Among the great literary works of the Renaissance, the King James Bible stands as the most beautiful, memorable, and widely read, even today. The original impetus for the translation, however, developed rather gradually. James had recently assumed the English throne and sought to bring peace to a deeply divided country. Though there was certainly a political dimension to these schisms, it was religion that formed their root. The actions of James’ distant predecessor, Henry VIII, created an inherent tension between (1) loyalty to the crown and (2) fidelity to the spiritual traditions of the church fathers, and this tension was further exacerbated by (3) a more thoroughgoing group, whom we know as the Puritans. To facilitate reconciliation, James hosted what is now known as the Hampton Court Conference (1604). Here, “Puritan leader John Reynolds proposed a new English translation of the Bible, and James, hostile as he was to the Puritans, seized upon the suggestion,” wishing to establish peace on his own terms (Ryken 50).
But if tranquility was the motivating factor behind the translation, humility was the guiding force of the work itself. Though the Translators certainly had their share of doctrinal disagreements, they were united in a common conviction that the words with which they worked were not their own, but were of divine origin; they were merely God’s secretaries, scribes of the living oracles. “Secretaryship is one of the great shaping forces behind the King James Bible. There is no authorship involved here. Authorship is egotistical, an assumption that you might have something new worth saying. You don’t” (Nicolson 184).
This did not, however, simplify their task. The theological discussions of the day also led to varying views on the proper method of translating the Bible into English. The Translators “were heir to [a] double and in some ways contradictory tradition” (Nicolson 185). On one hand, there was this “Calvinistic secretarial strictness,” and on the other, the secular, Ciceronian approach that Luther adopted, which required the translator to “absorb” the meaning of the text and then “reproduce something like it in his own language” (Nicolson 184). Yet peace and reconciliation was still the ultimate goal of the work. “If it was to play its role as the national irenicon, it had to bridge the categories of rich and clear” (Nicolson 195).
The Translators resolved this tension by choosing both over either. In the words of Ryken, they sought “an essentially literal translation,” choosing an English equivalent for each word in the original, italicizing words added to the text for clarity, and even preferring the word order of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic over that of their own English (Ryken 50).
Yet they also sought to maintain the mystery of Holy Writ, choosing variety over consistency in their vocabulary and thereby multiplying “the number of English words used for a given Hebrew or Greek word” (Ryken 50). The effect of the finished product (1611) is striking. In the hands of these men, the words of God became “more accurate,” “simple, accessible, conceptually rich,” and “full of potent and resonant meanings” (Nicolson 153, 193). They combined “simplicity and majesty” with a sense of rhythm and affective power that has made the King James Bible the English translation of Milton, Coleridge, and Wordsworth; Lincoln, Kennedy, and King (Ryken 51; Nicolson 237-238).
Over the last 150 years, the grip of the King James Bible on the Anglo-American imagination has been somewhat weakened due to criticisms of its antiquated diction, textual basis, and knowledge of the languages (see Ryken 51). And yet the work of the Translators endures as “the touchstone, the national book, the formative mental structure for all English-speaking people” (Nicolson 236). It is because of this that the most successful attempts to render the Scriptures into accurate, beautiful, and clear English have been produced in the King James tradition: the English Revised Version (1885), the American Standard Version (1901), the Revised Standard Version (1952, 1971), the New American Standard Bible (1971, 1995), the New King James Version (1982), and the English Standard Version (initially in 2001, with the permanent text just finalized in 2016; for more information on these translations, see Marlowe). Now nearly four hundred years old, the King James tradition stands as strong as it did in the seventeenth century—stirring our imagination, sinking into our ears, and saving our souls (see Luke 9:44; Jam 1:21).
God Made Men to Make Music
Peter J. Leithart, First Things
Justin Martyr: How We Christians Worship
Trans. & Commentary by Everett Ferguson, Christian History
Early Christian Chants
Ernest Edwin Ryden, Story of our Hyms (CCEL)
Early Christian & Byzantine Music: History & Performance
Dr. Dmitri Conomos, Archdiocesan School of Byzantine Music
Hearing the Lost Sounds of Ancient Spaces
Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic
Rhyme & Reason
Rebekah Curtis, First Things
No Apology for Bach's Theology
Nathaniel Peters, First Things
Though the doctrine of Purgatory has far more to do with the traditions of men than anything stated in the word of God, classic depictions of such a place often provide striking reminders of the spiritual and eternal consequences of sin. So, for example, in Canto XVII of Dante’s Purgatorio, Virgil explains to Dante that the root of all sin is a perverted love that has become twisted in three ways: loving what is bad, too little love for what is good, or too much love for the temporal goods of this life (see Mark 12:28-31; 1Jo 2:15-17). And for this reason, the first three sins found in Dante’s Purgatory (pride, envy, and wrath) might be best interpreted as aspects of the first sort of love-led-astray—of man loving what is bad (Purgatorio XVII.112-114).
Pride is the first of these sins, both in Dante’s mind as well as in the mind of the sinner, an assertion supported by the place of humility in Christ’s first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:3 ESV; see Purgatorio XII.109-111). One who is proud has an undue regard for himself as superior to others. In his mind he is one of the “few;” set apart from the common, vulgar, and profane. In the words of Virgil, “some think they see their own hope to advance / tied to their neighbor’s fall, and thus they long / to see him cast down from his eminence” (XVII.115-117). For this sin in life, Dante witnesses the proud dead crawling around the Mount of Purgatory under slabs of rock whose size is commensurate with the pride its bearer had in life (Cantos X-XII).
Similar to pride is the sin of envy. Just as the proud view others as less worthy than themselves, the envious see as their own what rightfully belongs to others. As Virgil reminds our poet, “some fear their power, preferment, honor, fame / will suffer by another’s rise, and thus, / irked by his good, desire his ruin and shame” (XVII.118-120). In other words, the envious forget the grace of God they have themselves received, judging the worth of another’s servant rather than reflecting divine mercy in their own lives. But as Jesus said, this is exactly backward; it it is the merciful who in turn receive mercy from above: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Mat 5:7; see Purgatorio XV.37-39). Because of this willful blindness to the interests of others, the envious sit on the second cornice of Purgatory along the face of the cliff, huddled together, with their eyelids sewn tight by wire (Cantos XIII-XV).
Wrath is the culmination and sometimes-violent assertion of this lack of love. If I am better than everyone else and more deserving than they of the things they possess, why shouldn’t I be angry? Virgil reminds Dante of this self-delusion: “and some at the least injury catch fire / and are consumed by thoughts of vengeance; thus, / their neighbor’s harm becomes their chief desire” (Purgatorio XVII.121-123). Wrath, therefore, is the primary mover of quarrels, fighting and violence (Jam 4:1-3), a fact depicted in the punishment of the wrathful. As Dante begins Canto XVI, he has stepped into a cloud of smoke like none he has ever seen – at night, under a cloud, or even in Hell itself – “nor one whose texture rasped my senses so, / as did the smoke that wrapped us in that place” (lines 1-6; see also Canto XVII). At least here, however, they are finally speaking with one voice, reciting the words of the Lord: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mat 5:9; quoted in Canto XVII.67-69).
The apostle Paul once wrote of love’s many virtues: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1Co 13:4-7). Those undergoing the crucible of Dante’s Purgatory, however, reflect the exact opposite of this love: loving what is bad, having too little love for what is good, or having too much love for the temporal goods of earthly existence. And as Virgil reminds Dante on the fourth cornice: “Such threefold love those just below us here / purge from their souls” (Purgatorio XVII.124-125).
But we have been shown “a still more excellent way”: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1Co 12:31; 13:13).
The waters of this life are unsteady, shifting, tumultuous; they provide no sure footing, no solid ground on which to stand (compare John’s use of “sea” and “waters” throughout the book of Revelation). The description is therefore less about the Wanderer’s mode of transportation, and more about his physical isolation and his unsettled emotions (James 5:1-8). Later, the poet reiterates this same sense of solitude, once more drawing on the image of the sea:
Sorrow is renewed
Like the waves of the sea, which fall here and rise there, and leave us helpless and alone, the memories of friends swim away and sink into the depths of our mind.
Darkness is also mentioned frequently by the poet, not only in its literal sense but also to reveal the quality and depth of the sailor’s despair. In the third stanza, the Wanderer states that, “Often I had alone / to speak of my trouble / each morning before dawn” (8-9a). Before the sun brightens the eastern skies, he is awake and reflecting on his troubles (compare Psalm 63:1, 6). Darkness is also used to describe the root of his sorrow: the loss of his earthly lord, “Since long ago / I hid my lord / in the darkness of the earth” (22-23a). His longing therefore points back to better days, and forward to the common fate of all mankind:
Indeed I cannot think
When he looks around him, he sees why the wise have so long “pondered deeply / on this dark life” and how the “wise in spirit, / remembered often from afar / many conflicts” (89-91a). The world, and his life in it, is a dark one, devoid of the happiness he once enjoyed with his master. Indeed, “All the joy has died” (36b; see Ecclesiastes 2:12-17)!
Time, and especially the poet’s conception of fate, is the final aspect of setting of which we will take note. Note the sense of helplessness and despair in his words, reflected once more in the natural world:
Now there stands in the trace
Brotherhood, refuge, boldness, and strength may spur us on for a moment, but we can never control “the turn of events” that inhere this life. Like Solomon before him the sailor cries out, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). And therefore fate “changes / the world under the heavens” and reminds us of life’s fleeting vapor. Truly, “The weary spirit cannot / withstand fate, / nor does a rough or sorrowful mind / perform anything helpful” (15-16; see James 1:9-11; 4:13-16).
In his sojourning, the Wanderer discovers that no matter where he now finds himself, companionship, strength, and stability are but fleeting pleasures of his temporal existence; earthly emotions the poet paints through the setting of the work itself. Neither despair nor heroics, however, is the solution. Instead he seeks a spiritual solace, knowing the Only One to which this world answers. For, “It is better for the one that seeks mercy, / consolation from the Father in the heavens, / where, for us, all permanence rests” (114b-115; see James 1:16-17; Psalm 51).
Greek Tragedy & War Veterans
Sarah Ruden, Books and Culture
Sparta & Persia: When Civilizations Clash
E. Christian Kopff, First Things
Teaching Math with Euclid & Archimedes
Katherine Long, The Seattle Times
Hillary Clinton & the Rhetoric of Trust; or, What Would Aristotle Think?
Curtis Dozier, Eidolon
Hillary Clinton's Rhetorical Persona, or Lack Thereof
Joanna Gently, Eidolon
What Can We Learn from the Mediaeval Attitude to Pagans?
John Marenbon, Aeon Ideas