Biblical Hermeneutics and Exegesis in the Late Middle Ages: The Introductio in sacram scripturam of Henry of Langenstein (†1397)

FWF-project-number: P 31893


PR Abstract  

The history of theological education at the University of Vienna began in 1384. At that time, Duke Albrecht III summoned Henry of Langenstein, already a famous professor in Paris, to Vienna and entrusted him with the establishment of the theological faculty of the university, which had been founded only twenty years previously. Not only did Langenstein organize the theological study program; he also established the reputation of this program with his teaching. In the Middle Ages, to teach theology was to interpret the Bible. A distinctive feature of theological teaching in the Vienna of the Late Middle Ages was the production of lengthy commentaries on the biblical books. This trend was initiated by Langenstein. From 1385 until his death in 1397, he devoted himself to interpreting the Book of Genesis, reaching only the first three chapters, which concern the creation of the world and the fall of man. By the time of his death, the commentary had grown into a multi-volume work in which Langenstein discussed numerous theological, philosophical and scientific topics. Before treating the first chapter of Genesis, he had lectured for an entire academic year (1385/6) on the foundations of biblical interpretation. This introduction (the Introductio in sacram scripturam) is a lengthy prologue to the commentary.

            Neither Langenstein’s Commentary on Genesis nor his Introduction to Sacred Scripture has ever been printed. The fact that around one hundred manuscripts contain this text strongly suggests that it was extensively read in the Middle Ages, and that it exerted a strong influence on other theologians in Vienna and beyond. Our project, “Biblical Hermeneutics and Exegesis in the Late Middle Ages: The Introductio in sacram scripturam of Henry of Langenstein (†1397),” intends to critically edit Langenstein’s Introduction to the Sacred Scripture and to examine the author’s discussions of exegesis, the biblical text, and other diverse themes within. Since the Introductio is one of the longest essays on biblical interpretation written in its time, the project is expected to provide important insights into the developments seen in the biblical exegesis of the Late Middle Ages, a period which continues to suffer from the negative judgments of the Humanist and Reformation ages.  

           Moreover, the project will examine the entire transmission history of the Commentary on Genesis. An examination of all known manuscripts will not only provide the criteria to determine which contain the oldest and best copies of the text, but also give data which can be used to assess the scope and influence of this prodigious work. This manuscript study will also make it possible to draw conclusions about the lecture program of the young University of Vienna at the end of the fourteenth century.

  PR Abstract German version

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