The Ancients are Coming: Medieval Texts at Your Fingertips

As a church historian, I am not ashamed to bring my Bible to church. Usually it’s one of those compact ones (my favorite one that’s traveled around the world with me), but more recently—I’ll admit it—the Bible app on my cell phone. Nevertheless, I’m always cognizant that there was a time in history when holding a Bible in church, and reading the text for oneself, was not a possibility for most people, even the clergy. It was not until the Reformation, and then also the breakthrough technology of the printing press, that the scriptures were made readily available. Certainly, not only did this availability inspire reform, but it also revolutionized Christian theology and practice.

Therefore, I was delighted when I read this article, “The Vatican and Oxford University Team Up to Digitize 1.5 Million Pages of Medieval Manuscripts,” in which our modern technology is being used to do much the same as the printing press did during the Reformation: make accessible ancient texts and resources that have been so inaccessible for so long. As Archbishop Welby states on the brief online interview on the site:

“The impact of the spread of printing was so profound, not just on religious practice, but on the whole self-understanding of society. What impact can this have over the next century or two? It will indirectly have an effect on our liturgy and worship and practice of faith. I think equally importantly is the availability of digitized texts gives an opportunity for people to be inspired themselves by them – even if they can’t do much more than have an outline look at them. It is profoundly inspirational.”

Although popular culture might not scramble to read and examine medieval texts as once would’ve been popular in its time, I believe their accessibility will have an international impact on scholarly research and ultimately could affect how small parishes think and engage in worship. Making such resources available expands and invites the ancient to intersect with the modern, so that we can interact within the historical context of our faith, past into present and then inspiring and illuminating the future of theology, worship, and, ultimately, doxology.

I’m thankful that modern technology makes this work of preservation and dissemination possible. I’ve long since had a fascination with illuminated biblical manuscripts and Hebrew texts of the Torah, but never dreamed I could actually have them at my virtual fingertips. It’s also just an inspiration to see modern technology being put to good use.

About Anita Kobayashi Sung

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