Gilbert the Universal
Gloss on Lamentations
2nd half of the 12th century
205 x 130 mm
Harley 3117, f. 48v
The British Library, London
Gilbert the Universal
Lamentations of Jeremiah, with commentary
1st quarter of the 13th century
250 x 180 mm
Royal 15 B XI f. 78v
The British Library, London
The commentary on the Lamentations of Jeremiah was complied by Gilbertus Autissioderensis (Gilbert the Universal, Bishop of London, 1128-1134), as stated in the colophon on f. 101v.
In the Harley manuscript above the 'Gloss on Lamentations' is ascribed to 'ego Gillebertus autisiodorensis ecclesie Archidiaconus' (f. 37v).
The Glossa ordinaria in Lamentationes Ieremie prophete was adapted from the ninth-century commentary of Paschasius Radbertus, Abbot of Corbie, by Gilbert the Universal in the early twelfth century.
It was part of the Glossa ordinaria on the Bible which was an attempt to organise all important knowledge on the Bible into one standard work
For centuries it was wrongly ascribed to Strabo
It was also carried out at Auxerre, and other traces are left in Chartres and Paris – notably at the Abbey of St Victor
Gillian Evans has written:
"The achievement of the eleventh and twelfth century scholars who put the Glossa Ordinaria together was to go over the existing commentaries, to select and prune, and to draw everything together into a relatively uniform whole, covering all necessary points briefly, clearly and authoratively"(G R Evans The Language and Logic of the Bible: the Earlier Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1984))
This gloss was quoted as a high authority by St. Thomas Aquinas, and it was known as "the tongue of Scripture". Until the seventeenth century it remained the favourite commentary on the Bible; and it was only gradually superseded by more independent works of exegesis.
After Jan Collaert II (c.1561 - c.1620) who copied Peter Paul Rubens (577 - 1640)
Title to Biblia Sacra / cum / Glossa Ordinaria / A Strabo Fuldenis / ... / ad Lectorem ostendet
392 millimetres x 253 millimetres
The British Museum, London
In the Gloss a given passage of Scripture would be presented together with the words of any number of Church Fathers who commented on the particular text.
The Glossa was then essentially the work of the cathedral schools of Laon and Auxerre in the 12th century. It was misattributed to Strabo
Gilbert was the pupil of Anselm and as well as Lamentations may have compiled the Glosses on other books of the Bible such as the Pentateuch, and the Greater Prophets
The Glossa became the standard text with Gilbert of Poitiers and Peter the Lombard, both of whom used it in their teaching and as a basis for their own work.
The first four are acrostics (each begins to turn by one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet), with the exception of the third chapter. The author (traditionally Jeremiah) describes the great pain caused by the siege, capture and destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II , King of Babylon .
Vigorous and pathetic, this book expresses deep sorrow at the sight of desolation, misery, confusion, famine, sword and other scourges as an expression of divine punishment for the sins of the people of prophets and priests.
The book however ends with a note of hope
It was from Lamentations that Pope Benedict XVI quoted when he visited the Yad Vashem Memorial in May 2009:
"As we stand here in silence, their cry still echoes in our hearts. It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence. It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood. It is the cry of Abel rising from the earth to the Almighty. Professing our steadfast trust in God, we give voice to that cry using words from the Book of Lamentations which are full of significance for both Jews and Christians:“The favours of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent;They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness.My portion is the Lord, says my soul; therefore will I hope in him.Good is the Lord to the one who waits for him, to the soul that seeks him;It is good to hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord” (Lam 3:22-26)."
We do not know much about the early life of Gilbert Universalis (or Gilbert the Universal; died 1134)
But we do know that he was part of the School of Laon and was a great teacher and canon lawyer
He was instructed in the case between Canterbury and York over which see had precedence and primatial authority in England
Canterbury claimed primatial authority and York resisted it.
It was a demand for obedience and the corresponding refusal to submit.
His erudition in Canon Law led King Henry I to appoint him Bishop of London in 1127
After 1120 after the death of his legitimate son, Henry I appears to have experienced some sort of crisis and after that date began to appoint many more episcopal clerks and members of religious orders as bishops
At this time Winchester was still the Royal capital, not London
By the late twelfth century, in addition to St Paul’s Cathedral and a parochial network of more than one hundred churches encompassed within a square mile area, London housed St Martin le Grand, a pre Conquest collegiate foundation, the English headquarters for two crusading orders (the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller), and a number of Augustinian houses, such as the priories of Holy Trinity, St Bartholomew, St Katherine by the Tower, and St Mary Bishopsgate, which were all served by canons
In 1130 St Bernard of Clairvaux wrote to Gilbert and praised his practice of poverty while in the office of Bishop. He addressed him as "Universal Doctor":
He was so called because he was acquainted with and excelled in all branches of the learning of that time
However in the letter there is more than a hint that perhaps in his early days Gilbert was not free from the vice of avarice at one time
But Gilbert was a champion of ascetic reform in contrast to his predecessor
"The report of your conduct has spread far and wide, and has given to those whom it has reached an odour of great sweetness. The love of riches is extinct ; what sweetness results ! charity reigns ; what a delight to all !
All recognize you for a truly wise man, who has trodden under foot the great enemy with true wisdom; and this is most worthy of your name and of your priesthood. It was fitting that your special philosophy should shine forth by such a proof, and that you should crown all your distinguished learning by such a completion.
That is the true and unquestionable wisdom which contemns filthy lucre and judges it a thing unworthy [that philosophy should] dwell under the same roof as the service of idols.
That the Magister Gilbert should become a bishop was not a great thing; but that a Bishop of London should embrace a life of poverty, that is, indeed, grand. For the greatness of the dignity could not add glory to your name ; but the humility of poverty has highly exalted it.
To bear poverty with an equal mind, that is the virtue of patience ; to seek it of one s own accord is the height of wisdom.
He is praised and regarded as admirable who does not go out his way after money ; and shall he who renounces it have no higher praise ? Unless that clear reason sees nothing to be wondered at in the fact that a wise man acts wisely; and he is wise who having acquired all the science of the learned of this world, and having great enjoyment in acquiring them, has studied all the Scriptures so as to make their meaning new again.
What then ? You have dispersed, you have given to the poor, but money. But what is money to that righteousness which you have gained for it ? His righteousness, it is said, endureth for ever (Ps. cxii. 9). Is it so with money ? Then it is a desirable and honourable exchange to give that which passes away for that which endures.
May it be granted to you always so to purchase, O, admirable and praiseworthy Magister ! It remains that your noble beginning should attain an ending worthy of it ; and the tail of the victim be joined to the head.
I have gladly received your benediction, which the perfectness of your virtue renders the more precious to me."
After the death of Gilbert in 1134 there was a seven years` vacancy at London.
It has been argued that the chapter at St Paul‟s was unable to agree on a successor to Gilbert due to an ideological split between an ascetic reform faction which had formed around Gilbert and a reactionary old guard, led by the family of the former bishop Richard Belmeis
Gilbert brought with him to the See his nephew Arcoid who became a canon of St Paul`s
Arcoid subsequently published a biography/hagiography of St Erkenwald, whose shrine was in St Paul`s, the Miracula sancti Erkenwaldi
In it he says:
"After him Gilbert, who was named the Universal, was summoned from St Auxerre in France to ascend the episcopal throne. This was a happy event, for he indeed was filled with both learning and wisdom, and was possessed also of natural authority and the spirit of frugal moderation... But it is not within the scope of this work to describe the gifts, the great gifts, he bestowed upon the church after undertaking the burden of the see or to describe the purity of his life.."
For more about Gilbert Universalis and his life and works see Gilbert the Universal (2005). Glossa ordinaria in Lamentationes Ieremie prophete. Prothemata et Liber I: A Critical Edition with an Introduction and a Translation. Studia Latina Stockholmiensia 52. Alexander Andrée (ed.). Stockholm: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis. ISBN 91-7155-069-0.