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In the 6th century, Flavius Cassiodorus was instrumental in popularizing the use of the codex—a book rather than a scroll—to make copies of the Bible. Christians did not produce a single-volume Bible at the time, but Cassiodorus’s efforts laid the groundwork for widespread production of these books.. Cassiodorus was born in Calabria, a region in southern Italy, around 485-490 CE, and lived in a time of occupation by both the Goths and the Byzantines. When he was around 60 or 70 years old, he founded the Vivarium monastery and library near his home in Squillace, Calabria.
A Careful Bible Editor
Cassiodorus was devoted to the transmission and understanding of the Bible. Historian Peter Brown explains that Cassiodorus wanted Latin culture to revolve around the Word of God. At the Vivarium monastery, Cassiodorus collected translators and grammarians to compile the entire Bible. He chose knowledgeable people to carefully review the text, avoiding any hasty corrections of potential mistakes. If there were any questions regarding grammar, they were to look to ancient Bible manuscripts rather than accepted Latin usage. Cassiodorus directed them to preserve all features of the text, such as its metaphors and idioms, even if they were unfamiliar to Latin language. He also commanded them to keep the original “Hebraic” forms of all proper names.
The Codex Grandior
The copyists at the Vivarium monastery were asked to create at least three different editions of the Bible in Latin. One of these, a nine-volume set, likely held the Old Latin translation from the late second century. The second edition contained the Latin Vulgate prepared by Jerome around the start of the fifth century. The third edition was called the Codex Grandior, meaning “bigger codex,” and was made up of three Bible texts. Both the last two editions combined all the books of the Bible into one volume. It appears that Cassiodorus was the first to produce Latin Bibles as single volumes, which he referred to as pandectae. He realized the convenience of having all the books of the Bible in one book, thus avoiding the complicated process of referring to several volumes.
From Southern Italy to the British Isles
Shortly after the death of Cassiodorus (believed to be around 583 C.E.), the Codex Grandior began its journey. It is believed that parts of the Vivarium library were transferred to the Lateran library in Rome at that time. In 678 C.E., the Anglo-Saxon abbot Ceolfrith brought the codex with him when he returned from Rome and brought it to the twin monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, which he was in charge of, in what is now Northumbria, England.
Cassiodorus’ single-volume Bible was a marvel to Ceolfrith and his monks. They were drawn to its convenience and, within a few decades, created three other complete Bibles as single volumes. The only existing copy of these is the Codex Amiatinus (See Below), an immense manuscript with 2,060 calfskin pages, each measuring 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. In 1887, renowned 19th-century Biblicist Fenton J. A. Hort discovered the codex, noting that “even to a modern-day viewer, this [manuscript] is a spectacle that inspires awe.”
Return to Italy
The original Codex Grandior, commissioned by Cassiodorus, is now lost. However, its Anglo-Saxon descendant, the Codex Amiatinus, began a journey back to Italy shortly after its completion. Ceolfrith, shortly before his death in 716 C.E. at Langres, France, decided to take one of his three Latin Bible manuscripts as a gift for Pope Gregory II. The codex was eventually placed in the library of the monastery of Mount Amiata in central Italy and has since been moved to the Medicean-Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy, where it is now one of the library’s most valuable possessions. The Codex Grandior has had a lasting effect on us. From its inception, copyists and printers have increasingly focused on the production of single-volume Bibles, making it easier for people to access and benefit from its power. The Bible has the power to transform lives, as stated in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Codex Amiatinus is the oldest surviving single-volume Bible written in Latin. It was crafted in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria in the early 8th century and was made for the two churches of Wearmouth and Jarrow. Remnants of one of the three giant, single-volume Bibles are still in existence today.
In the year 716, Abbot Ceolfrith embarked on a journey to Rome, bringing with him the third and most exquisite volume of a manuscript. His mission was to give this book as a gift to the shrine of Peter the Apostle . Unfortunately, he passed away in Langres, Burgundy, before he could reach his destination. His monks finished the journey for him, and since then, Codex Amiatinus has been looked after in Italy. It is regarded as the most precise version of the Vulgate translation crafted by Saint Jerome (died 420).
The book contains both the Old and New Testaments, written on parchment from 515 animal skins and featuring three detailed illustrations, one of which depicts the prophet Ezra writing. Additionally, the volume contains diagrams that are inspired by late antique models. The writing, artwork, parchment, and content of Codex Amiatinus has a Mediterranean style.
The Codex Amiatinus is a highly-preserved manuscript of the Latin Vulgate version of the Christian Bible. It was created in the 700s in Northeast England at the Benedictine Monkwearmouth–Jarrow Abbey, and was gifted to Pope Gregory II in 716. It is one of three large single-volume Bibles made at the abbey, and is the oldest complete one-volume Latin Bible to survive. It was found in modern times at Monte Amiata in Tuscany, at the Abbazia di San Salvatore and is now housed in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence. It contains a portrait of Ezra from folio 5r at the beginning of the Old Testament.
Designated with the siglum “A,” it is believed to be the most reliable surviving version of Jerome’s Vulgate text for the New Testament and most of the Old Testament. It follows the standard of all Vulgate Bibles until the 9th century, excluding the Book of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah and combining the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Additionally, the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are all presented as one book. In 2018, the Codex Amiatinus was loaned to the British Library in London for an exhibition of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, returning to England for the first time in 1,300 years.
The symbol for it is written as “am” or “A” (Wordsworth). It is preserved in a large book, which is 19 and 1/4 inches (49 cm) tall, 13 and 3/8 inches (34 cm) wide, and 7 inches (ca. 18 cm) thick, and weighs over 75 pounds (ca. 34 kg). It is so impressive that it fills the viewer with an emotion similar to awe, as Hort said. The book contains the Book of Psalms, which is provided in Jerome’s third version, translated from the Hebrew, rather than in the pre-Jerome Roman Psalter which was the standard in English bibles at that time. The text of the Amiatinus Psalms is not as accurate as other versions, and the presence of the ‘Columba’ series of psalm headings (which is also found in the Cathach of St. Columba) indicates that an Irish psalter was its source. The New Testament is preceded by the Epistula Hieronymi ad Damasum and Prolegomena to the four Gospels. The Codex Amiatinus also contains two full-page miniatures, which are copied from Late Antique originals and show little sign of the usual insular style of Northumbrian art. It is written in large, clear, regular, and beautiful uncial characters, with two columns per page and 43 or 44 lines per column. There are no marks of punctuation, but the text is divided into sections and arranged in a verse-like fashion to guide the reader. It is believed that the script was modeled upon the Codex Grandior of Cassiodorus, but it may have originated even earlier with St. Jerome.
The first quire of the manuscript may have been inspired by Codex Grandior, a Bible that was once part of Cassiodorus’s library at Vivarium, Italy, in the 6th century. It is believed that Abbot Biscop and Ceolfrith acquired it in Rome to add to the library at Wearmouth.
The quality of the writing done by the scribes at Wearmouth-Jarrow was so remarkable it was not until recently that people realized Codex Amiatinus was an 8th-century English book, instead of a 6th-century Italian one.
In 692, Abbot Ceolfrith commissioned three copies of the Bible. To produce the vellum, 2000 heads of cattle were needed, and the double monastery at Monkwearmouth–Jarrow was granted additional land. It is likely that Bede was involved in the compilation. Ceolfrid took one copy – the Codex Amiatinus – as a gift for Pope Gregory II, but Ceolfrid died on his way to Rome in Burgundy. The book was later recorded in a 1036 list of relics in the San Salvatore Monastery in Tuscany, where it was described as an Old and New Testament “written in the hand of the blessed Pope Gregory”. In 1786, it was moved to the Laurentian Library in Florence. The librarian there, Angelo Maria Bandini, suggested that the author was Servandus and that it had been produced at Monte Cassino around the 540s. However, German scholars noted its similarity to 9th-century texts and in 1888, Giovanni Battista de Rossi established that it was related to the Bibles mentioned by Bede. This also revealed that the Codex Amiatinus was related to the fragment of the Greenleaf Bible in the British Library. Although de Rossi’s attribution removed 150 years from the age of the Codex, it is still the oldest complete text of the Vulgate.
The Codex Amiatinus was the primary source of the Latin Vulgate Bible used by Catholics during the Counter-Reformation. Protestant versions of the Bible were based on the original language of the Scriptures, but the Amiatinus was older than any known Hebrew manuscripts, making it a powerful tool in the battle for textual authority. In 1587, Pope Sixtus V demanded that the book be sent to Rome, where it was used to create a new papal edition of the Bible, the Sixtine Vulgate. Despite this, the readings from the Amiatinus were largely ignored in the Sistine and subsequent Sixto-Clementine official Vulgate editions, which instead favored later medieval Vulgate texts that were found to be heavily corrupted. In response, Oxford University Press accepted a proposal from John Wordsworth (later Bishop of Salisbury) to create a new critical edition of the Vulgate New Testament in 1878. This edition, entitled Nouum Testamentum Domini nostri Iesu Christi Latine, secundum editionem sancti Hieronymi, was published in three volumes between 1889 and 1954 and gave the Codex Amiatinus primary status. It followed the manuscript in presenting the text in sense lines, cola et commata, without any indication of punctuation.
In 1888, it was realized that a later hand had altered the dedication page of the manuscript by using a lighter ink. The original inscription, “Ceolfrith, abbot from the far-off lands of the Angles,” indicated that the book had been taken to Rome. However, the inscription was later scraped down and replaced with “Peter of the Lombards,” one of the abbots of San Salvatore, transforming the manuscript into a gift to the monastery of the Savior at Monte Amiata instead of to St. Peter in Rome. In 1907, Pope Pius X commissioned the Benedictine monks in Rome to create a critical edition of Jerome’s Vulgate, Biblia Sacra iuxta latinam vulgatam versionem, which served as a counterpart Old Testament to the Oxford New Testament. This edition also followed the Codex Amiatinus text, with the exception of the Psalms, and its layout and punctuation were derived from the Amiatinus.