The Bible in a Single Volume
TO MAKE copies of the Bible, early Christians were foremost in the use of the codex
Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus was born about 485-490 C.E. into a wealthy family in Calabria, at the southern tip of present-day Italy. He lived during a turbulent period in Italian history when the peninsula was occupied, first by the Goths and then by the Byzantines. When he was about 60 or 70 years of age, Cassiodorus founded the Vivarium monastery and library near his home in Squillace, Calabria.
A Careful Bible Editor
Among Cassiodorus’ prime concerns was the transmission of the Bible. “In Cassiodorus’ view,” writes historian Peter Brown, “all Latin literature was to be mobilized towards transmitting the Scriptures. All the aids previously used so as to read and copy classical texts were to be used in order to understand the Scriptures and to copy them intelligently. Like a newly formed planetary system, Latin culture as a whole was supposed to spin in orbit around the vast sun of the Word of God.”
Cassiodorus gathered translators and grammarians to the Vivarium monastery to collate the entire Bible and presided over the painstaking editorial process. He entrusted the work to only a few learned men. These were to avoid hasty emendation of presumed scribal errors. If there was a question about grammar, ancient Bible manuscripts were to be considered more authoritative than accepted Latin usage. Cassiodorus directed: “Grammatical peculiarities . . . must be preserved, since a text known to be inspired cannot be susceptible to corruption. . . . Biblical methods of expression, metaphor, and idiom must be preserved, even if outlandish by Latin standards, as must also the ‘Hebraic’ forms of proper names.”
The Codex Grandior
The copyists at the Vivarium monastery were commissioned to produce at least three distinct editions of the Bible in Latin. One of these, in nine volumes, probably contained the Old Latin text, a translation that appeared in the late second century. A second edition contained the Latin Vulgate, which Jerome completed about the beginning of the fifth century. The third, the Codex Grandior, meaning “larger codex,” was drawn from three Bible texts. Both of the last two editions brought all the books of the Bible together in a single volume.
It seems that Cassiodorus was the first to produce Latin Bibles in single volumes, designating them pandectae.* He undoubtedly saw the practicality of uniting all the books of the Bible in one volume, thus eliminating the time-consuming process of consulting several volumes.
From Southern Italy to the British Isles
Shortly after Cassiodorus’ death (likely about 583 C.E.), the journey of the Codex Grandior began. At that time, part of the Vivarium library is believed to have been transferred to the Lateran library in Rome. In 678 C.E., the Anglo-Saxon abbot Ceolfrith brought the codex with him to the British Isles on his return from a stay in Rome. It thus came to the twin monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, which were directed by Ceolfrith, in what is now Northumbria, England.
Cassiodorus’ single-volume Bible must have fascinated Ceolfrith and his monks, who were likely attracted by its ease of use. Thus, within just a few decades, they produced three other complete Bibles as single volumes. The only surviving copy of these is an enormous manuscript called the Codex Amiatinus. It has 2,060 calfskin pages, each about 20 by 13 inches. [51 x 33 cm] With its covers it is 10 inches [25 cm] thick and weighs over 75 pounds [34 kg]. It is the oldest complete single-volume Latin Bible still in existence. Eminent 19th-century Biblicist Fenton J. A. Hort identified the codex in 1887. Hort commented: “Even on a modern spectator this prodigy of a [manuscript] leaves an impression not far removed from awe.”
Return to Italy
The original Codex Grandior commissioned by Cassiodorus is now lost. But its Anglo-Saxon descendant, the Codex Amiatinus, began a return journey to Italy soon after its completion. Shortly before he died, Ceolfrith decided to return to Rome. He took along one of his three Latin Bible manuscripts as a gift for Pope Gregory II. Ceolfrith died along the way, in 716 C.E., at Langres, France. But his Bible continued on the journey with the party of travelers. The codex was eventually included in the library of the monastery of Mount Amiata, central Italy, from which place it takes the name Codex Amiatinus. In 1782 the manuscript was moved to the Medicean-Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy, where it remains one of the library’s most treasured possessions.
How has the Codex Grandior affected us? From the time of Cassiodorus, copyists and printers have increasingly favored the production of single-volume Bibles. Down to today, having the Bible in this form has made it easier for people to consult it and thereby to benefit from its power in their lives.
Complete Bibles in Greek appear to have been in circulation since the fourth or fifth century.
[Map on page 29]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Journey of the Codex Grandior
Journey of the Codex Amiatinus
Mountain High Maps® Copyright © 1997 Digital Wisdom, Inc.
[Pictures on page 30]
Above: Codex Amiatinus Left: Portrait of Ezra in the Codex Amiatinus
Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Firenze