May 9, 2013

On the Work of the Christian Scribe

Before dismissing the work of the scribe, or his modern day academic equivalent, consider the words of Cassidorous on the work of copying ancient manuscripts. He wrote, "By reading the divine Scriptures [the scribe] wholesomely instructs his own mind, and by copying the precepts of the Lord he spreads them far and wide. What happy application, what praiseworthy industry, to preach unto people by means of the hand, to untie the tongue by means of the fingers, to bring quiet salvation to mortals, and to fight the Devil's insidious wiles with pen and ink! For every word of the Lord written by the scribe is a wound inflicted on Satan. And so, though seated in one spot, the scribe traverses diverse lands through the dissemination of what he has written....Man multiplies the heavenly words, and in a certain metaphorical sense, if I may dare so to speak, three fingers are made to express the utterances of the Holy Trinity. O sight glorious to those who contemplate it carefully! The fast-travelling reed-pen writes down the holy words and thus avenges the malice of the Wicked One, who caused a reed to be used to smite the head of the Lord during his Passion." _Cassiodori Senatoris Institutiones_

Imagine the labor involved in the ancient transcription process. A common colophon placed at the end of many non-biblical ancient mss. by the scribe is: "He who does not know how to write supposes it to be no labor; but though only three fingers write, the whole body labors."

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