Apparently, there is some kind of English-language Beatus in progress. Not sure whether it’s a translation of an art book, a translation of just the Commentary, or a translation of the Obras Completas. I’d really like to find out what’s the deal; but it does reassure me that there’s not some huge overdose of “let’s ignore a major work” going on.
The gentleman/gentlewoman who’s apparently doing this is a University of Chicago professor emeritus. In paleoanthropology, particularly Spanish sites. How this leads one to medieval Latin Scripture commentaries is anybody’s guess, but it’s a pretty nice retirement project, one imagines.
I don’t see any signs of imminent publication, though, so I guess it’s okay to go on with my bloggentary.
I may have to shell out for at least one volume of the Obras Completas (ie, the one with the Commentary translation into Spanish). I don’t really want to buy it totally sight-unseen, though, and it seems unfair to only buy one volume. I suppose I can buy it, use it, and then donate it to the relevant nearby academic library (which should have had a copy already for me to use, darn it, frustrationfrustration). And I really wish this stuff came with illustrations. (Alas, the artbook facsimiles of the various codices are apparently super-expensive.)
Found an old paper by a kid studying manuscripts-in-context about the Morgan Beatus. I don’t want to be too mean here, although anybody getting to go study mss in context is probably living a life too happy (and useful) to care what I say.
First off, this is a sixteen page (double-spaced, big font) paper to cover an amazingly complex theological, historical, artistic, and bibliophilic idea. He gives it a book-sized title. Whoever let this kid write a paper on this wide of a topic was an idiot. (And then bringing adoptionism into it… i-yi-yi.) This paper includes at least seven or eight topics broadly suitable for a paper of this length; if he had focused on just one, and found one sub-topic of that one and drilled into it, he could have really made some good comments and possibly even written a scholarly article of his own. Instead, he never actually addresses the topic used in his title. He brushes by a few elements of it, but that’s it. (And God forbid he should provide specific examples of any of his points. Honestly, that’s the most frustrating part of the whole thing.)
Like (apparently) pretty much everybody writing in English (Spanish scholarship seems better, but I can’t get those articles) on this topic (especially those writing on a professorial level who should know better), he also doesn’t consult any of the text except the tiny bits quoted in The Illustrated Beatus and/or the Morgan Library book description notes. He does have some random patristic quotes (probably also drawn from art books or other people’s articles), but in general it’s just hugely unconcerned with the book’s content.
The kid supports the idea (apparently previous in the literature) that the Beatuses were supposed to bring on a mystical experience. Well, duh, all Christian art is supposed to be designed to help bring you into direct contact with God, or at least to be a “holy reminder”, as Mother Angelica put it. But I find the idea that it’s a “machine” for mystical knowledge of God offensive, and the idea that mystical knowledge = automatic salvation is pretty clearly wrong wrong wrong to anybody who knows anything about Christian mysticism. I mean, yes, there’s St. Clement of Alexandria’s take on experiential knowledge of the divine as a path to holiness; but given that you can be sitting in the Garden of Eden and still Fall (as one of Beatus’s sources points out), there ain’t no automatic salvation.
(Continually re-choosing to turn back toward God and live like Christ, continually living in Christ and His Church and taking advantage of His gifts of grace, continually being aware that His mercy is a gift and being grateful for it, and continually responding to God with love in a personal way: those things shape you into the kind of person who can be judged a sheep and not a goat in the end. But just as the till-then goat can repent even at the last minute, the till-then sheep can change his mind and heart at any time and choose to go to Hell.)
Oh, and even a Bible isn’t a “physical manifestation of the divine”, much less a very nice illustrated commentary of a single Bible book. Jesus Christ is a physical manifestation — indeed, the Incarnation — of the Divine. (If this is some kind of weird “four presences” thing bleeding over to the world of scholarship, I wish they’d stop it. Also, the initial academics pushing this idea should only meet some Asturian monks in a dark mountain pass, because I feel they’d be offended by the implication that they were a bunch of heretical occult yahoos.) The kid brings in the Eucharist and ikons, and so we have a nice equal-opportunity offensiveness. (The kid has no idea what he’s saying or implying, either. What do they teach kids in these schools?)
And did I mention the consistent typo “lecito divina”? Aaaaargh. Argh. Argh. Bad, professor who graded this paper. Bad. Bad.
And did I mention that the kid gets into the mss asking for prayers for the artist and scribe, without mentioning that this was an extremely common practice with many medieval mss? Heck, people add it to the end of blogposts. It’s like saying, “Bob said he ate at McDonalds, which means he saw McDonald’s as his unique source of nourishment.” Arggggh. Everything monks do, just like everything all Christians do, is supposed to be part of their path to holiness. That was one point of being a monk — more focus on that fact.
UPDATE: Then there’s the cognitive exoticism. Garsh, Latin words are clearly composed of meaningful morphemes, often the length of a syllable or letter, whereas the vernacular languages were often less transparent about morphemes. Garsh, people who memorize texts out of books often associate the text with the specific page they learned it from. Garsh, memorization was a primary medieval way to learn text, because you needed to stomp whatever you read into your head lest you never get a chance to read it again, and because you ought to internalize the basic texts of the Bible, like the Psalms that taught you your letters in the first place.
But there’s a good germ there in the passage about Maius putting the memory of himself into the book and the text, by asking for prayers in a memorable way as part of a memorable book. Especially since his strategy clearly worked. Now if only the art and theology scholars would actually remember to pray for his soul when they read about him, his plan would be working perfectly. The monk who copies out a text is dealing with the future reader in good faith; alas that the future reader does not always return the favor in the fashion he would most have desired.
Stars do come in red and white. Picking out yellow and blue stars in the night sky is a lot harder. (Personally, my eyesight isn’t such that I can usually pick up any color even in dark sky conditions or with a telescope; but I know that many amateur astronomers have much better eyesight than I.) Perhaps I am prejudiced by the fondness of sf artists for white and red stars, but I fail to see how these symbolic “element of fire” colors are not also naturalistic.
Modern artists also use black, brown, purple, and dark blue to represent darkness, in my experience.
I like the comments about translucent and otherwise thin layers of pigment in the book as representing divine light, though it would really be hard to judge without looking at the actual artwork in the actual book, perhaps even in natural sunlit-and-shadowed reading conditions. If you were primarily reading this book during the liturgical then-season of Pentecost, in the early summer, you would probably not want to read in direct sunlight (for the sake of heat and the books’ well-being), but the colors would glow more.
On the bright side, at least somebody out there in the English-speaking world has been writing papers about the Beatus, even if they’re really really badly-conceived ones; this is a nice summary of some of the papers out there; and the bibliography is very useful. Also, if you start off going for the crazy ideas, you can always go back and have sensible ones afterward, when your imagination is more harnessed to experience and sense.
So yeah, somebody’s got to get this text translated into English and more widely distributed. This situation is ridiculous, and scholars that make money off this stuff are leading the young kids into terrible habits.