The myth that the late fourteenth-century Wycliffite Bible was the Earliest English Bible, representing a primal act of defiance against the ecclesiastical authority’s obdurate refusal to contemplate vernacular Bible translation has persisted since the sixteenth-century Reformation and even has roots in the period itself. This paper surveys the broad landscape of medieval British vernacular Bibles this myth has been largely successful in conjuring out of existence and asks how the magic is performed. Accounts of the Wycliffite Bible and its many successors almost always work with an opposition between vernacular and Latin, as though vernacular Bibles came into existence in opposition to Latin. It will be suggested here that, however fiercely Wycliffite and Protestant polemic argued otherwise, this is not the case. The Wycliffite Bible represented, not a challenge to Latinity but rather to a field of existing and alternative models of vernacularity, and we cannot understand its historical importance until we can learn to read it within this field. I organize my remarks around the early fifteenth-century Middle English discussions of Bible translation recently edited by Mary Dove.
Nicholas Watson is Professor of English and Acting Chair of Medieval Studies at Harvard University. He is author of Richard Rolle and the Invention of Authority (1991) and some fifty articles on topics in medieval religion and literature, many of which focus on vernacularity. With Jocelyn Wogan-Browne and others, he edited the anthology The Idea of the Vernacular (1999); with Fiona Somerset, the essay collection, The Vulgar Tongue: Medieval and Postmedieval Vernacularity; with Jacqueline Jenkins the edition, Writings of Julian of Norwich (2006). He is working on a large study of vernacular religious writing in later medieval England entitled Balaam's Ass: Vernacular Theology Before the English Reformation.
Robert Stanton: "Authority and Anxiety in Old English Biblical Translation"
The preoccupation with innovation and heterodoxy implicit in many discussions of biblical translation in the Middle and Early Modern English periods proves troublesome when it encounters the vernacular landscape in the Old English period. Protestant polemic of the sixteenth century, which imagined a pure and uncontaminated Anglo-Saxon church, has left an unfortunate critical legacy which has failed to take account of the fundamental issues of difference and dissemination in the Old English period. The potential for heterodoxy, though much more latent than it was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, was rarely far from the minds of the translators and compilers who brought the Bible into the English vernacular for the first time. King Alfred’s translations (including the Psalter) contained the issue within the tight sheath of his own royal authority, but by the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, substantial portions of the Heptateuch and Gospels were circulating in English, and Ælfric (around whose theoretical and practical concerns I organize my talk) was openly fretting about fidelity, exegetical freedom, and the possibility of institutionally unconstrained interpretation raised by English scripture.
Robert Stanton is Associate Professor of English at Boston College. He is the author of The Culture of Translation in Anglo-Saxon England (2002) and numerous articles on medieval translation, hagiography, and mysticism.
Catherine McKenna: "Translating the Bible in the Middle Ages: The Medieval Welsh Bible: From the Office of the Virgin Mary to William Morgan’s Bible"
In both the wider field of British literary scholarship and the more focused study of Welsh literature, medieval adaptations of Biblical material into Welsh have been largely overlooked. The exploration of multi-lingual medieval Britain tends to write Welsh out of the narrative altogether, while Welsh scholars have until recently concentrated on texts regarded as purely native in origin rather than on translations and adaptations from Latin literary culture. Moreover, the history of the Bible in Welsh is dominated by the complete translation of 1588, a publication as important to the history of the Welsh language as the King James Bible is to that of English, appearing as it did after the suppression of the language in all administrative and legal proceedings. Consequently, earlier texts have received little attention. This presentation will provide an overview of pre-Reformation scriptural texts in Welsh (derived from Promptuarium Bibliae, Officium Parvae Beatae Mariae Virginis, and the Vulgate) and of the use of Biblical material in vernacular poetry, especially that in the thirteenth-century Book of Taliesin.
Catherine McKenna is Margaret Brooks Robinson Professor of Celtic Languages and Literatures and chair of the department. She has published on The Medieval Welsh Religious Lyric (1991) and is the editor of the work of four of the Poets of the Princes in the Cyfres Beirdd y Tywysogion (1994-96). She has published widely on medieval Welsh bardic poetry and secular narrative, Welsh and Irish manuscript culture, and Irish hagiography.
Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Thelma Fenster, and Delbert Russell: "Bible Translations in the French of England"
In this paper, the French of England project will present a brief overview of biblical translations in the French of England (Jocelyn Wogan-Browne) and discussion of two instances of biblical translation and its implications. These latter arise from recent work on the prologues to Herman de Valenciennes' so-called 'Bible' (by Thelma Fenster) and the Anglo-Norman Old Testament translation (by Delbert Russell) for a forthcoming 'argued anthology' on the French of England dealing with the strategies and protocols by which vernacular texts announce and position themselves.
Jocelyn Wogan-Browne is Thomas F.X. and Theresa Mullarkey Chair in Literature, Fordham University and formerly Professor of Medieval Literature, University of York, UK. She has published widely on medieval women's writing, saints lives and vernacularity in medieval Engand, and co-directs the French of England research and teaching program.
Thelma Fenster, emerita, Fordham University, has edited, translated and written widely on Old French literature, continental and insular. She is currently working on Christine de Pizan's historiography and on French of England projects. She co-directs the French of England program.
Delbert Russell is professor emeritus, University of Waterloo, Canada. He is a leading editor of Anglo-Norman texts, a major contributor to the French of England program and a specialist in digital editing. His current book, Verse Saints' Lives in the French of England (fully annotated and introduced translations of four twelfth-century hitherto un- or partially translated saints' lives with excerpts of original text for teaching) is in press with the French of England Translation Series.