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Masters of the Sacred Page

Masters of the Sacred Page

Manuscripts of Theology in the Latin West to 1274

Lesley Smith

“This intelligently-designed book puts the reader into close contact with the pages of thirty key manuscripts of medieval theology, broadly interpreted. These manuscripts, ranging in date from the ninth through the thirteenth century, have been selected deftly to illustrate major themes of high medieval theology, from the biblical to the systematic to the practical. Each is presented succinctly in terms of both content and physical format. It is the expert attention paid to physical form, and especially to page layout, that give the book its unique character: for example, the demonstration, in just two pages, of salient features in a leaf from Herbert of Bosham’s expansion of Peter Lombard on the Psalms is a real feat of concise teaching. Courses in medieval theology, intellectual history, and ecclesiastical history can be much enhanced by the riches offered here.” —Richard W.Pfaff, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

This book is a wonderful contribution to the study of medieval culture. The schools of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, beginning as foundations of study for the clergy associated with cathedrals, grew into secular universities. Smith is right to point out that this was essentially an epistemological change, and that it had far-reaching consequences, even in a field as seemingly conservative as theology. Masters of the Sacred Page combines a concise and insightful summary of the history of medieval education with a judicious selection of thirty plates of twelfth and thirteenth-century manuscript pages illustrating these changes. This combination will be an excellent classroom tool, but it will also be of great usefulness to professional medievalists, many of whom have never seen what a medieval verbal concordance of the Scriptures looked like, or how the page layout changed from sentence collections to summae. Only a scholar with a remarkable command of manuscript materials could have brought us such a rich and unusual collection.”—E. Ann Matter, University of Pennsylvania

“In a single volume the author, Lesley Smith, brings together through illustrations and commentary a far-ranging selection of sacred texts and the medieval manuscripts that contained them. She unveils the sacra pagina in its various manifestations—from the brilliantly illuminated Historia Scholastica of Peter Comestor to the manuals and reference tools necessary for the everyday life of sermons and sin.” —Barbara A. Shailor, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

“Lesley Smith’s book provides a succinct and lucid summary of the state of research on the history and context of ‘sacra pagina’ in the schools, which her own research has so significantly furthered. This alone will win her the profuse thanks of non-specialists, to whom this subject has too long remained murky or inaccessible. Specialists can rejoice, not only in the masterful introduction, but in the wonderfully illuminating and richly commented plates depicting the manuscripts themselves: as much characters in the history of theology as the masters themselves.” —Theresa Gross-Diaz, Loyola University, Chicago

Starting with the premise that the history of a medieval subject cannot be properly written “without recourse to the materials it produced,” Lesley Smith’s Masters of the Sacred Page provides an illuminating study of theology in the Middle Ages. She focuses on the dramatic transformations of the discipline in the twelfth century and uses a collection of contemporary manuscripts as a guide to its changes and developments.

Smith points out that the medieval masters of theology had a much wider view of their subject than the modern academic tendency for neatness and division can easily admit, and she places their discipline squarely within the rapidly evolving intellectual and educational context of the twelfth-century university.

Her approach avoids two of the most common weaknesses of modern historical studies of medieval theology. In the first place, those histories have a tendency to be distorted by a reliance on easily available printed editions of medieval texts, the bulk of which are summae and other logical, systematic treatments. This preponderance, however, often reflects the concerns and interests of nineteenth- and twentieth-century editors more than it does the medieval masters. Biblical commentaries, sermons, and manuals for pastoral use have only recently begun to be edited and printed in numbers reflecting their importance and widespread use in the Middle Ages; Smith includes such material in her study.

In the second place, traditional histories have a tendency to remove the study of theology from the actual environment of the medieval university and therefore fail to account for the complex relations between theology, the arts, and the burgeoning disciplines of medicine and law. By refusing to follow this trend, Smith has greatly improved our awareness of the situation of medieval theology.

Using the manuscript books themselves as witnesses, Smith shows how theology competed with other disciplines for students (as well as teachers), how it attempted to define itself, and how it cooperated with other disciplines to foster new development in book technology—and new traditions in the social and intellectual culture of the medieval university.

ISBN: 978-0-268-04213-4
200 pages
Publication Year: 2001

Lesley Smith is Academic Bursar and Tutor in Politics at Harris Manchester College in the University of Oxford.

“Lesley Smith’s work is well organized and a marvel of compact information. Smith offers students a concise yet richly detailed account of medieval theology and pedagogy, including the rise of universities. The high quality photographs of manuscripts give students the chance to practice the reading of manuscripts.” — Medievalia and Humanistica

“Dr. Smith has provided in this short study a lively visual and intellectual introduction to a series of key texts, each with remarks on the content and a facing page from a manuscript, with an explanation to the reader of what he is seeing and what to look for in similar examples. In a clear and accessible introduction she sets them in their contemporary context of study. There is nothing quite like this in the literature; it will prove an indispensible tool and not only for students.” — Journal of Theological Studies

“For the student of medieval intellectual and literary culture, nothing can replace the experience of handling the physical artifact by which ideas and insights were communicated to a medieval student. The quality of reproduction of the thirty black-and-white plates in this volume is excellent. The volume is . . . rich in its illustration and description of a wide range of medieval theological manuscripts, in particular of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.” — Speculum

“[W]hile the beautiful crafting of the book and the natural allure of its manuscript reproductions will draw the eye, the highly useful Introduction will catch the mind, especially of teachers. This work is an essential acquisition for serious theological libraries, and a highly recommended resource for teachers of medieval theology, especially for in-class use." — Theological Studies

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Masters of the Sacred Page

Manuscripts of Theology in the Latin West to 1274

Lesley Smith

 Masters of the Sacred Page: Manuscripts of Theology in the Latin West to 1274
Cloth Edition

“This intelligently-designed book puts the reader into close contact with the pages of thirty key manuscripts of medieval theology, broadly interpreted. These manuscripts, ranging in date from the ninth through the thirteenth century, have been selected deftly to illustrate major themes of high medieval theology, from the biblical to the systematic to the practical. Each is presented succinctly in terms of both content and physical format. It is the expert attention paid to physical form, and especially to page layout, that give the book its unique character: for example, the demonstration, in just two pages, of salient features in a leaf from Herbert of Bosham’s expansion of Peter Lombard on the Psalms is a real feat of concise teaching. Courses in medieval theology, intellectual history, and ecclesiastical history can be much enhanced by the riches offered here.” —Richard W.Pfaff, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

This book is a wonderful contribution to the study of medieval culture. The schools of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, beginning as foundations of study for the clergy associated with cathedrals, grew into secular universities. Smith is right to point out that this was essentially an epistemological change, and that it had far-reaching consequences, even in a field as seemingly conservative as theology. Masters of the Sacred Page combines a concise and insightful summary of the history of medieval education with a judicious selection of thirty plates of twelfth and thirteenth-century manuscript pages illustrating these changes. This combination will be an excellent classroom tool, but it will also be of great usefulness to professional medievalists, many of whom have never seen what a medieval verbal concordance of the Scriptures looked like, or how the page layout changed from sentence collections to summae. Only a scholar with a remarkable command of manuscript materials could have brought us such a rich and unusual collection.”—E. Ann Matter, University of Pennsylvania

“In a single volume the author, Lesley Smith, brings together through illustrations and commentary a far-ranging selection of sacred texts and the medieval manuscripts that contained them. She unveils the sacra pagina in its various manifestations—from the brilliantly illuminated Historia Scholastica of Peter Comestor to the manuals and reference tools necessary for the everyday life of sermons and sin.” —Barbara A. Shailor, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

“Lesley Smith’s book provides a succinct and lucid summary of the state of research on the history and context of ‘sacra pagina’ in the schools, which her own research has so significantly furthered. This alone will win her the profuse thanks of non-specialists, to whom this subject has too long remained murky or inaccessible. Specialists can rejoice, not only in the masterful introduction, but in the wonderfully illuminating and richly commented plates depicting the manuscripts themselves: as much characters in the history of theology as the masters themselves.” —Theresa Gross-Diaz, Loyola University, Chicago

Starting with the premise that the history of a medieval subject cannot be properly written “without recourse to the materials it produced,” Lesley Smith’s Masters of the Sacred Page provides an illuminating study of theology in the Middle Ages. She focuses on the dramatic transformations of the discipline in the twelfth century and uses a collection of contemporary manuscripts as a guide to its changes and developments.

Smith points out that the medieval masters of theology had a much wider view of their subject than the modern academic tendency for neatness and division can easily admit, and she places their discipline squarely within the rapidly evolving intellectual and educational context of the twelfth-century university.

Her approach avoids two of the most common weaknesses of modern historical studies of medieval theology. In the first place, those histories have a tendency to be distorted by a reliance on easily available printed editions of medieval texts, the bulk of which are summae and other logical, systematic treatments. This preponderance, however, often reflects the concerns and interests of nineteenth- and twentieth-century editors more than it does the medieval masters. Biblical commentaries, sermons, and manuals for pastoral use have only recently begun to be edited and printed in numbers reflecting their importance and widespread use in the Middle Ages; Smith includes such material in her study.

In the second place, traditional histories have a tendency to remove the study of theology from the actual environment of the medieval university and therefore fail to account for the complex relations between theology, the arts, and the burgeoning disciplines of medicine and law. By refusing to follow this trend, Smith has greatly improved our awareness of the situation of medieval theology.

Using the manuscript books themselves as witnesses, Smith shows how theology competed with other disciplines for students (as well as teachers), how it attempted to define itself, and how it cooperated with other disciplines to foster new development in book technology—and new traditions in the social and intellectual culture of the medieval university.

ISBN: 978-0-268-04213-4

200 pages

“Lesley Smith’s work is well organized and a marvel of compact information. Smith offers students a concise yet richly detailed account of medieval theology and pedagogy, including the rise of universities. The high quality photographs of manuscripts give students the chance to practice the reading of manuscripts.” — Medievalia and Humanistica

“Dr. Smith has provided in this short study a lively visual and intellectual introduction to a series of key texts, each with remarks on the content and a facing page from a manuscript, with an explanation to the reader of what he is seeing and what to look for in similar examples. In a clear and accessible introduction she sets them in their contemporary context of study. There is nothing quite like this in the literature; it will prove an indispensible tool and not only for students.” — Journal of Theological Studies

“For the student of medieval intellectual and literary culture, nothing can replace the experience of handling the physical artifact by which ideas and insights were communicated to a medieval student. The quality of reproduction of the thirty black-and-white plates in this volume is excellent. The volume is . . . rich in its illustration and description of a wide range of medieval theological manuscripts, in particular of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.” — Speculum

“[W]hile the beautiful crafting of the book and the natural allure of its manuscript reproductions will draw the eye, the highly useful Introduction will catch the mind, especially of teachers. This work is an essential acquisition for serious theological libraries, and a highly recommended resource for teachers of medieval theology, especially for in-class use." — Theological Studies

The Medieval Book