St. Stephen also brought his practicality to his scholarship. He made the first revision of the Cistercian Breviary in an attempt to clean up corruptions that had crept into Medieval chant and also produced a new translation of the Vulgate by consulting the most ancient texts available and by conferring with rabbis on the trickier points of some Hebrew passages. The Bible is considered a treasure of illumination and shows the workmanship that made the scriptorium of Citeaux famous in its early days before complex illumination was curtailed under the influence of St. Bernard. Pragmatism is often less hostile to beauty than is idealism, as we learned again in the 20th Century with the rise of Modernism in architecture and the downfall of the Liturgical Movement.
Exordium - Unit 2 - The Founders, C: STEPHEN,
by Michael Casey ocso Tarrawarra 1998
(The Stephen Harding Bible) p.63, His (St. Stephen Harding) rejection of the tendency to adapt the text so as to point towards the current patristic interpretation led him to consult Jewish experts in order to arrive at an authentic reading. "Despite serious limits from the viewpoint of modem textual criticism, a sure finesse of mind can be recognised in Stephen. His method seems to us correct, pertinent and precise" (M. Cauwe, p. 443).
The greatest weakness in Stephen's work was that it did not go far enough. Although he consulted rabbis, it was not with the goal of producing a text of the Old Testament that mostfaithfully reflected the Hebrew original. The Books of Kings were singled out in the Monitum as specially needing expurgation. Stephen's goal was to decide between conflicting readings so as to be faithful to
The result was a version of the Vulgate which although not widely circulated has been judged the most accurate until the revisions of Clement VIII in 1592. Today it is cherished mainly for the high quality of its artwork. Historically it is interesting as an attempt to arrive at a better text, but it never attained any currency - even among the Cistercians.
A similar process - involving travelling and consultation - was undertaken in order to arrive at the most authoritative texts for the liturgy. This involved sending to
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Opening to the Gospel of John and the Punishment of Arius
From the Bible of Stephen Harding
Cîteaux, France; 1109
Bibliothèque Municipale, Dijon, MS 15
The striking fusion of line and painted color that is a hallmark of many of the finest decorated manuscripts from the monastery at Cîteaux, near Dijon, has long been attributed to the influence of Stephen Harding, an Englishman, who became its third abbot. The work is part of a multivolume Bible created at Cîteaux during Harding’s leadership. It was meant to be a standard scholarly work confirmed against original texts for accuracy. Line drawings in the manuscript are both fanciful interpretations of the accompanying text and reflections of theological debates conducted at the monastery. Here, a centaur’s body curves to form the opening letters of the holy words, an elegant nod to the classical world. Another illustration depicts the punishment of the heretic Arius, whose eyes are picked out by an eagle representing the textual authority of John.
Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages
Through August 23, 2009
When the Cistercian abbot Stephen Harding
commissioned an illuminated bible in 1109, he wanted to ensure its accuracy. So he did what any good scholar (but very few medieval Church leaders) would do; he sought rabbinic counsel so that he could have access to the original Hebrew.
The so-called St. Stephen's Bible, which can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's current exhibit, Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages, represents a rare collaboration of rabbinic and Christian scholarship.
Unfortunately, the exhibit missed the opportunity to show whether any of the illuminations in the 12th-century manuscript actually reflect rabbinic biblical interpretations. The only page from the bible that appears in the exhibit is the opening page to the Gospel of John, which shows a giant eagle clawing out the eye of the third-century heretic Arius.
It is hard to imagine the rabbis would have had much insight for the Cîteaux monastic community on New Testament passages, though it is worth noting that certain books from Christian scripture, like the book of Matthew, were rumored to have been composed originally in Hebrew. There is thus a remote possibility that rabbinic wisdom might have been relevant even for New Testament passages.