PATHS TO REFORM
Throughout the history of Christianity, men and women have wrestled with the challenge of how to interpret, and how to follow, the Gospels. Intrinsic to this process is the concept of "reform," a recognition that change is necessary (thus certainly including some criticism of the status quo) in order to return to a more authentic Christian life.The approximately thirty-five manuscripts presented here trace this process from the twelfth through the sixteenth centuries through the texts that inspired reform movements and communicated their ideas to others.
We begin with diverse texts associated with the most prominent Religious Orders of the High Middle Ages - the followers of Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Francis de Paola, and others, all seeking change and renewal.
We then explore the later Middle Ages and the growth of lay piety, focusing on texts associated with the "Devotio Moderna" in Latin and the vernacular, as well as related texts from Italy and France. Tracing these movements through actual manuscripts offers a new historical perspective, allowing us to study both their evident physical differences and the striking common textual contents. The same themes -classically expressed in texts such the Imitation of Christ and Henry of Suso's Clock of Wisdom- are found in manuscripts copied across Europe. For example, French noble women studied (in French and in lavish copies) the same texts found in much simpler copies in Dutch read by humble Brothers or Sisters of the Common life in the Low Countries.
We conclude with a group of "Protestant" books, including a New Testament, a Psalter, an illuminated Lutheran prayer book, and a Catholic Book of Hours with inappropriate passages crossed out to permit it to be used still in Protestant England. There is also a fascinating collection of hymns in the vernacular meant to be sung in unison during private meetings among reformed Churchgoers.The manuscripts brought together -their physical format, their text, and their illustrations- offer vivid testimony to the ways in which communities of the faithful practiced their beliefs.