, which prove beyond all doubt the utter simplicity, the directness, and the power of the prose of the Thirteenth Century. In the medical works of the time there was less directness, but always a simplicity that made them commendable. In general, university writers were influenced by the scholastic methods and we find it reflected constantly in their works. In the minds of many people this would be enough at once to condemn it. It will usually be found, however, as we have noted before, that those who are readiest to condemn scholastic writing know nothing about it, or so little that their opinion is not worth considering. Usually they have whatever knowledge they think they possess, at second hand. Sometimes all that they have read of scholastic philosophy are some particularly obscure passages on abstruse subjects, selected by some prejudiced historian, in order to show how impossible was the philosophic writing of these centuries of the later Middle Ages.

There are other opinions, however, that are of quite different significance and value. We shall quote but one of them, written by Professor Saintsbury of the University of Edinburgh, who in his volume on the Flourishing of Romance and the Rise of Allegory (the Twelfth and Thirteenth centuries) of his Periods of European Literature, has shown how sympathetically the prose writing of the Thirteenth Century may appeal even to a scholarly modern, whose main interests have been all his life in literature. Far from thinking that prose was spoiled by scholasticism, Prof. Saintsbury considers that schoasticism was the fortunate training school in which all the possibilities of modern prose were brought out and naturally introduced into the budding languages of the time. He says:

"However this may be" (whether the science of the Nineteenth Century after an equal interval will be of any more positive value, whether it will not have even less comparative interest than that which appertains to the scholasticism of the Thirteenth Century) "the claim modest, and even meager as it may seem to some, which has been here once more put forward for this scholasticism -- the claim of a far-reaching educative influence in mere language, in mere system of arrangement and expression, will remain valid. If at the outset of the career of modern languages, men had thought with the looseness of modern thought, had indulged in the haphazard slovenliness of modern logic, had popularized theology and vulgarized rhetoric, as we have seen both popularized and vulgarized since, we should indeed have been in evil case. It used to be thought clever to moralize and to felicitate mankind over the rejection of the stays, the fetters, the prison in which its thought was medievally kept. The justice or the injustice, the taste or the vulgarity of these moralizings, of these felicitations, may not concern us here. But in expression, as distinguished from thought, the value of the discipline to which these youthful languages was subjected is not likely now to be denied by any scholar who has paid attention to the subject. It would have been perhaps a pity if thought had not gone through other phases; it would certainly have been a pity if the tongues had been subjected to the fullest influence of Latin constraint. But that the more lawless of them benefited by that constraint there can be no doubt whatever. The influence of form which the best Latin hymns of the Middle Ages exercised in poetry, the influence in vocabulary and in logical arrangement which scholasticism exercised in prose are beyond dispute: and even those who will not pardon literature, whatever its historic and educative importance be, for being something less than masterly in itself, will find it difficult to maintain the exclusion of the Cur Deus Homo, and impossible to refuse admission to the "Dies Irae."

Besides this philosophic and scientific prose, there were two forms of writing of which this century presents a copious number of examples. These are the chronicles and biographies of the time and the stories of travelers and explorers. These latter we have treated in a separate chapter. The chronicles of the time deserve to be studied with patient attention by anyone who wishes to know the prose writers of the century and the character of the men of that time and their outlook on life. It is usually considered that chroniclers are rather tiresome old fogies who talk much and say very little, who accept all sorts of legends on insufficient authority and who like to fill up their pages with wonderful things regardless of their truth. In this regard it must not be forgotten that in times almost within the memory of men still alive, Herodotus now looked upon deservedly as the Father of History and one of the great historical writers of all time, was considered to have a place among these chroniclers, and his works were ranked scarcely higher, except for the purity of their Greek style.

The first of the great chroniclers in a modern tongue was the famous Geoffrey de Villehardouin, who was not only a writer of, but an actor in the scenes which he describes. He was enrolled among the elite of French Chivalry, in that Crusade at the beginning of the Thirteenth Century, which resulted in the foundation of the Greco-Latin Empire. His book entitled "The Conquest of Constantinople," includes the story of the expedition during the years from 1198 to 1207. Modern war correspondents have seldom succeeded in giving a more vivid picture of the events of which they were witnesses than this first French chronicler of the Thirteenth Century. It is evident that the work was composed with the idea that it should be recited, as had been the old poetic Chansons de Geste, in the castles of the nobles and before assemblages of the people, perhaps on fair days and other times when they were gathered together. The consequence is that it is written in a lively straightforward style with direct appeals to its auditors.

It contains not a few passages of highly poetic description which show that the chronicler was himself a literary man ot no mean order and probably well versed in the effusions of the old poets of this country. His description of the fleet of the Crusaders as it was about to set sail for the East and then his description of its arrival before the imposing walls of the Imperial City, are the best examples of this, and have not been surpassed even by modern writers on similar topics.

Though the French writer was beyond all doubt not familiar with the Grecian writers and knew nothing of Xenophon, there is a constant reminder of the Greek historian in his work. Xenophon's simple directness, his thorough-going sincerity, the impression he produces of absolute good faith and confidence in the completeness of the picture, so that one feels that one has been present almost at many of the scenes described, are all to be encountered in his medieval successor. Villehardouin went far ahead of his predecessors, the chroniclers of foregoing centuries, in his careful devotion to truth. A French writer has declared that to Villehardouin must be ascribed the foundation of historical probity. None of his facts, stated as such, has ever been impugned, and though his long speeches must necessarily have been his own composition, there seems no doubt that they contain the ideas which had been expressed on various occasions, and besides were composed with due reference to the character of the speaker and convey something of his special style of expression.

Prof. Saintsbury in his article in the Encyclopedia Britannica on Villehardouin, sums up very strikingly the place that this first great vernacular historian's book must occupy.

He says: "It is not impertinent, and at the same time an excuse for what has been already said, to repeat that Villehardouin's book, brief as it is, is in reality one of the capital books of literature, not merely for its merit, but because it is the most authentic and the most striking embodiment in the contemporary literature of the sentiments which determined the action of a great and important period of history. There are but very few books which hold this position, and Villehardouin's is one of them. If every other contemporary record of the crusades perished, we should still be able by aid of this to understand and realize what the mental attitude of crusaders, of Teutonic Knights, and the rest was, and without this we should lack the earliest, the most undoubtedly genuine, and the most characteristic of all such records. The very inconsistency with which Villehardouin is chargeable, the absence of compunction with which he relates the changing of a sacred religious pilgrimage into something by no means unlike a mere filibustering raid on a great scale, add a charm to the book. For, religious as it is, it is entirely free from the very slightest touch of hypocrisy or, indeed, of self-consciousness of any kind. The famous description of the Crusades, gesta Dei per Francos, was evidently to Villehardouin a plain matter-of-fact description and it no more occurred to him to doubt the divine favor being extended to the expeditions against Alexius or Theodore than to doubt that it was shown to expeditions against Saracens and Turks."

It was especially in the exploitation of biographical material that the Thirteenth Century chroniclers were at their best. Any one who recalls Carlyle's unstinted admiration of Jocelyn of Brakelonds' life of Abbot Sampson in his essays Past and Present, will be sure that at least one writer in England had succeeded in pleasing so difficult a critic in this rather thorny mode of literary expression. It is easy to say too much or too little about the virtues and the vices of a man whose biography one has chosen to write. Jocelyn's simple, straightforward story would seem to fulfil the best canons of modern criticism in this respect. Probably no more vivid picture of a man and his ways was ever given until Boswell's Johnson. Nor was the English chronicler alone in this respect. The Sieur de Joinville's biographical studies of the life of Louis IX. furnish another example of this literary mode at its best, and modern writers of biography could not do better than go back to read these intimate pictures of the life of a great king, which are not flattered nor overdrawn but give us the man as he actually was.

The English biographic chronicler of the olden time could picture exciting scenes without any waste of words. A specimen of his work will serve to show the merit of his style. After reading it one is not likely to be surprised that Carlyle should have so taken the Chronicler to heart nor been so enthusiastic in his praise. It is the very type of that impressionism in style that has once more in the course of time become the fad of our own day.

"The abbot was informed that the church of Woolpit was vacant, Walter of Coutances being chosen to the bishopric of Lincoln. He presently convened the prior and great part of the convent, and taking up his story thus began: 'You well know what trouble I had in respect of the church of Woolpit; and in order that it should be obtained for your exclusive use I journeyed to Rome at your instance, in the time of the schism between Pope Alexander and Octavian. I passed through Italy at that time when all clerks bearing letters of our lord the Pope Alexander were taken. Some were imprisoned, some hanged, and some, with nose and lips cut off, sent forward to the pope, to his shame and confusion. I, however, pretended to be Scotch; and putting on the garb of a Scotchman, and the gesture of one, I often brandished my staff, in the way they use that weapon called a gaveloc, at those who mocked me, using threatening language, after the manner of the Scotch. To those that met and questioned me as to who I was, I answered nothing, but, "Ride ride Rome, turne Cantwereberei." This did I to conceal myself and my errand, and that I should get to Rome safer in the guise of a Scotchman.

"'Having obtained letters from the pope, even as I wished, on my return I passed by a certain castle, as my way led me from the city; and behold the officers thereof came about me, laying hold upon me, and saying, "This vagabond who makes himself out to be a Scotchman is either a spy or bears letters from the false pope Alexander." And while they examined my ragged clothes, and my boots, and my breeches, and even the old shoes which I carried over my shoulders, after the fashion of the Scotch, I thrust my hand into the little wallet which I carried, wherein was contained the letter of our lord the pope, placed under a little cup I had for drinking. The Lord God and St. Edmund so permitting, I drew out both the letter and the cup together, so that, extending my arm aloft, I held the letter underneath the cup. They could see the cup plain enough, but they did not see the letter; and so I got clear out of their hands, in the name of the Lord. Whatever money I had about me they took away; therefore I had to beg from door to door, without any payment, until I arrived in England.'"

Another excellent example of the biographic prose of the century, though this is the vernacular, is Joinville's life of St. Louis, without doubt one of the precious biographical treasures of all times. It contains a vivid portrait of Louis IX., made by a man who knew him well personally, took part with him in some of the important actions of the book, and in general was an active personage in the affairs of the time. Those who think that rapid picturesque description such as vividly recalls deeds of battle was reserved for the modern war correspondent, should read certain portions of Joinville's book. As an example we have ventured to quote the page on which the seneschal historian himself recounts the role which he played in the famous battle of Mansourah, at which, with the Count de Soissons and Pierre de Neuville, he defended a small bridge against the enemy under a hail of arrows.

He says: "Before us there were two sergeants of the king, one of whom was named William de Boon and the other John of Gamaches. Against these the Turks who had placed themselves between the river and the little tributary, led a whole mob of villains on foot, who hurled at them clods of turf or whatever came to hand. Never could they make them recoil upon us, however. As a last resort the Turks sent forward a foot soldier

who three times launched Greek fire at them. Once William de Boon received the pot of green fire upon his buckler. If the fire had touched anything on him he would have been entirely burned up. We at the rear were all covered by arrows which had missed the Sergeants. It happened that I found a waistcoat which had been stuffed by one of the Saracens. I turned the open side of it towards me and made a shield out of the vest which rendered me great service, for I was wounded by their arrows in only five places though my horse was wounded in fifteen. One of my own men brought me a banner with my arms and a lance. Every time then that we saw that they were pressing the Royal Sergeants we charged upon them and they fled. The good Count Soissons, from the point at which we were, joked with me and said 'Senechal, let us hoot out this rabble, for by the headdress of God (this was his favorite oath) we shall talk over this day you and I many a time in our ladies' halls.'"

We have said that the writing of the Thirteenth Century must have been done to a great extent for the sake of the women of the time, and that its very existence was a proof that the women possessed a degree of culture, that might not be realized from the few details that have been preserved to us of their education and habits of life. In this last passage of Joinville we have the proof of this, since evidently the telling of the stories of these days of battle was done mainly in order that the women folks might have their share in the excitement of the campaign, and might be enabled vividly to appreciate what the dangers had been and how gloriously their lords had triumphed. At every period of the world's history it was true that literature was mainly made for women and that some of the best portions of it always concerned them very closely.

We have purposely left till last, the greatest of the chroniclers of the Thirteenth Century, Matthew Paris, the Author of the Historia Major, who owes his surname doubtless to the fact that he was educated at the University of Paris. Instead of trying to tell anything about him from our own slight personal knowledge, we prefer to quote the passage from Green's History of the English People, in which one of the greatest of our modern English historians pays such a magnificent tribute to his colleague of the earlier times:

"The story of this period of misrule has been preserved for us by an annalist whose pages glow with the new outburst of patriotic feeling which this common expression of the people and the clergy had produced. Matthew Paris is the greatest, as he is in reality the last of our monastic historians. The school of St. Albans survived indeed till a far later time, but the writers dwindle into mere annalists whose view is bounded by the Abbey precincts, and whose work is as colorless as it is jejune. In Matthew the breadth and precision of the narrative, the copiousness of his information on topics whether national or European, the general fairness and justice of his comments, are only surpassed by the patriotic fire and enthusiasm of the whole. He had succeeded Roger of Wendover as Chronicler of St. Albans; and the Greater Chronicle, with the abridgement of it which has long passed under the name of Matthew of Westminster, a "History of the English," and the "Lives of the Earlier Abbots," were only a few among the voluminous works which attest his prodigious industry. He was an eminent artist as well as a historian, and many of the manuscripts which are preserved are illustrated by his own hand. A large circle of correspondents -- bishops like Grosseteste, ministers like Hubert de Burgh, officials like Alexander de Swinford -- furnished him with minute accounts of political and ecclesiastical proceedings. Pilgrims from the East and Papal agents brought news of foreign events to his scriptorium at St. Albans. He had access to and quotes largely from state documents, charters, and exchequer rolls. The frequency of the royal visits to the abbey brought him a store of political intelligence and Henry himself contributed to the great chronicle which has preserved with so terrible a faithfulness the memory of his weakness and misgovernment. On one solemn feast-day the King recognized Matthew, and bidding him sit on the middle step between the floor and the throne, begged him to write the story of the day's proceedings. While on a visit to St. Albans he invited him to his table and chamber, and enumerated by name two hundred and fifty of the English barons for his information. But all this royal patronage has left little mark on his work. "The case," as he says, "of historical writers is hard, for if they tell the truth they provoke men, and if they write what is false they offend God." With all the fullness of the school of court historians, such as Benedict or Hoveden, Matthew Paris combines an independence and patriotism which is strange to their pages. He denounces with the same unsparing energy the oppression of the Papacy and the King. His point of view is neither that of a courtier nor of a Churchman, but of an Englishman, and the new national tone of his chronicle is but an echo of the national sentiment which at last bound nobles and yeomen and Churchmen together into an English people."

We of the Twentieth Century are a people of information and encyclopedias rather than of literature, so that we shall surely appreciate one important specimen of the prose writing of the Thirteenth Century since it comprises the first modern encyclopedia. Its author was the famous Vincent of Beauvais. Vincent consulted all the authors, sacred and profane, that he could possibly lay hands on, and the number of them was indeed prodigious. It has often been said by men supposed to be authorities in history, that the historians of the Middle Ages had at their disposition only a small number of books, and that above all they were not familiar with the older historians. While this was true as regards the Greek, it was not for the Latin historical writers. Vincent of Beauvais has quotations from Caesar's De Bello Gallico, from Sallust's Catiline and Jugurtha, from Quintus Curtius, from Suetonius and from Valerius Maximus and finally from Justin's Abridgement of Trogus Pompeius.

Vincent had the advantage of having at his disposition the numerous libraries of the monasteries throughout France, the extent of which, usually unrealized in modern times, will be appreciated from our special chapter on the subject. Besides he consulted the documents in the chapter houses of the Cathedrals especially those of Paris, of Rouen, of Laon, of Beauvais and of Bayeux, which were particularly rich in collections of documents. It might be thought that these libraries and archives would be closely guarded. Far from being closed to writers from the outer world they were accessible to all to such an extent, indeed, that a number of them are mentioned by Vincent as public institutions. His method of collecting his information is interesting, because it shows the system employed by him is practically that which has obtained down to our own day. He made use for his immense investigation of a whole army of young assistants, most of whom were furnished him by his own order, the Dominicans. He makes special mention in a number of places of quotations due to their collaboration. The costliness of maintaining such a system would have made the completion of the work absolutely impossible were it not for the liberality of King Louis IX., who generously offered to defray the expenses of the composition. Vincent has acknowledged this by declaring in his prefatorial letter to the King that, "you have always liberally given assistance even to the work of gathering the materials."

Vincent's method of writing is quite as interesting as his method of compilation of facts. The great Dominican was not satisfied with being merely a source of information. The philosophy of history has received its greatest Christian contribution from St. Augustine's City of God. In this an attempt was made to trace the meaning and causal sequence of events as well as their mere external connection and place in time. In a lesser medieval way Vincent tried deliberately to imitate this and besides writing history attempted to trace the philosophy of it. For him, as for the great French philosophic historian Bossuet in his Universal History five centuries later, everything runs its provided race from the creation to the redemption and then on toward the consummation of the world. He describes at first the commencements of the Church from the time of Abel, through its progress under the Patriarchs, the Prophets, Judges, Kings, and leaders of the people, down to the Birth of Christ. He traces the history of the Apostles and of the first Disciples, though he makes it a point to find place for the famous deeds of the great men of Pagan antiquity. He notes the commencement of Empires and Kingdoms, their glory, their decadence, their ruin, and the Sovereigns who made them illustrious in peace and war. There was much that was defective in the details of history as they were traced by Vincent, much that was lacking in completeness, but the intention was evidently the best, and patience and labor were devoted to the sources of history at his command. Perhaps never more than at the present moment have we been in a position to realize that history at its best can be so full of defects even after further centuries of consultation of documents and printed materials, that we are not likely to be in the mood to blame this first modern historian very much. As for the other portions of his encyclopedia, biographic, literary and scientific, they were not only freely consulted by his contemporaries and successors, but we find traces of their influence in the writings and also in the decorative work of the next two centuries. We have already spoken of the use of his book in the provision of subjects for the ornamentation of Cathedrals and the same thing might be said of edifices of other kinds.

Nor must it be thought that Vincent has only a historic or ecclesiastical interest. Dr. Julius Pagel, in his Chapter on Medicine in the Middle Ages in Puschmann's Hand-Book of the History of Medicine,{1} says, "that there were three writers whose works were even more popular than those of Albertus Magnus. These three were Bartholomew, the Englishman; Thomas, of Cantimprato, and Vincent, of Beauvais, the last of whom must be considered as one of the most important contributors to the generalization of scientific knowledge, not alone in the Thirteenth but in the immediately succeeding centuries. His most important work was really an encyclopedia of the knowledge of his time. It was called the Greater Triple Mirror and there is no doubt that it reflected the knowledge of his period. He had the true scientific spirit and constantly cites the authorities from whom his information was derived. He cites hundreds of authors and there is scarcely a subject that he does not touch on. One book of his work is concerned with human anatomy, and the concluding portion of it is an abbreviation of history carried down to the year 1250."

It might be considered that such a compend of information would be very dry-as-dust reading and that it would be fragmentary in character and little likely to be attractive except to a serious student. Dr. Pagel's opinion does not agree with this a priori impression. He says with regard to it: "The language is clear, readily intelligible, and the information is conveyed usually in an excellent, simple style. Through the introduction of interesting similes the contents do not lack a certain taking quality, so that the reading of the work easily becomes absorbing." This is, I suppose, almost the last thing that might be expected of a scientific teacher in the Thirteenth Century, because, after all, Vincent of Beauvais must be considered as one of the schoolmen, and they are supposed to be eminently arid, but evidently, if we are to trust this testimony of a modern German physician, only by those who have not taken the trouble to read them.

One of the most important works of Thirteenth Century prose is the well-known Rationale Divinorum Officiorum (Significance of the Divine Offices) written by William Durandus, the Bishop of Mende, in France, whose tomb and its inscription in the handsome old Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Rome, shares with the body of St. Catherine of Sienna the honor of attracting so many visitors. The book has been translated into English under the title, The Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments, and has been very widely read. It was very popular in the Thirteenth Century, and the best possible idea of its subsequent reputation can be gathered from the fact, that the Rationale was the first work from the pen of an uninspired writer to be accorded the privilege of being printed. The Editio Princeps, a real first edition of supreme value, appeared from the press of John Fust in 1459. The only other books that had been printed at that time were the Psalters of 1457 and 1459. This edition is, of course, of the most extreme rarity. According to the English translators of Durandus the beauty of the typography has seldom been exceeded.

The style of Durandus has been praised very much by the critics of succeeding centuries for its straightforwardness, simplicity and brevity. Most of these qualities it evidently owes to the hours spent by its author in the reading of Holy Scriptures. Durandus fashioned his style so much on the sacred writings that most of his book possesses something of the impressive character of the Bible itself. The impression derived from it is that of reading a book on a religious subject written in an eminently suitable tone and spirit. Most of this impression must be attributed without doubt to the fact, that Durandus has not only formed his style on the Scriptures, but has actually incorporated Scriptural expressions in his writings to such an extent as to make them mostly a scriptural composition. This, far from being a fault, appears quite appropriate in his book because of its subject and the method of treatment. A quotation from the proeme (as it is in the quaint spelling of the English translation) will give the best idea of this.

"All things, as pertain to offices and matters ecclesiastical, be full of divine significations and mysterious, and overflow with celestial sweetness; if so be that a man be diligent in his study of them, and know how to draw HONEY FROM THE ROCK, AND OIL FROM THE HARDEST STONE. But who KNOWETH THE ORDINANCES OF HEAVEN, OR CAN FIX THE REASONS THEREOF UPON THE EARTH? for he that prieth into their majesty, is overwhelmed by the glory of them. Of a truth THE WELL IS DEEP, AND I HAVE NOTHING TO DRAW WITH: unless he giveth it unto me WHO GIVETH TO ALL MEN LIBERALLY, AND UPERAIDETH NOT: so that WHILE I JOURNEY THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS I may DRAW WATER WITH JOY OUT OF THE WELLS OF SALVATION. Wherefore albeit of the things handed down from our forefathers, capable we are not to explain all, yet if among them there be any thing which is done without reason it should be forthwith put away. Wherefore, I, WILLIAM, by the alone tender mercy of God, Bishop of the Holy Church which is in Mende, will knock diligently at the door, if so be that THE KEY OF DAVID will open unto me: that the King may BRING ME INTO HIS TREASURE? and shew unto me the heavenly pattern which was shewed unto Moses in the mount so that I may learn those things which pertain to Rites Ecclesiastical whereof they teach and what they signify: and that I may be able plainly to reveal and make manifest the reasons of them, by HIS help, WHO HATH ORDAINED STRENGTH OUT OF THE MOUTH OF BABES AND SUCKLINGS: WHOSE SPIRITS BLOWETH WHERE IT LISTETH: DIVIDING TO EACH SEVERALLY AS IT WILL to the praise and glory of the Trinity."

This passage alone of Durandus would serve as an excellent refutation of the old-time Protestant tradition, fortunately now dying out though not as yet entirely eradicated, which stated so emphatically that the Bible was not allowed to be read before Luther's time.

Those who wish to obtain a good idea of Durandus' style and the way he presents his material, can obtain it very well from his chapter on Bells, the first two paragraphs of which we venture to quote. They will be found quite as full of interesting information in their way as any modern writer might have brought together, and have the dignity and simplicity of the best modern prose.

"Bells are brazen vessels, and were first invented in Nola, a city of Campania. Wherefore the larger bells are called Campanae, from Campania the district, and the smaller Nolae, from Nola the town.

"You must know that bells, by the sound of which the people assembleth together to the church to hear, and the Clergy to preach, IN THE MORNING THE MERCY OF GOD AND HIS POWER BY NIGHT do signify the silver trumpets, by which under the Old Law the people was called together unto sacrifice. (Of these trumpets we shall speak in our Sixth Book.) For just as the watchmen in a camp rouse one another by trumpets, so do the Ministers of the Church excite each other by the sound of bells to watch the livelong night against the plots of the Devil. Wherefore our brazen bells are more sonorous than the trumpets of the Old Law, because then GOD was known in Judea only, but now in the whole earth. They be also more durable: For they signify that the teaching of the New Testament will be more lasting than the trumpets and sacrifices of the Old Law, namely, even unto the end of the world.

"Again bells do signify preachers, who ought after the likeness of a bell to exhort the faithful unto faith: the which was typified in that the LORD commanded Moses to make a vestment for the High Priest who entered into the Holy of Holies. Also the cavity of the bell denoteth the mouth of the preacher, according to the saying of the Apostle, I AM BECOME AS SOUNDING BRASS ON A TINKLING CYMBAL."

Of course there are what we would be apt to consider exaggerations of symbolic meanings and far-fetched explanations and references, but this was of the taste of the time and has not in subsequent centuries been so beyond the canons of good taste as at present. Durandus goes on to tell that the hardness of the metal of the bell signifies fortitude in the mind of the preacher, that the wood of the frame on which the bell hangeth doth signify the wood of our Lord's Cross, that the rope by which the bell is strung is humility and also showeth the measure of life, that the ring in the length of the rope is the crown of reward for perseverance unto the end, and then proceeds to show why and how often the bells are rung and what the significance of each ringing is. He explains why the bells are silent for three days before Easter and also during times of interdict, and gives as the justification for this last the quotation from the Prophet "I WILL MAKE THY TONGUE CLEAVE TO THE ROOF OF THY MOUTH FOR THEY ARE A REBELLIOUS HOUSE."

Even these few specimens of the prose of the Thirteenth Century, will serve to show that the writers of the period could express themselves with a vigor and directness which have made their books interesting reading for generations long after their time, and which stamp their authors as worthy of a period that found enduring and adequate modes of expression for every form of thought and feeling.


{1} Puschmann. Hand-Buch der Geschichte der Medizin, Jena, Fischer, 1902,

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