Beryl Smalley, Thomas of Cantimpré, and the Performative Reading of Scripture: A Study in Two Exempla
In her response to Philo's allegorical readings of the Septuagint, the late Beryl Smalley seemed to be bothered by the opaqueness or privacy of spiritual exegesis. The “logic” of such reading is as hidden as the spiritual levels it purportedly brings to light. What Smalley found difficult about the spiritual senses of scripture is not that they existed per se but that they were, for so much of the Middle Ages, given scholarly status, even priority, indeed, that examination of the spiritual senses of the scriptures was held to be the very end of scholarly study. By contrast, she reverses these medieval assumptions in her pioneering history of the study of the Bible. This chapter examines Smalley's story in the light created by John Van Engen's recent account of the 12th-century establishment of the scripture as theological school text and by the 13th-century Dominican of Louvain Thomas of Cantimpré's reading practice as recorded in an autobiographical exemplum he included in his Bonum universale de apibus or “Book of Bees”.
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