Thursday, June 09, 2011

The King's Book

A friend has a post on his Telegraph blog on the King James Bible's 400th anniversay.

Protestant's/Anglican's often criticise the Catholic Church for keeping the Bible fom ordinary people, I don't really mind that, though it isn't exactly true. ALS points out rightly the King James version was preceded by the Catholic Douai version, and vernacular texts of the Gospels and Epistles existed in Catholic England from the dawn of printing. It was the absence of technology more than obscuring clerics that kept the Bible out of people's hands, though the clerics were concerned about the accuracy and the political or theological manipulation of vernacular translations.

Our pre-Reformation ancestors seemed to have had a highly developed biblical sense, just look at the complexity of some pre-Reformation wall painting schemes or read sermons from the period.
It is important to realise the King James version was indeed that, the King's book, his translation. It was there to remind people the Bible, the Word of God, was translated and given to the Church by the King. In a sense the Word of God was subject to the King.

In a multi-lingual kingdom the Bible itself was a weapon of oppression, it was used to extend the use of the King's English, notably in Wales and Cornwall until the time of Wesley's became a religious desert, the same could be said for those areas where there was a strong regional dialect.

Eamon Duffy has dealt well and at some depth with the decline in literacy in post-Reformation  England. Before the Reformation, he says that the great army of chantry priests spent most of their time not praying for their particular dead teaching the young to read and write using liturgical texts, principly the Vulgate Bible. With our, even lamer than the old ICEL Missal texts, Jerusalem Bible lectionary I often joke that everyone ought learn Greek. This was precisely what happened before the Reformation with the teaching of Latin, it was done so the Vulgate could be understood. It was a matter of bringing the people to the Bible, rather than giving the State approved text to the people.

Martin Luther observed, "There was a time when there was one Pope on the seven hills of Rome, but now there are seven popes on every dunghill in Germany." It was precisely to stop this that the King's Book was carefully produced and carefully distributed. Even then one can assume it was precisely King James' Book that led to the bloody Civil War between Roundheads and Cavaliers, which could also be seen as a war between the Puritan's and King's own Anglican Church which led to Charles, James's son and heir, having his head cut off.

7 comments:

Physiocrat said...

I thought that the proximate cause of the Civil War was a row over tax, notably Ship Money.

Of course there were other issues like the "Divine Right of Kings", as well as economic changes such as the rise of an urban bourgeoisie. The latter was the backbone of the anti-monarchists, as it was again to be at the French and Russian Revolutions - these were no working class/peasant revolts.

Michael Petek said...

Another point to make is that most people who could read were literate in Latin, so they had little need of a vernacular translation. These only came into their own during the age of mass literacy, so that people with little or no faculty for Latin could read at least in their own language.

In many parts of Europe, languages were too diverse in dialects for it to be possible to make a standard translation usable by all, though the need and the possibility of translating the Bible stimulated the development of standard languages.

The development of modern German was stimulated by Luther's work.

The foundation of the modern literary Slovene language was laid by Protestants such as Juraj Dalmatin and Primoz Trubar who translated the Bible for the benefit of what was then a Protestant country.

Even today, Slovene is so diverse in dialects (there are 46 of them in a nation of 2 million) that the standard language has an artificiality about it that means it has to be learned and taught. I visited a website yesterday that places phrases in standard Slovene alongside their equivalents in my father's dialect. It's amazing how different they are.

Little White Squibba said...

What a lot of awful results from translating the Bible! Are you sure that Mrs Thatcher was not responsible for some of them?

musky said...

Would it not be the case that only a small minority of people could read or write English at the time of the King James translation? If so the people still had to be brought to the Bible because they now had to learn to read English. I assume they were no better off until after 1870 when they were sent to school by the state.

John Kearney said...

On my visit to St Agatha`s Church, five minutes from Portsmouth Cathedral they had a bust of King Charles I, who apparently Anglican regard as a martyr for the Engish Church It was about the only thing not Catholic in Fr John Maunder`s Traditional Anglican Church. The Church opened in 1992 after a clusue and Father collected tabenacles,stained glass windows, statues, painting, from closing down Roman Catholic establishments. it is a museum almost of our lost art. It is well worth a visit though the Catholic Bishop round the corner is not keen to take the few steps there.

Richard said...

musky, State education reduced literacy, not increased it.

Tests on boys entering the Royal Navy before 1870 show that more school-leavers could read and write then than can today.

And, as someone mentioned, Prof. Duffy has shown that the ability to read was far more widespread in pre-Reformation times than we think.

Richard said...

I think it's a bad idea for untrained people to read the Bible. There's a great danger of taking one or two bits out of context, and developing them into heresies.