Biblical Reception in Poland of the Middle Ages


The aim of this interdisciplinary session is to trace patterns of reception of biblical passages and motifs in a number of Latin and vernacular texts, representing genres such as treatises, sermons, “libri miraculorum”, and apocrypha, written in in the Polish territories between the 14th and 16th centuries. The papers included in this panel cover examples of both scholarly polemical and popular pastoral literature, considering their context, intended audience and purpose. The inclusion of such a variety of materials creates an opportunity to compare the modes of biblical exegesis and literary means applied in these texts. The discussed case studies will contribute to the conversation about the reception of the Bible in medieval Poland and help describe more accurately the links between Polish culture of that time and the contemporaneous culture of the region, and of Europe as such.


Andrzej Dąbrówka Institute for Literary Research, Polish Academy of Sciences
Ela Lazarewicz-Wyrzykowska Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, Cambridge / University of Warsaw
Jacek Soszyński Institute for the History of Science, Polish Academy of Sciences
Marzena Zawanowska, University of Warsaw and Jewish Historical Institute

Warsaw 2019 

Session Plan

Session 1: Biblical Reception in Poland of the Middle Ages: Recent Bible Research at the Polish Academy of Sciences

Chairs: Andrzej Dąbrówka, Institute for Literary Research, Polish Academy of Sciences
Jacek Soszyński, Institute for the History of Science, Polish Academy of Sciences

Jacek Soszyński, Institute for the History of Science,

Polish Academy of Sciences Medieval Biblical Manuscripts in Polish Collections: An Overview of Extant Source Materials
There are over 300 biblical manuscripts extant in Polish collections. With the notable exception of the most ancient or the most celebrated for their outstanding artistic features, the majority of these codices have usually been neglected by scholars. Moreover, current research conducted by the team ( revealed literally hundreds of biblical manuscript fragments - some of them very old – in Polish repositories. Although the planned census of these materials is still far from complete, there appears a distinct chronological picture, with a significant outburst of manuscript presence in the 13th, constant rise in the 14th and the 15th centuries, and an abrupt cease shortly after 1470, when the manuscript Bible was replaced by the printed one. Interestingly enough, this pattern is not completely consistent with what is believed to be the general line of development of the history of the book in Polish territories.

Jakub Kubieniec, Institute of Musicology, Jagiellonian University Kraków

Biblical Texts in Medieval Polish Liturgical Sources
The Bible was the main source for liturgical material and, reciprocally, liturgical services were principal occasions for public presentation of biblical texts. In this paper the liturgical selection of biblical stories, the ways of their presentation (cento, paraphrase, „raw” quotation) and modes of delivery (chant, recitation) are discussed as they appear in medieval Polish liturgical books.

Paulina Pludra-Żuk, Institute for the History of Science, Polish Academy of Sciences

Aurora in Medieval Poland: Delivery and Fnction of the Text
The Aurora – a metrical Bible written by Peter Riga towards the end of the 12th century – offers profuse material for studying intersecting aspects of the history of the Bible as a book in the Middle Ages. The importance of this text is attested among others by the great number of its copies originating from different intellectual centres. In my presentation I will outline the specificity of the transmission of Aurora in medieval Poland and discuss the role of the text on the basis of a closer examination of manuscripts written or used on this territory during the Middle Ages against the background of available data concerning European manuscripts in general.

Andrzej Dąbrówka, Institute for Literary Research, Polish Academy of Sciences

Concepts and uses of the Past in the Glossa Ordinaria
The biblical glosses are an excellent material to study how researchers and readers of the Sacred Scriptures perceived the motifs of the past contained in it: what and how they understood and how they made use of them. Because of the spatial and temporal distance of the events of the Old Testament, the lack of continuity between those peoples and states to the Christian peoples, threads from that history could not bring them actual knowledge about their own past, but they had an exemplary function - they were used to create figurative comparisons and metaphors. Although they were not written with such intention, they were read as historical prefigurations or constructed as poetic allegories. In turn, the big amount of this material and the intensity and durability of the study of the Scriptures made the explanation of the Bible a certain way of thinking and a specific poetics explained in a separate theory (Northrop Frye). The key categories describing this poetics are metaphor, myth and typology. The delivered text uses bold imaging, its structure is organized by a narration about Supernatural characters, not a description of facts; the arrangement of events is subordinated to typology, not to causality.

Session 2: Biblical Reception in Poland of the Middle Ages: Medieval Pastoral and Scholarly Literature

Chairs: Marzena Zawanowska, University of Warsaw and Jewish Historical Institute
Ela Lazarewicz-Wyrzykowska, Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, Cambridge / University of Warsaw 

Ela Lazarewicz-Wyrzykowska, Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, Cambridge / University of Warsaw

Humility or Wisdom? Tools of Abigail’s Intercession in Peregrine of Opole’s (c1260 – c1333) Sermon Model
In this paper, I discuss the typological exegesis of the story of David’s encounter with Abigail (1 Sam 25:2-42) in the Silesian Dominican friar’s, Peregrine of Opole’s, sermon model ‘In Festo Annuntiationis Beate Mariae Virginis’. I consider this text in its historical, theological and literary context and compare Peregrine’s exegesis with the way in which similar Marian typology is introduced in Jacobus de Voragine’s (circa 1230 – 1298) collection Mariale sive Sermones de Beata Maria Virgine. I argue that the way in which this biblical passage has been curated in the contemporary Catholic Breviary suggests the dependence of the compilers of this liturgical book on the discussed typological interpretation, closer to the shape it takes in Peregrine’s sermon.

Anna Zajchowska-Bołmotriuk, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw

Between Vernacular and Latin Culture: Role of the Bible in "Translating” Folk Stories into Pastoral Literature. The example of Liber Miraculorum of Szymon of Lipnica (died 1482)
“Libri miraculorum”, one of the typical medieval genres of pastoral literature, were written both as an “advertisement” for pilgrimage centres and as a sermon material. They not only told stories about the miracles of a particular saint, but also served as short catechesis on sanctity, devotional practices and the relation between God and the created world. “Libri miraculorum” had as their starting points the depositions of the faithful, who experienced miraculous interventions of a particular saint. Those testimonies, given in the vernacular language in front of a clergy commission, were then reworked, translated into Latin and put into theological context by an educated editor or editors. The aim of my paper is to examine the role of the Bible in this transition from a vernacular narrative into didactic stories in Latin. My reflection is based on the late medieval Liber Miraculorum of Szymon of Lipnica, an Observant Franciscan from the convent in Cracow.

Paweł Kras, John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin

The Scripture Versus a Common Liturgical Practice: The Polemic Against the Hussite Doctrine in Stanisław of Skarbimierz’s Determinationes contra Hussitas
In April 1415 the Council of Constance condemned the administration of the Eucharist under both kinds to the laity giving rise to a long lasting debate on the Sacrament of the Altar. The discussion on the administration of the Eucharist became the central topic of theological discussion in the second quarter of the fifteenth century and reached its climax at the Council of Basel in 1433. From the very beginning of the Hussite controversy Stanisław of Skarbimierz (c. 1365-1431) took the lead among Cracow scholars rebutting the Utraquist position with his sermons and writings. As early as 1416 he criticised the Communion sub utraque in the sermon De haereticis where he supported the practice of the Roman Church and justified the 1415 decree of the Council of Constance. His much more elaborated position against the Communion under both kinds is presented in the three treatises known as Determinationes contra Hussitas from 1421-1429. Published by Zofia Włodek in 2000, they give a good insight into his methodology of countering the Hussite teaching with biblical auctoritates and legal arguments. On the one hand, Skarbimierczyk admits that the Hussite article concerning the administration of the Eucharist is well supported by a number of biblical auctoritates and rationes. On the other, he argues that the Hussites intentionally manipulate the Scripture and confront it with the well-grounded practice of the Church. He demonstrates that it is customary and sufficient to administer Communion under one kind because both Body and Blood of Christ are truly present in the consecrated host. Furthermore, Skarbimierczyk rebutes the Hussite argument that the Communion under both kinds is necessary for salvation. He argues that Christ is present in His Body and Blood under the species of bread, and that is why it does not matter whether the Eucharist is administered under one or two kinds. My paper is intended to examine how Stanisław of Skarbimierz builds his polemic against the Hussite doctrine applying the arguments from the Scripture, Canon law and liturgical tradition of the Roman Church.

Dorota Masłej, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań

Explaining Fragments of the Bible in Polish Mediaeval Apocrypha and Sermons
In this paper, I analyse two Old Polish texts referring to the same biblical pericope in Latin, namely, the healing of the royal official’s son (John 4:45-54). One of the texts comes from a Polish-Latin collection of preaching materials, known as The Augustinians’ Sermons, dated to the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, while the second one is included in The Przemyśl Meditation, the most extensive Polish Apocrypha, dated to well before the beginning of the 16th century. The aim of this paper is to discuss the differences between the ways in which this pericope had been translated and interpreted in these two texts, and to address the reasons of such differences, such as the functions of respective texts, their intended use, the aptitudes and abilities of the writers. The analysis will allow us to draw some more general conclusions regarding the functions of the Bible in the Polish culture of the Middle Ages.

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