66th IFLA Council and General
Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August
Code Number: 013-145-E
Division Number: VII
Professional Group: Library History
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 145
Simultaneous Interpretation: No
Logos, Biblos, & Bibliotheke: Christian Influences in Library Development
John Mark Tucker
Purdue University Libraries
West Lafayette, Indiana, USA
The influence of the Christian faith in the growth and development of libraries begins with the fundamental character of Yahweh, God of the Bible. By outlining the characteristics of Yahweh, we begin to understand the conceptual framework on which libraries have come to exist as intellectual, physical, spiritual, and social institutions. Given the limitations of space and format, I am confining my remarks to thematic possibilities, ideas that may merit further exploration.
Essential to Yahweh's character is that he acts in a powerful manner by speaking things into existence. He acts in a loving manner by creating individual human beings in his own image in order to have fellowship with them. Yahweh's actions of power and love are essential to his nature. "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."(1.)
The Character of Yahweh
The interlocking features of power and love undergird the essential characteristics that tell us¾in abbreviated form¾who God is and how he has interacted with human beings. He is (1) the God who creates and sustains life on the earth, having assigned to human beings the responsibility for caring for all of creation. (2) He is the one who made promises to Abraham, having chosen him and his descendants as conduits through which to bless all the families of the earth. (3) He rescued the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and brought them safely through the Red Sea, thus marking their passage from slavery into freedom. (4) He preserved the Israelites in the wilderness, providing instruction, discipline, nurture, and preparation for the promised land. (5) He established covenant relationships with people, creating new faith, and he put these covenants in writing. (6) He created laws in order to govern relationships among human beings and to teach them mutual love and respect. (7) He led his people into victorious battle, eliciting dependence on him and devotion to sacrificial living. (8) Yahweh also provided for his people a particularized inheritance in the form of land and rules for its use and, finally, (9) he chose King David to lead His people in the way of the righteous, and he promised to establish David's kingdom forever.2 The completion of that promise came at the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, direct descendent of David, and leader of a new kingdom.3
Yahweh's nature is significant to libraries as words are significant to libraries. Biblical words carry power and meaning far beyond that of typical uses in contemporary culture. Yahweh speaks and things without existence come to life. The word of God is a fire and a hammer, sharper than a two-edged sword, with the ability to transform lives; it is so powerful that it existed from the beginning of time and appeared in human form in the life of Jesus. A biblical perspective on life is one that never underestimates the power of language, the use of words to inform, instruct, soothe, or persuade. The writer of proverbs rhapsodized over the potential of words fitly spoken.4 Yet, the God of the Israelites goes many steps beyond a presentation of words by elaborating covenants and creating a system of laws. Thus his attributes are the very attributes essential to the ideals of library practice. They evidence a high value on words, on law and other types of literature that are arranged in meaningful ways, and that challenge the intellect and enliven the soul.
Biblical Antecedents to Library Practice
Library-specific antecedents become discernible in Yahweh's appointment of Adam to name and thereby to classify the animals of the earth. Discovery of the book of the law which had been lost and ignored for years, resulted in wide-spread social and religious reform in the reign of King Josiah. The Apostle Paul, from the dim light of a prison cell, called for the books and the parchments, and the Bible itself (biblos in koine Greek) became a collection of books, a library of carefully selected materials, chosen and arranged on the basis of authority and theology. To study and to make books wearies the mind, yet the injunction to read for knowledge and wisdom, for spiritual and intellectual growth, is a continuing refrain.5
Jesus and the Model of Servanthood
Beyond the universe and humankind, Yahweh's most powerful expression took the form of Jesus, his son, whose redemptive life became a model of devotion to others. Two New Testament passages merit special attention. The first was written by Paul the Apostle on the essential nature of Jesus and is, similarly, critical to library purpose and practice.
Leave no room for selfish ambition and vanity, but humbly reckon others better than yourselves. Look to each other's interests and not merely to your own. Take to heart among yourselves what you find in Christ Jesus. He was in the form of God; yet laid no claim to equality with God, but made himself nothing, assuming the form of a slave. Bearing the human likeness, sharing the human lot, he humbled himself, and was obedient, even to the point of death, death on a cross!6
This statement defines the ideal¾that the life of a Christian is the life of servanthood, that one person belongs to another, and that, in the belonging, lives a life that serves others. Individuals belong to Jesus and commit themselves to serving him. But human nature is such that believers fail in attempts to meet the ideal. The wide appeal of Christianity stems from the idea that Jesus, the Son of God, supplies grace; his life and his acts compensate for the failings of men and women.
That one lays aside personal selfish ambition with the goal of regarding others as better than oneself becomes a classic principle for effective collection development. To honor and respect another necessitates giving place to opposing ideas. The ideal is to promote not only one's own view but also to hear that of someone else. It involves building collections of diverse points of view. A life of faith ought to mean faith that the Christian perspective has no fear of challenge or comparison in the marketplace of ideas and, in fact, welcomes the engagement.7
The injunction to look to each other's interests is the injunction to serve. To model Jesus is to model a life of service. The library never exists for itself; it exists to serve the interests of many. The concept of servanthood becomes a core issue in any discussion of the social purpose of the library. To borrow a famous philosopher's phrase, the unexamined library is not worth building. If the reader is not drawn to the collection of multiple volumes and diverse points of view, the librarian would have no purpose in assembling the collection.
A second passage records this statement. "As Jesus grew he advanced in wisdom and favor with God and men."8 Here we see the process of growth. Jesus grew in the areas essential to becoming a mature, productive, responsible adult. He grew in wisdom, which is not only the acquisition of knowledge but also the interpretation and application of its meaning. He grew in favor with God (his spiritual relationship to the father) and in favor with men (interaction with other human beings). To facilitate growth in these areas is surely a library purpose. (While I have supplied only the barest of introductions to Christian theology, I am suggesting possible implications for library development). Libraries exist as do other educational entities, to facilitate seeking, inquiring, reading, learning, growing, and maturing, and to bring humankind closer to the experience of both humanity and divinity.
Christian Influences in the Roman & Byzantine Empires
Christianity grew slowly but inexorably in the years of Roman dominion. Christians demonstrated a reverence for the Bible, for biblical and doctrinal materials, and for books generally. Christian communities involving schools and libraries typically included a complement of individuals who copied earlier texts in order to generate copies for contemporary or future uses. Some scribes were virtually illiterate, with marginal understandings of the literary import of their contributions. Others became scholars in their own right. Whatever the level of learning, principal among scribal motivations was service to God. Thus began a process of cultural reproduction that has extended through centuries. As we trace connections in the lines of scholarship, we can observe the influence of one scholar on another, the growth and maturation of ideas, the creation of communities of shared information, and the role of the library in facilitating the connections, the growth, and the sharing.
One important example is Alexandria where a center of Christian scholarship emerged, and Clement of Alexandria (150-215) used local collections in order to cite 348 authors for his theological treatises. Clement's most prominent pupil, Origen (185-254), established a school and library at Caesarea near Jerusalem. Pamphilus (240-310) a student of Origen's, maintained the library and taught at Caesarea for many years. While Emperor Diocletian attempted to destroy Christianity (and Christian libraries), the collection at Caesarea escaped his efforts. Eusebuis (260-340) used this collection for his Ecclesiastical History, the principal source for Christianity from the Apostolic era to his own. Jerome (344-420) turned to the collections in Caesarea (as well as in Jerusalem) to prepare his commentaries and to translate the Bible into Latin, providing the primary source for Roman Catholic Bibles for hundreds of years. Euthalius (fl. 4th century), editor of Greek manuscripts, also used the library at Caesarea, and the library likely survived until the Persians captured Palestine in 614. Thus did early Christians create mechanisms for working together and faithfully transmitting their essential texts and explanatory materials from one generation to the next. Along the way, they expanded scribal activity and became early adopters of new technology (preferring the parchment codex over the papyrus roll).9
By the first half of the fourth century, Constantine the Great favored Christianity for Imperial Rome, and Christian institutions achieved new levels of stability having expanded from Northern Africa and the Middle East throughout most of Europe. Constantine established an imperial library in Constantinople and his agents scoured the Empire for Christian books and for Greek and Latin secular works. The imperial library symbolized the importance of Constantinople as a center of learning that included not only libraries but also schools, cathedrals, monasteries, and hospitals. The significance of this city, beyond its own cultural expressions, owes to its having preserved much Classical literature throughout the Middle Ages. The city and its libraries survived the chaos of war, fire, neglect, and fluctuating economies and influenced intellectual life until they were over-run by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.10
As Roman influence began to decline, the monasteries, particularly those in remote regions, offered productive and relatively stable opportunities for Christian service. In a cultural climate inimical to library progress, monasteries became essential to textual and cultural preservation and transmission.
Two important developments laid the groundwork for monastic libraries that helped to make them durable and flexible enough to last for hundreds of years. Cassiodorus (490-580) founded Vivarium near Naples; his monks cultivated learning not as an end in itself but rather as a means toward better knowledge of the scriptures. Cassiodorus promoted intellectual labor as well as manual labor as appropriate service both to God and to the monastic way of life. His respect for learning and reverence for libraries was most apparent in his Institutiones, an extensive guide to monastic living that included instructions for how to handle, correct, copy, and repair manuscripts, as well as the intellectual prerequisites for participation in such activity. Cassiodorus "fused monastic notions about reading and contemplation with the idea of a community of scholars and, if not scholars themselves, that monks could support scholarship by copying books and building libraries."11
A second major development from this period involved Benedict of Nursia (480-550) who established monasteries at Monte Cassino and Subiaco in central Italy. Monte Cassino was the home base from which numerous monasteries were founded in Western Europe and from which the Benedictines emerged as a major monastic order. Through the Rules of St. Benedict, an approach less scholarly but more pragmatic than that of Cassiodorus, Benedict emphasized daily Bible reading, scribal work, and thus library development emulating Eastern monasticism and spreading his ideas into rural enclaves in Western Europe. The contributions of Benedict, sometimes known as the father of Western monasticism, in combination with those of Cassiodorus, secured the place of libraries and scriptoria in medieval monasteries.12
One of the most remarkable achievements of any Byzantine monastery¾as proven by subsequent historical events¾took place at St. Catherine's on Mount Sinai. The monks there had preserved one of the earliest extant manuscripts of the Bible, Codex Sinaiticus, which unlike the versions used by Jerome, included the full text of the New Testament. This manuscript, discovered by Constantin Tischendorf in 1844 and 1859, stimulated revision of the King James Version (1611) of the Bible, and thus became the foundation for Protestant translations in the 19th and 20th centuries.13
Historians have in the past and will continue in the future to debate the relative role of Christianity in the preservation of Classical literature. Detractors rightly observe that religious works were the primary focus of monastic orders; yet Cassiodorus preserved the works of Greek scholars Sophocles, Sozomen, and Theodoret. While seventy-five percent of Greek classics passed through Byzantine copies, some theological works were inscribed on palimpsests from which Latin classics had been erased. Early Christians relied on oral communication and it was only later that the church became a cultural custodian and then by default. Classical culture had been eroded by the decline of multiple institutions and, when suffering at the hand of Christians, tended to do so largely from benign neglect rather than deliberate destruction.14
Universities and the Expansion of Knowledge
Further comments focus on college and university libraries¾due to the constraints of space and format as well as my own areas of specialty¾thus omitting consideration of other types such as private, school, public, governmental, and rare book libraries and their multiple varieties. While the early university libraries were in some sense traceable to monastery libraries, likelier antecedents were housed in cathedrals. Cathedrals had found practical ways to engage their immediate surroundings; those in urban centers became part of local cultural and economic networks. In the 12th century, for example, the Cathedral of Notre Dame conducted one of the leading public schools in Europe. Cathedrals often served as headquarters for church officials; they offered training for the priesthood as well as lower level secular schooling. Their book collections were larger, more diverse, more current, and better funded than monastic libraries. The monastic model had, at its root, more of a desire to renounce the world than to preserve its culture. The cathedrals were positioned to attract students to urban life and offer connections to the world that were unavailable to inhabitants of rural monasteries.15
The intellectual core of universities featured traditions from European Christianity in combination with literature from Greek, Graeco-Roman, and Arabic cultures. The liberal arts incorporated the trivium and quadrivium (logic, grammar, rhetoric and arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy) with Aristotelian logic holding a dominant position. (Advanced study focused on philosophy while professional schools taught law, medicine, and theology). The Bible was regarded as the supreme authority in general as well as in theological education. Theological training in 13th century England took the Bible as its foundation, adding the works of Peter Lombard, and the early church fathers including Jerome, Augustine and Gregory, as well as liturgical and sermonic materials. Curricular emphases and methods of teaching and learning bore remarkable similarity throughout Austria, Bohemia, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Scandinavia, Scotland, and Spain from the birth of universities in the late 12th century until well after the invention of printing in the 15th century.16
The beginnings of college libraries typically followed the birth of their parent institutions by several decades. One exception was New College founded in 1380 as the first Oxford College to begin with its own library which gives insight into the status of religious literature. The Bishop of Winchester gave 312 volumes for a circulating collection (which included theology-136 volumes, canon law-53, medicine-52, civil law-37, and philosophy-34). Thus the influence of Christian traditions was dominant, and the colleges, in attracting book donations, had made great strides over the monasteries that had relied primarily on copyists.17
My focus on college and university libraries owes to their high profile in Western Europe and North America. While not the most numerous type, the college and university libraries¾especially in the past two hundred years¾have become significant for their relationship to original research and to higher education generally. In many nations, university libraries are the dominant form, both "because of their importance to the intellectual, economic and social development of the nation and because of the leadership which their libraries provide to other types of libraries."18
A strong humanistic impulse fueled the intense interest in reclaiming ancient Greek and Roman material and intellectual culture during the Renaissance (from roughly the 14th through the 17th centuries). Italian scholars were among the earliest to scour monasteries, and they enriched private libraries in Florence, Rome, Venice, and several smaller cities. Organized religion including the papacy itself provided essential patronage in the years when the Roman Catholic church was at its height as an economic and political power. As Renaissance ideas spread to central and northern Europe they had less immediate impact on library collection growth. In subsequent centuries many of the books gathered by Renaissance scholars found their way into national or university libraries.
In 16th century England the Reformation stimulated library growth through the Protestant schism from the Roman Catholic church. In this context, reclamation of an Anglo-Saxon past enriched, for example, book collections at Corpus Christi College at Cambridge. Protestant polemical interests fueled the founding of the Bodelian Library; Christians were also concerned with the more substantial sources yielded by the monasteries. In Germany, the Lutheran focus on education resulted in the establishment of new libraries but the more profound impact was to greatly enrich the universities at Heidelberg, Leipzig, Marburg, Wittenberg, and elsewhere.
The invention of printing by moveable types in the mid-fifteenth century resulted in a dramatic explosion of publishing output. Johann Gutenberg's 42-line Bible (c. 1455) resulted¾during the next 45 years¾in an estimated 30,000 editions totaling about twenty million volumes. The printing press vastly increased literacy throughout Europe especially when combined with the Protestant Reformation and post-Reformation emphasis on private reading and study of the Bible.19
Christianity and Higher Education in North America
Like their European counterparts, most of the better-established colleges and universities in the United States owe their existence to the Christian faith. The first nine colonial colleges grew out of Protestant denominational interests, seven of which focused initially on training for the ministry. Among colleges founded by 1860, Christians established 180 as follows: Presbyterians-49, Methodists-34, Baptists-25, Congregationalists-21, Catholics-14, Episcopals-11, Lutherans-6, Christian (Disciples)-5, and seven others combined-15. Yale, in particular, became a college that founded other colleges. The Yale progeny today, some established in collaboration with Presbyterians, include a number of superb liberal arts colleges in the Midwestern United States plus the University of California at Berkeley. Congregationalists alone supplied the beginnings for Harvard, Yale, and California; among academic research libraries, these schools rank first, second, and fourth in total numbers of volumes.20
Contemporary scholarship concurs with first-hand experience, that most of these institutions--supported by fine libraries--have become premier mechanisms for teaching and research. While they serve a technology-driven secular society, careful historical inquiry confirms their Christian origins. Though less successful at community building21 than at cultural reproduction, the great university libraries exemplify the developmental emphasis in Luke 2:52. Despite having no special allegiance to the core beliefs of Christianity, they owe their existence to the powerful combination of intellectual curiosity and Christian servanthood. They continue to facilitate the processes of growth in wisdom and in favor with God and men. Though I have cited only a handful of examples, I have sought to bring together basic Christian ideas and their role in facilitating, stimulating, supporting, and nurturing our great libraries.
- Lamentations 3:22-23, Revised English Bible. Male gender language is used throughout in references to Yahweh in order to respect original terminology. The context indicates that Yahweh possesses characteristics of both genders. See Genesis 1:27.
- Psalm 89:20-33. For a fuller explication of Yahweh's character, see John Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker, 1981); Thomas H. Olbricht, He Loves Forever: The Message of the Old Testament (Austin, TX: Journey Books, 1980); Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology: The Theology of Israel's Historical Traditions (New York: Harper, 1962); and George Ernest Wright and Reginald H. Fuller, The Book of the Acts of God: Christian Scholarship Interprets the Bible (London: Duckworth, 1960).
- Matthew 1:1 and 12:23; and Acts 2:33-36.
- Jeremiah 23:29; Hebrews 4:12; Psalm 119:11; John 1:1 and 1:14; Proverbs 25:11.
- Genesis 2:20; 2 Chronicles 34:1-33; Ecclesiastes 12:12; Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and 31:9-13; 1 Timothy 3:14; 2 Timothy 2:15 and 3:14.
- Philippians 2:3-8, Revised English Bible.
- Christians have long been linked to efforts to suppress the printing, distribution, and accessibility of various publications. Scholarship on this issue continues to grow. Among the classics are books by George H. Putnam, The Censorship of the Church of Rome and Its Influence Upon the Production and Distribution of Literature: A Study of the History of the Prohibitory and Expurgatory Indexes, Together with Some Consideration of the Effects of Protestant Censorship and of Censorship by the State, 2 vols. (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1906-07), reprinted by B. Blom in 1967; Ralph E. McCoy, Freedom of the Press: An Annotated Bibliography (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968) which has two supplements; and Anne Lyon Haight, Banned Books: Informal Notes on Some Books Banned for Various Reasons at Various Times, 3rd ed. (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1970). In 1998, Facts on File issued four monographs, one each devoted to the suppression of literature on the basis of religious, sexual, social, and political criteria. The 1984 Herbert Ross film, Footloose (Los Angeles, CA: Paramount, 1984), presents a book burning incident that typifies some Protestant and Catholic concerns. I recommend the approach taken by Donald G. Davis, Jr. in "Intellectual Freedom and Evangelical Faith," Christian Librarian 9 (November 1985-February 1986), 3-6.
- Luke 2:52, Revised English Bible.
- All dates are approximations. See relevant entries in F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). See also Sidney L. Jackson, Libraries and Librarianship in the West: A Brief History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974), 29; and Elmer D. Johnson, History of Libraries in the Western World, 2nd ed. (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1970), 77-79. The leading theorist on cultural reproduction is French scholar Pierre Bourdieu. For entry into Bourdieu, see Richard Harker, Cheleen Mahar, and Chris Wilkes, eds., An Introduction to Pierre Bourdieu: The Practice of Theory (New York: St. Martin's, 1990). For theories of community applicable to Christianity and potentially librarianship, I suggest the work of Josiah Royce. See Josiah Royce, The Philosophy of Loyalty (New York: Macmillan, 1908); The Problem of Christianity, 2 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1913); The Hope of the Great Community (New York: Macmillan, 1916); and James Harry Cotton, Royce on the Human Self (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1954). See also William F. Birdsall, "Community, Individualism, and the American Public Library," Library Journal 110 (1 November 1985): 21-24; and Peter Riga, "Towards a Theology of Librarianship," Catholic Library World 34 (May-June 1962): 542-44, 583-84.
- Johnson, 88-89, 93-94.
- Lawrence J. McCrank, "Medieval Libraries," in Encyclopedia of Library History, edited by Wayne A. Wiegand and Donald G. Davis, Jr., (New York: Garland, 1994), 425.
- Jackson, 37-41; Johnson, 112-13, 117; Anne L. Buchanan, et al., "Collection Development," in Encyclopedia of Library History, 153-64; and John Edwin Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship from the Sixth Century B. C. to the End of the Middle Ages, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1906-08), 1: 265. See also James Westfall Thompson, The Medieval Library (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1939) and Karl Christ, The Handbook of Medieval Library History, rev. by Anton Kern, translated and edited by Theophil M. Otto (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1984).
- Geddes MacGregor, The Bible in the Making (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1959), 16-17, 63-67, 206-07; Frederick C. Grant, Translating the Bible (New York: Nelson, 1961): 27; F. F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments: Some Chapters on the Transmission of the Bible, 3rd rev. ed. (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1963), 183; and Ernest Cadman Colwell, The Study of the Bible, rev. ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 83-85.
- Buchanan; McCrank, 423; and Sandys, 1: 258-60.
- Johnson, 120; and Olaf Pedersen, The First Universities: Studium Generale and the Origins of University Education in Europe, translated by Richard North (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 97, 102, 130.
- Alan Cobban, English University Life in the Middle Ages (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1999), 149-65.
- Johnson, 136.
- O. Lee Shiflett, "Academic Libraries," in Encyclopedia of Library History, 5.
- Susan Otis Thompson, "Printing and Library Development," in Encyclopedia of Library History, 507-10; and Richard W. Clement, "Renaissance Libraries," in Encyclopedia of Library History, 546-53. The major works on the role of the invention of printing in the expansion of social and intellectual life (that provide, as well, an overview of the Renaissance and Reformation) are by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe, 2 vols. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979); and the Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993). Organizations devoted to missionary service, Bible and tract distribution, and Sunday school development further enhanced literacy in Europe and North America creating a greater desire for school and public libraries. Some of these organizations are discussed in Donald G. Davis, Jr., David M. Hovde, and John Mark Tucker, Reading for Moral Progress: 19th Century Institutions Promoting Social Change, GSLIS, University of Illinois Occasional Papers 207 (February 1997): 1-70.
- Donald G. Tewksbury, The Founding of American Colleges and Universities Before the Civil War (New York: Columbia University Teachers College, 1932), 69, 120-22. See also Louise L. Stevenson, Scholarly Means to Evangelical Ends: The New Haven Scholars and the Transformation of Higher Learning in America, 1830-1890 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986); and George M. Marsden, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); and ARL Statistics 1997-98 (Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries, 1999), 55.
- Although Christians continue to succeed at building communities, Christian institutions that substantially incorporate libraries tend not to influence the literate classes as during the Roman Empire. Christian thought and library development in contemporary life come together most obviously in graduate theological seminaries and in undergraduate church-related colleges. See George M. Marsden and Bradley L. Longfield, eds. The Secularization of the Academy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). For an understanding of the complexities of building a sense of community in contemporary American society, see Robert N. Bellah, et al., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life: Updated Edition with a New Introduction (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996). See also Susan Curtis, The Social Gospel and Modern American Culture (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991).