6 February 2015


A very small, but perfectly formed, Exhibition, gathered from the treasures of Bodley, commemorating Aldus Pius Manutius, who died on February 6 1515. Just one case, on your right as you go into the Proscholium. (Ends on February 22.)

The decades covered by Aldus' working life were, surely, feverishly exciting: Venice full of Greek refugees (Aldus insisted that only Greek was spoken in his workshop!); loads of Greek manuscripts saved from Constantinople swilling around; Aldus and all the others experimenting with the new technology of printing. There must have been sensation after sensation: "Did you hear? So-and-so has just come across a manuscript of such-and-such!!" You only have to look at the apparatus beneath any page of Catullus to be reminded how much we owe, in the recovery of that poet a textu corruptissimo, to the emendations that were whizzing round Venice and the Veneto in a society where the distinction between Scholar and Printer must often have been blurred. (Dirk Obbink would have been in his element, not to mention the Anonymous London Collector who is not a German Officer!!)

It was Aldus who invented punctuation as we know it today, and italic for the smaller, handier, octavo volumes, exemplified in this Exhibition, which he produced for the convenience of the docti. But the most spectacular thing on show is his edition of the Hypnerotomachia of Poliphili, open (not at the God of Lampsacus but) at the engraving of the Monster Hollow Elephant (or should I say Olyphant?).

One tiny oddity. The Exhibition's master caption laudably refers to Aldus' association with the great humanist scholar Pietro Bembo. It doesn't mention that Bembo was a Cardinal. And, a few months ago, an exhibition in the same case about the foundation of Exeter College (in 1314) failed to mention that its founder was a bishop. Is there a plot in this secularised University to let the Catholic Church's centrality in European cultural history fade from the public memory?


B flat said...

Dear Father,
Much of this is way above my head, but I am not so stiff-necked that I cannot gaze in awe, and study to learn more.
Your last sentence was surely a rhetorical question, but it has provoked my whimsical mood, which your use of indicative past rather than subjunctive had already aroused. So I will be reckless in my foolishness.

A passing remark of Abp Fulton Sheen alerted me to the likely motive for the gadarene rush to secularism. People positively want to indulge their sex drive and eschew the notion of sin which inhibits it. They do this under colourful banners of liberty, openness, and equality. Religion with its reasoning and moral teaching has to submit or disappear.
Charles Reade was not so shy of acknowledging scholarly Cardinals, in a far less liberal age than ours, even though he chafed from the clerical restrictions still enforced at the University and produced his Cloister and the Hearth to soften hearts and minds to accommodate his view on the question.

The answer to your final question is, that conspiracy theories are not necessary to account for deliberate cultivation of evil in the world, if one accepts that Satan goes about like a roaring lion... that he is a liar, and the father of lies, etc.

Savonarola said...

You ask, "Is there a plot in this secularised University to let the Catholic Church's centrality in European cultural history fade from the public memory?" I would suggest probably not - conspiracies are usually more imagined then real - but maybe it does show how much the Christian religion has lost the central position it once had in Western society. If being a bishop has no particular significance for you, why would you mention that the founder of the college was a bishop?
In some ways this could be a good thing for the Church. Since it can longer expect any special treatment from society at large, any special privileges or right to have its voice heard on moral or political questions, it can only - like its divine founder - be recognised for its own internal authority. But if this is to be so, it seems to me the Church will need to learn how to re-present its faith in terms that are no longer confined within the thought-forms of past ages. It will need to be much more humble, abandon its pretensions to exclusive access to supposed infallible truth and be more willing to listen to so-called "secular" society - knowing that God is just as much present in the secular world as in the Church.
Pope Francis seems to recognise this need for thorough-going aggiornamento (as urgent today as it was 50 years ago), but I wonder how far the rest of the Church does. The Catholic blogosphere at any rate seems to be largely taken up with the old style anathematising of those who dare to think differently from us - one of the biggest disincentives to the world at large to take any interest in the quaint doings of the Church.