From their lips to God’s ears

My take on Saint Jerome in his study by one of my heroes, Albrecht Dürer. Who doesn’t have a human skull laying around in one’s study?

As we saw in ancient Egypt, there’s a down side to concentrating literacy exclusively into one thin slice of the population. The Egyptian scribes had protected their monopoly on hieroglyphics. Their world fell apart when the Phoenicians invented the alphabet. Was that about to happen again?

In mediæval Europe, literacy gave the clergy access to the Bible. They encouraged the idea that access to the Bible meant access to G-d, and that regular shmoes needed the clergy to talk to G-d on their behalf.* I don’t condemn the clergy entirely for doing this. Probably most were doing their best to keep a faithful interpretation of G-d’s Word (there were some wacky interpretations and heresies back then). Friends, that’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a great temptation to assign power to oneself. As we will see, the clergy would give in to that temptation.

*Saint Jerome had translated the Bible from Hebrew & Greek into Latin in the ad 300s. He worked directly from the original languages and so his translation was very accurate. St Jerome’s Bible, in ‘vulgate Latin,’ was the officially approved Church Bible. But by the Middle Ages, most people didn’t speak Latin anymore.

https://ourworldindata.org/literacy
https://www.quora.com/What-were-literacy-rates-in-Medieval-Europe-How-did-they-compare-to-literacy-rates-in-the-Roman-Empire
https://spartacus-educational.com/YALDeducation.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

One response to “From their lips to God’s ears

  1. Great drawing of St. Jerome! Your post makes me wonder what percentage, if any, of the illiterate schmoes at that time might have surreptitiously taught themselves to read?

    Liked by 1 person

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