The Fourth Gospel In The Twelfth Century: Rupert Of Deutz On The Gospel Of John

Copyright (C) 1998 by Abigail Ann Young


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Abigail Ann Young, February 1998

Section One: Rupert Of Deutz: The Shaping Of An Exegete

Rupert was born around 1075 and died in 1129. There are few fixed dates in his career: although the general picture is clear, many details remain conjectural.(See note 1) He was a Benedictine monk who was educated and spent most of his life in the diocese of Liège, although he ended his career as abbot of Deutz, near Cologne. A teacher in the school of his home monastery of St-Laurent, he wrote a wide range of commentaries on both Old and New Testament books. His insistence upon having received a charismatic gift of interpretation was unusual, if not unique, among his contemporaries but the exegesis he produced was deeply rooted in the western tradition out of which he came. In addition to his commentaries on individual books of the Bible, Rupert produced a commentary On the Divine Office and a monumental work on salvation history in forty-two books, On the Holy Trinity and its Works, which constitutes a commentary on the entire Bible, as well as many shorter writings. He was proud of these works, considering them to be his offerings of first-fruits to the Lord in the spirit of Dt 26.10. He listed those he considered the most important three times.(See note 2) Among the biblical commentaries are works on Job, John, Revelation, the twelve Minor Prophets, Matthew, the four books of Kings, and the Song of Solomon. All have survived except that on Kings. Significantly, John is the subject of his second major work and his first largely original commentary.(See note 3)

The age in which he wrote was one of rapid growth and change. As the population began to grow and expand, more land was cleared and put under cultivation. The combination of a larger population and greater production created in turn more commercial wealth and more elaborate ways of doing and recording business. A more complex world created more complex problems for those who had to live in it. Valerie Flint has shown that the characteristic forms of theological writing in this period, sentence-collections or topical discussions of problems, are apparently intended to help the pastoral clergy deal with 'modern life.'(See note 4) Such changes also led to the desire for reform and renewal of institutions. In the church, many practices and institutions were closely examined in the light of apostolic or patristic times (as they were then understood). Not only institutions came under fresh scrutiny. There was a new consciousness, especially among monks and canons regular, of individual spirituality, often linked to a strong desire for renewed holiness of life. These desires to purify and regenerate both corporate bodies and the lives of individual men and women would come together in the great reform movements of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Rupert was not untouched by any of this. Liège in upper Lorraine, his home district and the site of his home monastery, St-Laurent-de-Liège, was a local centre of reform.

But whatever changes monastic reform may have brought to the district pale before the conflict over simony, investiture, and clerical marriage resulting from eleventh and twelfth-century papal reform. In Liège, the wider dispute between emperor and pope was mirrored in a conflict between a bishop appointed by the emperor to this politically important and generally loyal diocese and a firmly-rooted, pro-papal reform contingent, whose members considered their new prelate guilty of simony and therefore refused to obey his decrees. The abbot of St-Laurent went into exile along with some of his monks, including Rupert, rather than obey an episcopal order deposing him. Even after an accommodation had been reached between the bishop and most of the reform party, Rupert still felt so strongly that he postponed his ordination until he was around thirty-three, in 1108.

None of his major works seems even to have been begun until after his ordination and the series of visions which led up to it, with the result that all his major works were written in the last twenty years of his life.(See note 5) The period from 1108 to 1119 is his first, or Liège-based, period of writing. Although most of those writings were exegetical, Rupert also engaged in spirited debate over such issues as the nature of the Eucharist, the priesthood of monks, and the problems of evil, divine omnipotence, and the divine will during this period. He seems to have aroused considerable hostility, especially among proponents of the new style of academic theology. The commentary on John, probably written some time during the first half of the 1110s, was one of the lightning-rods for controversy, especially the long discussion of Eucharistic doctrine in the commentary on chapter six of the gospel. Rupert was afterwards in danger of losing his 'licentia scribendi', permission to write, i.e., to publish his commentaries and other works, as a result of that controversy, particularly the debate over his claim that Judas was not present at the first Eucharist.(See note 6) One of Rupert's bitterest opponents during this period on such topics as the divine will and predestination was the influential and innovative scholar, Anselm of Laon (d. 1117), who even wrote a letter of complaint to Rupert's abbot. Another opponent was William of Champeaux, a bishop and also, like Anselm (who, along with the unappreciative Abelard, had been his student), a leading exponent of the new theology.

Modern scholars have been quick to present the conflict between Anselm and William on the one hand and Rupert as paradigmatic of the changes taking place in theology and exegesis. Rupert represents an older world of priest-monks, characterised by lengthy and leisurely commentary nurtured in the cloister schools, the practice of devotional reading, and study of the expositions of the fathers. Anselm and William represent both a more academic and formal approach to scriptural study and education and the new breed of secular clergy anxious to replace monks in both the academic and pastoral world. Rupert lends some credence to the modern view by his description of a planned confrontation with Anselm. With an unexpected sense of the theatrical, Rupert had prepared to dispute with Anselm in his own city and among his own followers, scornful as they were of someone not trained at the new cathedral schools. He came to Laon in 1117 riding on a donkey and accompanied by one lad as a servant, to be met by a crowd of teachers and students come like an army, he says, to hear him and see him overcome. But the death of Anselm just as Rupert arrived prevented any meeting. What is truly remarkable here is not so much the sly contrast Rupert suggests between his poverty and the wealth of Anselm's following, but the context in which he sets his actions. In Rupert's eyes, he went to Laon as the Lord's prophet. He quoted Ez 3.8-9a, in which God commissions Ezekiel to oppose the stubbornness of the people in their disobedience, to explain why he tried to face Anselm.( See note 7) Such a role is indicative of the seriousness with which he took his calling to be an exegete. We shall see that in his eyes this calling was the result of a charismatic gift. His last years in Liège were troubled by controversy over his views and punctuated by a period of 'internal exile' at Siegburg, home of his patron, protector, and friend, Abbot Cuno. Finally in 1119 he left Liège for good, to take up an appointment as abbot of Deutz which Cuno had secured for him. From 1124 until his death in 1129, Rupert was again embroiled in controversy over his own teachings. At the root of it, as in his dispute with Anselm, was the conflict between the theological methods and concerns of monks and those of seculars. But he also became involved in political quarrels with the archbishop and his lay patron. Leaving his last work unfinished, Rupert died in March 1129 of illness brought on by the heat of the struggle and the shock of a damaging fire which had broken out at Deutz the year before. He was probably about 54 years old.

Despite his excursions into debate, Rupert was first and foremost an exegete and is remembered as such. He was a teacher in the monastic school at Liège, and possibly also in Siegburg during his stay there. Certainly his commentaries show characteristics of a good teacher.(See note 8) Indeed his natural background is the cloister, for as a child oblate he had spent virtually his entire life under the Benedictine Rule. The cloister and the Rule provide either the source or the setting for the two most important influences on him, the life of prayer and devotional reading which has been and remains the daily bread of every Benedictine monk and the series of charismatic visions which preceded his eventual ordination. These visions must be described in detail, for they are the key to his psychology and the source of his intellectual and spiritual energy. They took place during the eight to ten years preceding his ordination in 1108. However, he did not describe them in writing until the mid-1120s, very briefly in Rule(See note 9) and in more detail at a somewhat later date in Glory and Honour, his commentary on Matthew.

He had begun Glory and Honour at the request of Abbot Cuno, perhaps as a companion piece to the commentary on John. But Cuno prevailed upon Rupert to break off writing just as he reached the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount so as to answer some questions on the Benedictine Rule. These answers became Rule. During the mid-1120s Rupert was juggling not only Glory and Honour and Rule, but also a now-lost commentary on Kings requested by another patron, the bishop of Cologne (in whose diocese Rupert's new monastery of Deutz was). The fact that Glory and Honour and Rule were being written simultaneously no doubt explains why Rupert mentions his visions in both works. It is unfortunate that the commentary on Kings is lost for we might have learned more from it. In addition to common references to the visions, there are common themes running through Glory and Honour and Rule. The two most important for our purposes are the image of his writing as a first-fruit offering to God, because it led to the meticulous listing of his most important works, and his assertion of a right, granted by God, to comment independently on the scriptures as the fathers had done. To establish that right he describes the charismatic experiences of his youth, ostensibly at Cuno's insistence, in the middle of his extended comment on the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, in Book 12 of Glory and Honour.

Book 12 begins with an account of Ezekiel's vision of the wheel and the four living creatures (Ez 1), which Rupert linked with Matthew's account of the passion and its spiritual meaning by referring to the four creatures as four signs ('sacramenta') of the Son of Man (his incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension). But then he broke off to recall a conversation with Cuno some three years earlier in which he had revealed to his friend that his gift for writing about the scriptures was divine. Cuno had expressed curiosity not only about the number and length of Rupert's writings but about his unique confidence as an exegete. How did Rupert feel empowered not only to cover the same ground as the fathers had done before but to do so without deferring to them? Why was he so unconventional an exegete? 'You almost never saw in me', Rupert reminded Cuno, 'those preparations characteristic of the holy Fathers, by which they readied themselves to labour fruitfully in these studies "as servants of God", just as the blessed apostle says, "in wakefulness, and fasting", [2 Cor 6.4-5] and other good things whereby a person's understanding may be made clear, so as to be worthy to approach the holy and awesome scriptures of truth with good judgement.'(See note 10) To explain this apparent foolhardiness, Rupert had recounted his visions with a mixture of eagerness and trepidation. He described himself as being more voluble than a child and more frightened than a hare. Cuno had insisted that Rupert write his visions all down for him. Rupert related his unwillingness to comply even when enjoined by Cuno in the name of the Trinity to fulfil his request. But he found that this failure to do what Cuno had asked interfered with his writing about Ezekiel's vision to such an extent that he had to stop and finally deal with the topic of his own visions.

There are eight visions or dreams narrated in Glory and Honour.(See note 11) The first six are all directly linked with his gift of scriptural interpretation, the last two with his difficult decision to be ordained. From the narrative it is clear that Rupert believed that his charismatic gift of interpretation had been given him as a consolation by a merciful God during a time of unhappiness and self-doubt and that he could not exercise that charisma except as a priest. The decision to seek ordination, which resolved some of his inner turmoil, was thus connected with the appropriation of his gift and the consolation it was meant to bring. In the same way, the two visions which are related to that decision are likewise linked thematically with the six which preceded them. The seventh recapitulates the first. The eighth and final vision repeats themes and symbols from the sixth, which is the climax of the charismatic-interpretation series.

On the basis of what we know of his circumstances, it is easy to suggest external causes for Rupert's unhappiness during the years in which these visions took place. Although his exile was over, the deep divisions in his own community (as well as in the wider church) were not healed. Such a period of upheaval as he had experienced must have left bitterness and confusion in its wake, especially among those who had been uprooted in a cause which was in the end compromised. But in this narrative Rupert mentioned only his interior experiences, emphasising internal factors. He recounted that he had been gripped by a morbid obsession with what seemed to him the good fortune of the dead. Unlike the living, they were no longer subject to the trials and spiritual dangers of this world. Allied to this were his mixed emotions at the deaths of his two brothers, apparently his only siblings--they were taken away and he alone was left behind. He described his obsession with great psychological realism throughout the narrative, detailing how it interfered both with his ability to understand how the Holy Spirit sought to console him and with his attempts to appropriate that consolation.(See note 12)

Rupert described to Cuno how, while brooding over the loss of his brothers and his sorrow at being alone to face the dangers of life, 'my eyes were opened, I saw the Son of God: while I was awake I saw him, the Son of Man, alive upon the cross. I did not see him with bodily sight but, that I might see, the eyes of the body grew dim and better, that is, inner, eyes were opened'.(See note 13) He remained all night long in prayer behind the altar in an oratory dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, embracing and kissing the image of Christ on the crucifix. Then he returned the crucifix to its place but the sweetness of the embrace remained with him and he remembered Ps 34.8, 'O taste and see that the Lord is good'.(See note 14)

But this first visionary experience did not comfort Rupert. He continued to be oppressed with fear and grief and found his only relief in prayer which increasingly focused on the Trinity. His customary prayer, he said, became a simple invocation of the Trinity by name, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Falling into a trance-like state on two successive mornings, he experienced a vision of the Trinity in human form. In this vision, he saw and spoke with two of the three Persons during the offertory of a mass being celebrated by a venerable bishop. One of his interlocutors is identified as Jesus, the other is not specified. At the climax of the dream, all three Persons together lifted Rupert up on a huge open book and one of them said, pointing to the relics of the altar, 'Fear not, you will be greater than these'.(See note 15)

The interpretation of this vision, Rupert seems to attribute to Cuno:

There is no need for me to explain to your loving-kindness the opening of the book or the reason why the Person said those words while pointing to the golden memorials or phylacteries of the saints; many have often heard and agreed with your judgement of me, that God has truly opened his book, that is, the holy scriptures, to me and that I say some things better than many opinions of the holy fathers whose memory is worthily celebrated in the holy church and shines like gold....(See note 16)

Although he could accede to this judgement of his charismatic gift with the eyes of hindsight, Rupert explained that at the time he continued to be troubled and uncomprehending. This second vision is followed by three more visions: of the Father, of an unidentified consoler, and of the Holy Spirit under two forms. In the second of these three (the fourth in the whole series), Rupert is told on the night of the feast of St Matthew (21 September) by a man of venerable appearance that he will conquer in eight years. But so obsessed was he by the dangers of sin to the living that he could imagine no other way to conquer except by death and believed from that time on that he was to die in eight years.( See note 17)

The climax of the charismatic-interpretation cycle of visions occurred, not surprisingly, eight years after that vision. When Rupert did not die, he was finally open to the real meaning of his second dream, to his divine gift of scriptural interpretation. Characteristically this moment of understanding and appropriation also took place within a vision, the sixth of the series, which took place on the night of Ash Wednesday. Something which he described as being like a talent (i.e., probably something disk-shaped like a talent coin) and full of light descended from heaven, rested on his chest, and began to rotate. It poured forth light, whose substance was like liquid gold, until he was filled.(See note 18)

However, Rupert soon realised that he could not fully appropriate the gift of interpretation conferred symbolically in both the second and sixth of his visions until he was a priest. The understanding and acceptance of this new office was also expressed in visionary experiences, which recapitulate the themes and images of the first, second, and sixth visions. In the seventh vision, Rupert once again sees the figure of Christ on a crucifix come to life, embraces, and kisses him. This caused him to be filled with love for the priestly office and to consent at last to ordination.(See note 19) Soon after, he had his final and most unusual vision. In it, the figure of a man lying flat and stretched out comes down on top of Rupert. It literally makes an impression on him, as a seal impresses wax, but far more deeply than even very soft wax could receive an impression. He quotes in explanation 1 Cor 6.17: 'But anyone who joins himself to the Lord is one with him spiritually'. From that time forward, Rupert began to write as if he could not stop. Now that he has both comprehended and appropriated God's gift of consolation and consented to become his priest, Rupert feels empowered to say that he is at one with God, yet another of his extraordinary claims of special status.(See note 20)

Rupert's narrative is embellished with considerable rhetorical skill. As we have seen, it was presented as a fuller account of events which he had already alluded to in conversation with Cuno. Defending his position without falling into the trap of defensiveness, Rupert gracefully avoided the appearance of self-centredness or egotism by using Cuno's curiosity as an excuse for dwelling upon his own experiences. In the course of describing his visions, Rupert characteristically compared himself with both Jerome and Augustine: Jerome, because he too had described a dream of great personal significance; Augustine, because he had also experienced God's mercy and written of it.(See note 21) Although it would be rash to deny the reality of the experience because the account is structured and polished, the possibility does exist that time and literary concerns have coloured Rupert's recollection of the past.

On the basis of his experiences, Rupert felt able to justify his understanding of the Bible in the presence of, or even in opposition to, that of both the Fathers and his contemporaries. He does so with conviction and yet without arrogance. But despite these claims, Rupert's exegetical writings reveal a man firmly grounded in the traditions and methodology of western biblical interpretation. He may have been able in his own estimation and that of admiring patrons like Cuno to better the Fathers, but if so, he was competing on the same course and by the same rules. We need only compare his narrative in Glory and Honour, or any extended passage of his exegesis, with similar passages from the works of his equally charismatic younger contemporary, St Hildegard of Bingen, to be made aware of this (for example, her narrative of her own visionary experiences or the explications of the redemption of humanity in the Scivias).(See note 22) Whatever St Hildegard may have meant by saying that she had known little or no Latin before her visions, she was clearly hampered in the attempt to explain her visionary insights into the meaning of salvation history by what appears to be a near total unfamiliarity with the language and discourse of both the Fathers and her theological contemporaries.(See note 23) Rupert on the other hand stands revealed in his writings as one well-read in this tradition, by which he nonetheless never felt bound. He may have proposed insights as new as St Hildegard's, but he did so in far more traditional terms. However, while recognising that fact, we must still keep before our eyes the picture of Rupert the charismatic, who believed with compelling certainty that he, like Caedmon, 'did not learn from men nor through a man',(See note 24) but from God.


The centuries-old tradition of scriptural interpretation in the Latin West provided the soil in which the seed of Rupert's charismatic gift was nurtured. But before considering the exegetical tradition which Rupert inherited, we should consider the scriptural foundations of that exegesis. Although the Old Testament shows examples of self-interpretation or reflection (by the Prophets upon the Law, for instance), what was to be normative for the development of Christian exegesis was the New Testament's interpretation or reflection upon the Old. The late mediaeval rhyme had it that 'in the Old the New lies concealed, in the New the Old is revealed'. This way of looking at the Scriptures derives, directly or indirectly, from the New Testament itself, especially from words of Jesus and St Paul. All of patristic and mediaeval exegesis can be seen as a working out of how this concealment and revelation are to be understood.

Among the key texts for this purpose in the gospels is Luke's account of Jesus's post-resurrection journey with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lc 24:13-27). There he teaches those disciples the meaning of the events they have recalled to him in these words: '"Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them all the things about himself in all the scriptures.' Implicit in such statements is the authority behind the use of Old Testament 'testimonia' in the gospels.

Another gospel precedent of significance for the development of Christian exegesis is to be found in Jesus' explanations of the parables to the disciples. Many modern exegetes feel that these passages of self-exegesis are secondary and debate continues over which such passages might be authentic. In the patristic and mediaeval periods, however, this question of authenticity did not arise. So Jesus' drawing out of the hidden meaning of his parables offered to the later church both the realisation that his words not only could be (but in many cases must be) read and understood on two different levels and an authoritative example of how to find and draw out the hidden meaning. This is not to say that the idea of a text having layers or levels of meaning is somehow unique to the Bible or to Christian interpretation of it. Irony, metaphor, poetry, and humour all depend on the recognition that words and images have multiple meanings or senses: the idea must be nearly as old as language itself. What was to be unique and peculiar to patristic and mediaeval exegesis, the concept of the multiple senses of Scripture, arose when this literary or rhetorical notion was combined with the example of Jesus and the conviction (expressed in 2 Tim 3.15-6) that all the Scriptures are inspired by God.

Equally if not more important for the future of exegesis were the examples in St Paul's epistles. Throughout the complex arguments of his letters, he constantly makes use of and interprets texts and events from the Old Testament in light of the experiences and needs of the new church. He demonstrated in 1 Cor 10:4 an exegesis of the Exodus which revealed Christ in the Old Testament. In Rom 5, Gal 4 and Hebr 9(See note 25), he provided the New Testament foundation for two of the most popular forms of exegesis in the patristic and mediaeval periods, allegory and typology.

Thus the New Testament provided the church with a way to read the whole Bible in light of the new revelation in Christ. St Paul forged links which allowed the Christian community to appropriate the Old Testament as scripture and find contemporary significance in it even after the new church had ceased to be formed primarily of Jews and proselytes already familiar with it. In the Gospels the evangelists, whether by quoting actual words of Jesus or by providing already-traditional interpretations of his teaching, pointed the way for exegesis. The post-resurrection church's assurance that Jesus had revealed the true interpretation of those scriptures which concern the Messiah underlay and gave authority to all these New Testament themes.(See note 26) The earliest Christian writers outside the New Testament, the sub-apostolic writers and the apologists, carried on its approach to the Scriptures in their letters and teachings, but provided no commentaries in the later sense. It is to the patristic age that we must turn to find the first direct commentaries on the Bible.(See note 27)

The patristic period was one of great theological controversy. In the Fathers' writings, a basic understanding of the meaning of New Testament events and revelation was being worked out for a people whose background was increasingly foreign to that of the Jews or God-fearing Gentiles who had composed much of the church in apostolic times. Often the impetus to clarify teaching was provided by disagreement over the meaning of the Bible or of earlier traditional teaching. A good example is the doctrine of the incarnation. To former pagans familiar with bizarre tales of physical relationships between humanoid gods and human women leading to the birth of demigods, the story of Jesus' birth and divinity had to be clarified in ways not dreamt of by the evangelists. Similarly, teachings like the doctrine of the Trinity required careful thought because they were implicit rather than explicit in the writings of the evangelists and apostles. However, the training of educated Gentile Christians in the schools of the ancient world did not foster a very parliamentary level of discourse: disagreements were hotly debated according to the rhetorical traditions of the day and personal attack was a common device of argument. Because the basis of all correct teaching was naturally seen to be a correct understanding of Scripture, commentaries written in this period often arise from or take an active part in these contemporary controversies over doctrine or practice. Thus, biblical interpretation often appears in a form which is slanted as much toward argument and polemic as toward the exposition of the text.(See note 28)

In fact, much exegetical material from the patristic age is not in the form of commentaries in the modern sense but of sermons or sermon collections. To read it with understanding requires taking into account not only the controversial nature of much patristic exegesis but also the purpose and audience of the sermon. Some sermons were delivered just to catechumens, others were delivered to mixed audiences of Christians and non-Christians. For different audiences, different slants and styles were appropriate. Nor is it safe to assume that the primary purpose of a sermon is to interpret the text on which it is based. The needs of the audience and the liturgical context in which it is delivered may make other demands. Some sermons are composed to instruct, some to offer a biblical example of right conduct, some to persuade non-Christians or heretics to convert.

The idea of the multiple senses of Scripture, in its fully-developed form, is a product of this period. It was first and foremost a practical tool for scriptural interpretation, a way of approaching texts, especially those which seemed particularly strange or particularly simple, so as to make plain their inspired truth. The basis of the approach is partly New Testament example, as we have seen. As the church grew further away from its roots within Judaism, understanding the Old Testament became an increasing problem. Paul's example of reading the Old Testament in such a way that it applied to contemporary problems, seeing Hagar and Sarah as really representing the two covenants or seeing the rock which gave water in the desert as Christ, was very useful here. Paul even applies to the first example the word 'allegory', a term used by pagan literary critics and teachers to describe the interpretation of metaphorical or mythological language, especially in verse.(See note 29)

A useful way to understand the concept of multiple senses of Scripture is to compare the Bible to a human being. Just as the person has both a body and a soul, so the patristic commentator thought the Bible had letter and spirit, a literal sense and a spiritual sense. Both these senses were considered true and proper meanings to be read out, rather than read in, by the exegete. Both Christian allegory, such as Paul practised, and typology, a specialised form of allegory characteristic of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, are subsumed under the spiritual sense. The spiritual, or hidden, sense is further refined by some exegetes and subdivided into two or three distinct types, producing three or four senses. The basic division, however, is always that between the letter and the spirit.(See note 30)

The letter can refer to the literal intent of the human author, or to the obvious and proper sense of his words. It usually refers to the words or accounts in the Bible in their immediate, surface significance. Sometimes it is called the historical sense or just 'history.' The spiritual sense referred to a hidden or deeper meaning behind the surface sense of the words or narrative, placed there by the Divine Author unbeknownst to the human author.

The exegetes themselves were divided about the deliberate use of imagery or metaphor or some other literary device by the human author. Some would call that too part of the literal meaning but others, no doubt influenced by late ancient teaching methods, according to which allegorical explanation was the explication of literary devices like metaphor or personification, would say that any figurative usage, whether prophecy, metaphor, or parable, is allegory and part of the spiritual sense. To make matters more confusing, 'allegory' was used loosely as a synonym for the spiritual sense and specifically as the name of one the three traditional subdivisions of the spiritual sense: allegory, tropology, and anagogy. As that subdivision, 'allegory' referred to christological interpretation, that which finds in a passage a hidden reference to Christ, his saving work, or his mystical body, the church.

Typology is another variety of the spiritual sense, one which was always used more strictly than allegory and which had no pagan antecedent. It was considered a sort of allegory by those who tried to schematize and classify systems of interpretation but it is far closer to the literal sense than the general run of allegory. Typology correlates two people or events, one in the Old Testament and another in the New, seeing the Old Testament type as the foreshadowing of the New Testament antitype. For example, the crossing of the Red Sea is the type of the New Testament rite of baptism; Christ, the first fruits of the new creation, is the New Testament antitype to Adam, the first person of the original creation.

It seems almost redundant to point out that one requirement for a typological interpretation is that both type and antitype be real (ie, a person or thing in a parable cannot be a type or antitype). However, the loose way in which allegory was used to mean any figurative sense and its literary antecedents in the pagan world meant that no such restriction was seen to apply to it. Just as a piece of ancient literature did, so too a parable could have an allegorical interpretation, at least in the eyes of some exegetes. Beyond this, some early exegetes seem either to deny or at best be utterly uninterested in the literal meaning of a passage whose allegorical meaning they have expounded.

Connected with allegory among the subdivisions of the spiritual sense are tropology and anagogy. Tropology is the moral sense, that is, an interpretation of a passage which finds ethical guidance in it. It is often concerned with practising virtue and avoiding vice and was the special province of preachers then as now. Anagogy looks for interpretations which concern the last things: a modern interpreter would call it the eschatological sense. We shall see that, although he does not very often use the terminology, Rupert concentrated on the literal and tropological senses in commenting on John, in deliberate contrast to Augustine's highly allegorical exposition of the same gospel.

In the ancient world, the Christian community at Alexandria in Egypt was especially identified as the home of allegory and the community at Antioch in Syria was identified with typology. Ultimately, Alexandria would have more influence over the western church and the exegetical tradition Rupert received was heavily weighted toward allegorical interpretation. Origen (c185-c254), who was later condemned for his teachings about the pre-existence of human souls and universal salvation, is perhaps the most famous exponent of the Alexandrian school of interpretation. Alexandria was already a centre of study for pagan rhetoric and philosophy before there was a substantial Christian community there and the catechetical school of Alexandria was committed to adapting and appropriating as much of that pagan culture as possible for the development of Christian thought. One prominent ancient philosophical technique thus encountered was the use of allegory to extract more 'advanced', ie, philosophical, significance from the work of poets who were generally revered but definitely primitive. In such a way later Platonists defended Homer from those who, like Plato himself, wanted him banned from the schools. To some philosophically-inclined and highly-educated Alexandrians, it seems, this method appealed as a way to rescue the Old Testament in particular from criticism. Unfortunately, the deeper or higher sense found by this sort of allegory was too often read into, rather than out of, the texts which its practitioners desired to save.

A important influence there was that of the most prominent Alexandrian Jewish exegete, Philo (c20 BCE-c50 CE). Although an observant Jew, Philo was sensitive to criticisms of the Tanach as primitive, exclusivist, or superstitious. So he wrote on the Old Testament and Old Testament figures such as Moses, from a philosophical and Platonic point of view, emphasizing the universal truths to be found in it. Allegory was a very important method in his analysis of the texts. He had commented on some of the same books and problems with which the Alexandrian Christian exegetes dealt and with the same text, the Septuagint translation, which they too normally used.(See note 31)

The Antiochenes were not so influential on later exegesis (until they began to be generally known again in the last century) and many exponents of their school ended up on the wrong side of the doctrinal debates of the fourth and fifth centuries. The keynote of their exegesis is their sense of history. They limited allegory strictly, preferring an exposition of the spiritual sense through typology. In dealing with Old Testament prophecy, for example, Antiochene exegetes isolated three categories: what was completely fulfilled in the history of Israel, what was fulfilled only in Christ or his body the church, and what has two fulfillments, one in an Old Testament event and the second in the New Testament or in the later Christian community. Part of their motive seems to have been reaction to the Alexandrian school of thought, part the natural development of a very old and long established Christian community which was not exposed to either an established and influential pagan philosophical school or a centre of Hellenistic Jewish thought.(See note 32)

Why was Alexandrian thought more attractive to the western fathers than Antiochene? Not, it would seem, because of the condemnations of some Antiochene theologians, for the condemnations of Origen's theology did not discredit the Alexandrian school. Partly, as we shall see in more detail when looking at the career of St Augustine, the Alexandrian model seemed more congenial to the purposes of persuasion which exegesis was intended to serve in the Latin tradition. Partly it may be the result of an accident of history. After the end of the early Roman Empire, even the ruling classes in the West became less and less bilingual. The available channels of communication between Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking churchmen became very narrow by the third or fourth centuries, a fact which would have a very negative effect on the doctrinal discussions about the Nicene Creed and how best to translate and explain its teachings in Latin. What was transmitted through those channels thus depended almost entirely on the personal taste or circumstances of a small group of Western theologians who knew some Greek or the even smaller group of Eastern theologians who knew some Latin. Most of them favoured an Alexandrian style in exegesis even though a trickle of Antiochene sources passed through.(See note 33)

There were very few patristic commentaries on John. None of the six commentaries on John from the Greek east were translated into Latin in the patristic or mediaeval period. Like the many other untranslated Greek Christian writings, they reached the Latin West, if at all, through brief quotations in the sermons or commentaries of others or through encyclopaedic works. Of the three most important of the Latin fathers, Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome, only Augustine left a commentary on John, his 124 Sermons on John's Gospel, a sermon series which was the premier work of its age on the fourth gospel.(See note 34) Because they left no commentaries specifically on John, however, we must not discount the influence of Ambrose and Jerome on the tradition out of which Rupert was to write on that gospel. Jerome influenced all later exegesis in several ways. Most important was the lasting influence of his Vulgate translation. He also produced a sort of Bible dictionary, interpreting the various Hebrew names, words, and phrases which occur in the Old and New Testaments, even in translation, On Hebrew Names. His own exegetical works circulated widely and range from the highly allegorical to the strongly historical. He could thus serve as a model for either method of exegesis, or of both.(See note 35)

Ambrose (c339-97) offered on the other hand a heady mixture of oratorical skill and luxuriant allegory which was nevertheless wholly Roman in its blend of elegant form and practical purpose. Augustine, who was greatly influenced by the power of Ambrose's language, bore witness to the impact it could have on an highly-educated fourth-century Roman.(See note 36) By wedding allegorical exposition to the oratorical skills which were considered the highest attainment of Roman education, Ambrose was able to make the Bible not just understandable but also intellectually respect able to those whom, like Augustine, he wished to convert. His method of expounding scriptural texts was to be very influential in later ages as well. One key word in a text will be used to connect it with a variety of other texts containing that word. As one passage succeeds another in the spate of texts, more and more potential connotations are revealed for the key word from its use in the other passages and hence the meaning of the original passage is deepened. The greatest disadvantage of this approach is the way that it isolates a passage from its natural context and creates a new context of other passages with which may actually have little in common despite some common vocabulary. The great advantage is that it uses the Bible to illuminate the Bible, finding clues to the significance of words like 'blood' or 'water' by considering many different texts where they occur.

But in Ambrose's commentaries, trying to follow the main line of the exposition is like trying to follow a highway detour: a series of interchanges and ring roads lead the motorist first off and then onto the highway itself before depositing her at her destination. It is frustrating for most modern readers but was extraordinarily popular in its day and bears a strong resemblance to the almost universal monastic practice of 'lectio divina', a form of devotional reading of the Bible, in which by reminiscence the reader moves from one passage to a complex of others connected to it by some similarity of phrasing or concept.(See note 37) The greatest influence which Ambrose exerted over future exegetes, however, was through his convert and follower, Augustine (354-430).

It is difficult to over-emphasize the importance of Augustine's writing and influence on the later western church. Just as today the ideas and phrases of Darwin and Freud, however misunderstood or over-simplified, constantly recur in everyday conversation, even among those who have neither read those authors nor agree with what they know of them, so Augustine's ways of looking at God, humanity, and the Bible would enter the common currency of western thought up to the reformation and beyond. Two of his works in particular should be mentioned here: On Christian Teaching, and 124 Sermons on John's Gospel.

As a professor of rhetoric at Rome, Augustine came to the Christian church already an accomplished writer and speaker in the very florid style of the day as well as a master of the interpretative techniques which had been developed in ancient education and literary criticism, such as the pagan style of allegory. This professional training and practice is the background for On Christian Teaching (De Doctrina Christiana).(See note 38) This treatise deals with Christian teaching not as something which takes place in the schoolroom or lecture hall but as an activity carried out in a liturgical setting, in the pulpit, and about the Bible. The principal topics covered in its four books are the theory and practice both of scriptural interpretation and of Christian rhetoric. The basis for this link between exegesis and rhetoric is his understanding of the purpose of Scripture, to increase in its readers the love of God and of their neighbours. This is not only the purpose for which Scripture was written but represents the core of its meaning. Because of this conviction, Augustine affirmed that all biblical interpretation must share this purpose and so build up that two-fold love and also that any interpretation which increases charity or suppresses the wrongful desires which interfere with its growth was valid. In a desire to avoid dissension and division over which interpretation of a text was the right one, he declared that any explication which did not harm true faith and was corroborated by another passage in the Bible could be freely taught.

Having thus affirmed that biblical interpretation should encourage charity and discourage concupiscence, Augustine needed a tool for finding such a spiritual meaning even in passages which apparently have little or nothing to do with either quality. Allegory was that tool and thus became a practical means to expose the Bible's true meaning. Augustine's allegory is not so loosely tied to the actual words and context of a passage as Ambrose's: for Augustine, a proper understanding of letter and history, of the denotative meaning and context of the words and phrases in a passage is the foundation of the spiritual sense. He devoted most of Book 2 of On Christian Teaching to the proper analysis of the text. The Christian teacher must study the grammar and syntax of the passage and use the resources of history, natural history, and other more specialised fields as required to understand what the passage says and refers to. Only after this can the spiritual sense be revealed by allegory. He counselled bringing to bear on the text of the Bible an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the history, topography, flora, and fauna of the Holy Land, not to mention a mastery of Latin usage and the particular style and vocabulary of biblical Latin. It is difficult to imagine how he thought a preacher in a small community such as the one in North Africa in which he was raised or in rural Spain, Italy, or Gaul, with access to few books other than the Bible itself, would be able to carry this out.

The other component in Christian teaching is the means for conveying the proper meaning of the text, that is, rhetoric. Augustine relied for his instructions on how to preach the Word of God on his own experiences as a rhetorician and preacher, no doubt, and also on the works of Cicero. Writing primarily for other advocates, Cicero had distinguished three ways of speaking which should be used according to the speaker's intention. There is the subdued style, which is used to instruct; the moderate style, which is used to please or entertain the listener; and the grand style, which is used to sway. For Augustine, the focus was not on the intention of the speaker (since that is always the same, that is, to build up charity and discourage concupiscence) but on the effect produced in the audience. They hear the subdued style with understanding; the moderate style makes them well-disposed to what they are hearing; and they hear what is spoken in the grand style with obedience. Augustine used various texts from the Bible to illustrate each style.

In On Christian Teaching, Augustine handed down a comprehensive model for Christian preaching which had a strong effect on future exegesis long after the sermon had ceased to be the usual medium for biblical interpretation. According to this model, preaching was to be firmly rooted in as accurate an understanding as possible of the letter of Scripture. Its allegorical component was to be closely linked to, and consistent with, the letter. Its purpose, which was the purpose of the Bible itself, was to persuade men and women to love God and their neighbours and to control their destructive desires. It was not a model which was universally adhered to, even by Augustine himself, but it was powerful none the less. Centuries later one of Rupert's contemporaries, Hugh of St Victor (d 1142), would draw on it heavily for his own manual on teaching and exegesis, the Didascalicon.

Augustine's 124 Sermons on John's Gospel was, as its title implies, a series of sermons preached on the fourth gospel.(See note 39) So complete is it that later ages were to feel that there was little more to be said about John for some time to come. It had no real rival until Rupert's Commentary. It is a controversial work: the theological debates of the late fourth century were a major factor in calling these sermons forth. In that highly charged atmosphere of controversy, the inculcation of charity and the suppression of concupiscence were dwarfed in Augustine's mind by the need to establish correct doctrine. The gospel narrative thus becomes the vehicle for his refutation of heresy, often by means of allegorical explanations of the spiritual sense. Later we shall have more to say about the details of Augustine's exegesis of John, when we look more closely at Rupert's exegesis of the same gospel.

Augustine's legacy was rich and complex. The wedding of allegorical exegesis with rhetoric and didactic purpose in Christian preaching, which he shared with Ambrose but articulated more fully than the older man, found many imitators. Even in the Middle Ages, when sermon-series on biblical books become extremely rare, exegesis continued to be heavily influenced by the way in which Augustine had used biblical interpretation in On Christian Teaching, no doubt because later exegetes shared the same sense of purpose for Christian teaching, in whatever form, that motivated Augustine.(See note 40)

The alliance between exegesis and rhetoric was not an entirely happy one, however, especially when it affected commentaries which were not made up of sermons. In Augustine's model, both biblical interpretation and rhetoric were means, to be used by the preacher to achieve his goal of persuasion and conversion. Later, however, the role of exegete and the role of preacher (as well as the distinction between the use of exegesis in a sermon and exegesis proper) began to be blurred by mediaeval monastic interpreters who, unfamiliar with parish preaching in patristic times, used these sermon-series as models for verse-by-verse commentaries. They confused Augustine's willingness to allow preachers a broad latitude in choosing interpretations to achieve their subjective goals with a similar licence in interpretation itself, forgetting his stringent guidelines for interpreting the letter and linking the spirit thereto. The result was commentaries, or sections of commentaries, in which a hidden sense that fits the concerns of the commentator is read into, rather than out of, the text. However pious or edifying that interpretation may have been, it often had little to do with the actual text.

This misuse of the model of multiple senses in Scripture as well as of Augustine's model for Christian preaching arose from a misunderstanding of the legacy of patristic exegesis. A more serious problem arose from a flaw in the legacy itself, one which shows up strongly in the work of the Latin Fathers: its anti-Semitism. This is not the place for a detailed discussion of the New Testament passages which have lent themselves to anti-Semitic interpretations. Suffice it to say that many scholars are convinced, with reason, that the New Testament was free, as written, from in trinsic anti-Semitism, however bitter the conflicts between the synagogue and the fledgling church had become. But once the church began to grow and spread within a primarily Roman and Hellenistic pagan world, it encountered an already-existing cultural antipathy against Judaism. Both Philo and the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (c37-c100) had tried to combat it in their writings. Gentile Christian writers increasingly shared this antipathy and brought it with them in their reading of the Old Testament and of the bitter, originally internal struggles revealed by the New Testament.

The necessary attempt to find meaning and guidance for Christians in the Old Testament, which Paul had begun and such exegetes as the Antiochenes had carried on, was often twisted by hatred into an attempt to deny any valid Jewish interpretation of the Bible. In addition, what Greco-Roman culture perceived as the absurdity of Jewish religious observances influenced many patristic exegetes to deny there was any literal meaning to parts of the Old Testament, for instance, to such passages as contained the dietary laws. Even Augustine, who was committed in theory to a careful exposition of the letter of scriptural texts, began a discussion of Ex 23.19 ('You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk.') with the (to him) obvious observation that this cannot mean what it says. Part of the legacy of patristic exegesis, then, was an anti-Semitism which was both bolstered by a mis-interpretation of the New Testament and itself contributed to the subjective allegorization of the Old. Despite the Antiochene approach to the Old Testament and the efforts of some exegetes (such as Origen or Rupert's younger contemporary, Andrew of St Victor (d 1174)) to learn from Jewish teachers about the Old Testament in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance, if not of respect, western scriptural exegesis was to continue to feed and be fed by Christian anti-Semitism until modern times.(See note 41)

Augustine and Jerome saw in their lifetimes the beginning of the end of the Western Roman Empire and the late antique culture of which patristic exegesis was a part. Over the succeeding centuries, the study of the Bible, like other aspects of intellectual life, would suffer from the instability caused by the breakdown of civil authority, war, and invasion. The age from the fall of the western empire to the rise of Charlemagne's new Christian Roman Empire was, of course, not wholly dark and in exegesis as in other fields much of the light came from the monasteries or those influenced by monastic culture. In Carolingian times and beyond exegesis and the wider field of theology, of which it is an aspect, took new directions and we have already noted the great changes which were to come in the twelfth century. Unfortunately the period immediately preceding Rupert's lifetime, the early eleventh century, is one about which we have little detailed information. In many cases little more is known of individual exegetes than their names, so the background of the school of Laon, from which the dominant commentary of later mediaeval exegesis arose, is more obscure than it ought to be. Several figures of importance do stand out: for the period from the breakdown of the old Greco-Roman order until the revival of learning which resulted from Charlemagne's reforms, Gregory the Great and Bede; for that from the Carolingian renaissance to Rupert's time, a period of consolidation and growth, Alcuin of York and his fellow Carolingian exegetes and the important, if still poorly understood, monastic school of Auxerre.(See note 42)

Gregory was pope during the breakdown of secular authority in the western empire: born into a wealthy family of the old, Roman society he first followed, as Ambrose had before him, the ancient model of a civil service career before retiring from the world to become a monk and a founder of monasteries. Events forced him out of his monastery into an active role in the church; he was elected pope in 590. In his exegetical writings, he used the allegorical method combined with a comparatively simple rhetorical style to make his interpretation of the Bible a vehicle for moral instruction in a Christian life, especially for a contemplative life. Gregory never lost his great admiration for St Benedict (whose first biographer he was) and found in the ideals of prayer and withdrawal from a world which must have appeared to be fragmenting before his eyes a higher form of Christian living than his own activity. This respect for the contemplative life looked forward to the monastic centuries to come just as his rhetorical, affective style of exegesis looked back to the examples of Ambrose and Augustine. Thus his exegesis held a great appeal for the Benedictine exegetes of the early and central Middle Ages, passing on to them the model he had learned from the earlier Latin Fathers. Although he did not write many commentaries (three sets of expositions and two sermon-series), his writings and sermons were so permeated with the Bible and with biblical interpretations that in the twelfth century an Italian monk, Alulfus de Tornaco, compiled a commentary on the whole Bible, called the Gregoriale, made up of excerpts from Gregory's works.

By Bede's lifetime, the old Roman world of Ambrose, Augustine, and even Gregory was no more: for him Latin itself was a foreign language. His most famous work was his history of the religious conversion and church life of the Anglo-Saxons, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. But he commented on many books of the Bible, including a series of sermons on the Gospel readings for Sunday services, and was, like Rupert, convinced that his exegesis was the most important and worthwhile part of his writing. His most important part in the developing western tradition in exegesis was in transmitting earlier interpreters. In his generally shorter and simply-written commentaries and sermon-series, he made the interpretations of writers like Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory more widely available by critical compilation and summarising. He also wrote, on a more elementary level than Augustine, a manual to help the exegete understand and interpret the various literary devices such as metaphors and parables to be found in the Bible. Bede read his predecessors with care and judgement, striving to pick out and pass on the best and most informed interpretations of passages and texts.

He was exposed to and nurtured not only in the Latin tradition, known to the Anglo-Saxons through missionaries sent out by Gregory the Great, but also in that of the Irish, who had sent missionaries to northern England. Isolated by geography and their links to the eastern, Greek traditions, Irish scholars had developed their own distinctive school of exegesis,which influenced the western mainstream primarily as a by-product of their missionary activity, first in the north of England and later on the European continent. One of the most interesting features of Irish exegesis was a tendency to preserve more knowledge of the Greek language and Fathers and of some heretical or otherwise obscure commentaries. They read the Antiochene scholar Theodore of Mopsuetia's commentary on the Psalms and commentaries on Paul's epistles by Pelagius (whose teachings on free will called forth Jerome's scorn and Augustine's struggles with predestination) at a time when few others in the Latin West did.(See note 43)

Alcuin, another Anglo-Saxon exegete, stands out for two accomplishments, both of which had a lasting impact on the tradition which Rupert inherited. He reformed the text of the Vulgate Bible and he compiled a commentary on John from the writings of Augustine, Gregory, Bede, and others. Alcuin had been brought to the continent by Charlemagne at a time when even a very basic knowledge of Latin was in danger of being lost. Primary and secondary education had been a casualty of centuries of civil disorder. His task as an educator was to put the training of monks and priests on some kind of solid foundation, ensuring that they learned to read the Latin of the Vulgate and the liturgy competently, making the teachings of the Fathers on the Bible accessible to them. To do this he created his new and clearer edition of the Bible and wrote commentaries, many in the form of questions and answers on various passages, derived from the Fathers. The needs of his audience meant that Alcuin's exegesis was rarely exciting or innovative but that does not minimise its importance. His revision of the Bible became the Latin Bible in the west until the Paris Masters had to revise and correct it in turn in the thirteenth century. It remained the basis of all subsequent revisions of the Vulgate until the twentieth century.

Alcuin's commentary on John is a good example of the style of exegesis which his circumstances called forth. It was written at the request of two royal princesses who had become nuns. They wrote him to ask for help in understanding Augustine's 124 Sermons which was, they said (in quite good Latin), too hard (and too ornamented) for their little brains.(See note 44) Doubtless the real purpose of this self-deprecation was to compliment the much greater brain of their mentor, but the letter underlies a real difficulty. By the ninth century even those who had literally every advantage of training found Augustine's convoluted rhetorical style (one of his greatest appeals to his own age) and his Greco-Roman, late-antique culture an impenetrable barrier to understanding his teaching. The very tools which Augustine had developed to facilitate Christian teaching in the fifth century had become drawbacks by the ninth. Alcuin rose to the challenge by stripping away complexities of language, especially the speaking style of the written sermon, shortening the exposition a great deal, and adding interpretations from other fathers, Gregory, and Bede.

His followers, like his student Rhabanus Maurus (776 or 784 to 856) and Rhabanus' student Walafrid Strabo (c808-49), continued the work of epitomising and summarising the patristic, Irish, and Anglo-Saxon inheritance. Rhabanus was in addition to his scholarly career abbot of the great monastery at Fulda and archbishop of Mainz but in spite of this he wrote on a number of biblical books, systematizing and clearly labelling his quotations of earlier authorities. Strabo was at one time believed to be the author of the glosses, or annotations, in the margins of mediaeval Bibles but this notion has not proven to be correct. The ninth century foundation for those glosses is now believed to have been laid by the monastic school of St Germain at Auxerre, a succession of three teachers, Haimo (d. c855), Heiric (841-876/7), and Remi (or Remigius) (c841-c908). Between them, they commented on most of the books of the Bible, even the little-interpreted Revelation.

Alcuin and the ninth-century commentators represent the start of a new period in exegesis, foreshadowed by Bede, in which dependence on the examples and accomplishments of the Fathers was mixed with the development of new interests and methods. As Bede had done, many of the exegetes of this period drew heavily on patristic writings, drawing together opinions from various authors and works to assemble their commentaries. Some of these writers were quite unimaginative in their dependence. But others tried to adapt their tradition more critically, fitting what the Fathers had written to their own situation.

It was a period in which commentaries ceased almost entirely to be sermon-series and became verse-by-verse expositions or else a series of questions and answers, as Alcuin had written. Some exegetes tried to resolve apparent contradictions of opinion between different patristic writers or to examine questions not treated fully by the Fathers. A new technique for interpretation, glossing, apparently begins in this period. In a glossed Bible, sections of the text are copied out into a reduced writing-area at the centre of the page, which is then surrounded with notes and commentary. Obscure or difficult words are defined and interpretations are offered in these notes or glosses, keyed to the text by superscript letters or little symbols. This is the pre-technological equivalent of hypertext, as the eye follows the trail of these symbols out from the text to the notes and explanations which surround it. The first glossed Bibles date from the ninth century and are probably influenced, as we have seen, by the school of Auxerre.

All three of these new features were to become very important in Rupert's day and beyond. The verse-by-verse commentary would become the normal way of writing on the Bible for the rest of the mediaeval period. Even the postills which reproduced a regent master's daily lectures in high mediaeval university classes took the form of continuous commentaries on the text rather than sermons or talks. Attempts to resolve apparent contradictions amongst authorities led to the development of the disputed question, which became both a very common form of mediaeval theological writing and a method of teaching characteristic of twelfth-century cathedral schools and later universities. The copying of glossed Bibles culminated in the Glossa Ordinaria, the comprehensively annotated Bible whose foundations were laid by Anselm of Laon (Rupert's opponent) and his brother Ralph. It became the normal version of the Bible for study and teaching until the end of the mediaeval period, and survives in an attenuated form in modern annotated Bibles.

This is the heritage which Rupert received from his tradition. In his age, the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, that tradition was being taken in new directions by a number of writers and teachers like Anselm and Ralph of Laon, Abelard, and Rupert himself. By the thirteenth century, certain shifts, such as the move away from monasteries and monastic schools to cathedral schools and universities, would be complete in exegesis and in theology generally and Rupert, who had tried to accommodate new directions within a traditional monastic milieu, would have influence only in a limited area. His commentary on John will demonstrate ways in which he was a part of this tradition and his time and, as well, ways in which, because of his conviction of his charismatic gift, he stood apart from both.

Section Three -- The Commentary On John: Overview And Analysis

Augustine's massive work on John's Gospel, the 124 Sermons, dominated mediaeval discourse on that gospel. It is remarkable both that Rupert chose to write a largely original commentary on John and that he did so early in his career as an exegete. (For, although the exact time of composition of his commentary is undetermined, it is certainly only his second biblical commentary.) It is clear from the reactions which Rupert described in a later letter to Cuno that to his contemporaries the attempt to re-do what Augustine had done was in fact the most remarkable thing about it.

However, to a modern reader the most immediately striking thing about Rupert's Commentary is its length. The Latin text is nearly 800 pages long, longer than most modern commentaries on John's Gospel, but not unusually so in comparison to many patristic commentaries (such as Augustine's long sermon series). In its original form, the Commentary often occupied a two-volume manuscript, with the first seven books in volume 1 and the second seven in volume 2. But the second seven books cover about twice as much the original text as the first seven. Since the books of the Latin Bible were not yet divided up by chapters and verses, a commentator like Rupert had in effect to impose his own organisation on a given book of the Bible, first dividing the text into sense units, or lemmata, for comment according to his own view of the text. In the Commentary, Rupert's lemmata range from one or two words to several sentences in length and he grouped them in such a way that the first seven books cover the gospel text up to the modern John 7.40 while the last half of the commentary contains the explication of the remaining text, a little over fourteen chapters according to later divisions. The arrangement is as follows:

Part 1

  • Book 1-- prologue, witness of John the Baptist (Jn 1.1-34)
  • Book 2 -- call of the first disciples, marriage at Cana (Jn 1.34-2.12)
  • Book 3 -- cleansing the Temple, Nicodemus' visit, beginning of John the Baptist's later witness (Jn 2.13-3.26)
  • Book 4 -- rest of John the Baptist episode, Samaritan woman, healing of the officer's son (Jn 3.27-4.53)
  • Book 5 -- cure at Bethsaida and subsequent discourse (Jn 5)
  • Book 6 -- feeding of the 5000, Jesus walks on the water, Eucharistic discourse as far as modern Jn 6.58 (Jn 6.1-58)
  • Book 7 -- rest of Eucharistic discourse, Jesus at Tabernacles, beginning of the subsequent debate (Jn 6.59-7.39)

Part 2

  • Book 8 -- rest of debate, woman taken in adultery, following debates and discourses as far as the denunciation of the Devil as a murderer (Jn 7.40-8.44)
  • Book 9 -- rest of debate, healing of man born blind, parables of good shepherd and sheep fold (Jn 8.45-10.21)
  • Book 10 -- feast of Dedication, raising of Lazarus, anointing by Mary, entry into Jerusalem and end of public ministry (Jn 10.22-12.50)
  • Book 11 -- Last Supper, farewell discourses through the parable of the vine and the branches (Jn 13.1-15.16)
  • Book 12 -- remaining farewell discourses, high priestly prayer (Jn 15.17-17.27)
  • Book 13 -- arrest, trial, passion, death, and burial of Jesus (Jn 18.1-19.42)
  • Book 14 -- Jesus' resurrection and post-resurrection appearances (Jn 20.1-21.25)

Since the lemmata are short in the first part, the text is read more closely, and the discussions of some sections contain lengthy discussions of related topics. Several books begin with extended methodological metaphors. In the second part, the lemmata are in general longer, including all or part of several verses, thus making the commentary more concise. There are no extended discussions of other topics and fewer elaborate opening to the books. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Rupert felt pressed to finish in a less leisurely manner than that in which he began. However, the work is not rambling or disjointed, although several breaks between books (such as those between books 3 and 4, 8 and 9, or 11 and 12) are clearly not based on natural breaks in the text. Rather it appears that some books were closed off because they were becoming unwieldy. (The break between books 6 and 7 may be another example of a forced split, although Rupert does treat Jn 6.58, the point at which he closes book 6, as an epitome summing up what had come before and hence presumably a suitable place at which to end one book and begin a new one.) Nor is the work disorganised. Its main structure is, of course, imposed by the gospel on which it comments, or at least by the way Rupert read the gospel. But there are common themes, such as Rupert's own over-arching vision of salvation history, the importance of true witnessing, and Jesus as the true prophet or prophet like Moses foretold in Deuteronomy, which recur throughout the Commentary and bind it together. These common themes suggest Rupert began with a clear vision of the meaning and significance of his text, and probably of its overall organisation into sense units. But in carrying out that vision, he began with such a careful and detailed reading that, after seven and two-thirds modern chapters (out of twenty-two), he could not continue at such a rate.

The commentary itself is accompanied by two short pieces. First is a preface, apparently written as part of the Commentaria, in which Rupert introduced his work and stated some of his reasons for writing it. Second is a letter, written shortly after the commentary itself appeared, to Rupert's friend and patron Cuno in which Rupert discussed the negative response with which his commentary was met in many circles and defends his work against criticism. They contain useful clues to his audience and purpose.

We can see in his exegesis, especially from his strong interest in the sacraments, his concern for the Trinity and the divine nature and will, and his exploration of the place of the devil, sin, and evil, that the process of commenting on John gave Rupert the opportunity of discussing issues he was concerned with throughout his intellectual career. His long discussion of the Eucharist in book six, for instance, followed a bitter debate with another theologian in Liège (identified by modern scholars as Alger, a secular master who became a monk) and was in turn attacked by him.(See note 45) He noted himself this context of controversy in the later letter to Cuno about the Commentary. Did he choose John's Gospel because it offered the opportunity to deal with such abiding concerns in an extended work? That is likely to have been a factor, though he would doubtless have found such opportunities in whatever biblical book he chose. The traditional association of John the Evangelist and his gospel with refuting heresy may also have influenced him. Rupert's account of his disagreements with Anselm of Laon and William of Champeaux, which came to a head in the attempted confrontation of 1117, a few years after the Commentary was finished, demonstrates that he was very concerned about the (to him) heretical nature of much contemporary theology. So it seems logical that such concerns about contemporary teaching would have led him to the Gospel of John.

The preface to the commentary supports the view that one of Rupert's motives was correcting heresy, for he emphasised that aspect of the tradition about John and the composition of his gospel. He put those traditions into a pastoral context, showing John not only correcting false teaching but thereby increasing and bolstering the faith of ordinary believers. For Rupert, the great danger of heretical teaching about the divinity of Jesus is the threat it presents to a believer's assurance of salvation. If Jesus was not truly the Son of God, he was not a true heir to the kingdom, and if not a true heir, he could not associate others with him in his inheritance. John, by meeting that threat head-on in his gospel, helped not only his own contemporaries whose salvation was threatened by persuasive teachers who reduced the status of Jesus Christ from that of full divinity and sonship but can also help believers of Rupert's day. Contemporary threats to true doctrine and ancient errors could all be refuted by John's words.

The preface also points to another motive and one which Rupert was disingenuous about both there and in the later letter to Cuno: the desire to better St Augustine as an exegete. Certainly his detractors seem to have criticised him for arrogance in choosing to comment on John precisely because Augustine's sermon-series was so full and so famous. In his later letter to Cuno, Rupert reported that his critics saw his action as indicative of an 'emptiness of presumption, by which they judge I have been so puffed up that I rushed in to write'.(See note 46) He went on to explain:

For since that voice of Christian law and instrument of catholic faith, our father Augustine, has spoken out on the gospel of John in a sonorous and sweet sermon-series, they imagine criticism and derogation of him from the fact that I have dared to consider that same gospel (the very word of God) after so great a teacher. They are extremely indignant, as if at an upstart, that I have dared to thrust myself among such ancient nobility or even to prefer myself out of a spirit of pride.(See note 47)

He countered that criticism by saying that his only motive had been that he was 'mindful of God and rejoiced in him.'

In the preface to the Commentary, Rupert had attempted to side-step the possibility of conflict by claiming to have different goals and methods than the great church doctor:

[T]hat man (i.e., Augustine) flies about the high peaks of the mountains, while we shall occupy ourselves about the deepest roots as well. That man hastens to pick each of the highest fruits of a very lofty tree; we try also to reach the twigs of the gospel letter nearest the earth which he has left for little ones so that, since loftier men have been satisfied by his high explanation of the mysteries, now a continuous reading of the letter may also succour the little ones, those who are like us. (See note 48)

This explanation of the relationship of his own commentary to Augustine's comes at the very end of the preface and is the only reference to Augustine there. Although couched in respectful terms, these sentences do not conceal Rupert's conviction that Augustine had left much still to be done and explained. Rupert's Commentary does appear more concerned with the letter than the 124 Sermons. Long sections, as he implies in the comment just quoted, consist of continuous exposition of the gospel through paraphrase of the words of Jesus or (occasionally) another speaker or explanations of context, vocabulary, and history. There is undoubtedly criticism of Augustine implicit here.

Rupert's early career gives some indication that he may have thought of himself as a successor to Augustine. The eight or ten-year period of unhappiness and self-doubt during which he received his charismatic visions was succeeded by an intense period of exegetical and theological output in the 1110s, culminating in the completion of his encyclopaedic overview of the Bible and subsequent salvation history, On the Holy Trinity, in 1117. Two of the three works which dominate this period can be seen as attempts to surpass Augustine on ground generally considered his own: the theology of history and the gospel of John. It seems possible, even likely, that as he came to understand those visions, especially the second vision and its consequences, he seized upon Augustine as a rival against whom to measure his growth in inspired understanding.

Were the Commentary and Trinity even more closely intertwined than this? In chapter three of his biography, van Enghen argues (as he first did in his doctoral thesis) that Trinity was actually already partly written before Rupert began to write the Commentary, but was laid aside for it and then resumed after its completion.(See note 49) It is impossible to prove or disprove his argument because, although we can be fairly certain from Rupert's own words that he completed Office in 1111/12 and Trinity in 1117, there are no firmly-established dates attached either to the beginning or the end of the Commentary. Any such theory must rest upon a necessarily subjective interpretation of certain texts and a reconstruction of Rupert's disputes while in Liège. Indirect evidence is provided by the dedicatory letter to Trinity, in which Rupert stated that he had been able to finish that work, however and wherever it was begun, in a three-year period, because Cuno assured him of both the permission and leisure to do so.(See note 50) As Haacke has noted, three years is scarcely enough time to have composed a work so monumental as Trinity, and Rupert was likely, in those three years, bringing to fruition something which had been many years in preparation.(See note 51) All three of these studies were undoubtedly grounded in considerable reflection and meditation during the silent decade dominated by his visions which preceded the period of their composition. Otherwise it is difficult to understand how he could have composed them and all his other writings in Liège during nine years while also fulfilling his other responsibilities, such as teaching. However, those words in his dedication to Trinity seem to point to his situation after the storm of criticism had overtaken the Commentary, when he would have lost his permission to write without Cuno's help. By such a reading, we understand Rupert to say that only because Cuno secured him both the permission and the leisure to write was he able to finish so quickly a work which he had begun under such haphazard conditions as prevailed in his life after the Commentary aroused so much protest. If this understanding is correct, then the order of composition would match the order of completion or publication implied in his two chronological lists (Office, then Commentary, and lastly, Trinity) and Commentary would have been written between 1111 or 1112 and 1114 or 1115, when work would have begun in earnest on Trinity.(See note 52)

The Commentary does share a strong sense of salvation history with Trinity, which is itself a grand statement of salvation history down to Rupert's own day expressed in terms of the on-going activity of the Persons of the Trinity. This links the two thematically, since Rupert read out of John's Gospel from beginning to end insights both into the saving work of God within sacred history, such as the roles of the sacraments, of the Holy Spirit, and of the two covenants, and into the culmination of sacred history, the final salvation of both Jews and Gentiles. It seems possible at least that, in addition to the other motives we have proposed, he intended the two works to complement one another in presenting his vision of sacred history.

Be that as it may, Rupert's response to the charge that the Commentary was the result of an arrogant attempt to better Augustine is neither helpful nor immediately informative. In what way does it demonstrate mindfulness of God or that Rupert rejoiced in him? The answer to that question, as to so much else in Rupert's exegetical purpose, lies in the visions described in his commentary on Matthew, Glory and Honour. We have seen how, especially in the second vision, Rupert believed himself to have been granted a charismatic gift of interpretation which made him capable of producing exegesis superior to that of the Fathers.(See note 53) He also makes the point in both descriptions of the visions that he differed from his predecessors in being able to eschew the normal preparations of fasting and prayer which they had considered indispensable to the task of scriptural interpretation. The corollary to this would seem to be that they lacked Rupert's divine gift. So in writing on John, he was mindful of God in exercising this special charisma and rejoiced in Him by demonstrating his possession of it.

The narrative of those visions reveals a great deal about Rupert and his experience of charismatic renewal: among other things, they show us a man whose self-image was closely linked both to his awareness of divine gift and a sense of rivalry toward the fathers of the church. He both felt that he must expound the Bible and that in so doing he could, in at least some passages, offer something better than the fathers. The combination of a desire to combat heresy, an awareness both of his talent and of the concomitant need to use it, and the intrinsic interest of the subject offer strong motives to choose John, itself the vehicle for combating heresy. That it had been the subject of the best and best-known patristic commentary on the New Testament would only heighten its appeal.

Although the contents of the Commentaria and Rupert's preface point toward possible purposes, such as combating heresy or demonstrating his exegetical skills vis-à-vis St Augustine, it seems impossible to discover its exact occasion. It is no longer possible to tell whether one specific circumstance or a concatenation of events called it forth. It seems likely that, although it owes something to contemporary debates on the Eucharist in which Rupert took part, it has its roots (as we have already observed) in that period preceding his ordination in which Rupert's visions occurred. Internal evidence from the text, the preface, and the later letter are more helpful in determining Rupert's audience. That audience can be viewed here on two levels: first, his intended audience, those he directed the Commentaria toward and had in mind while writing it, and second, his actual audience. We get a glimpse of both from these three sources. The commentary proper and the apologetic preface in particular show what audience Rupert primarily aimed for: other Benedictine monks and perhaps also canons regular.

One indication of this can be found in the work itself. Taken as a whole, it suggests he was writing for a highly educated public. Its style, structure, syntax, and vocabulary place demands on a reader beyond those which simple literacy could have met. For example, he assumes a familiarity with the writings of Jerome and Augustine, two of the most rhetorically sophisticated of the Latin Fathers, as well as with classical authors like Cicero and Vergil. In an age in which religious houses, especially monasteries, remained the principal providers of education, most of those capable of reading it would be monks or canons.

Another indication can be found in the contents of the commentary. Rupert's use of and allusions to the liturgy, especially the divine offices, point to a primarily monastic audience. So do some of the topics he thought might be of interest to his readers: the public behaviour of people who have taken religious vows, the nature of apostolic preaching, manual labour --- all issues of importance to priest-monks like Rupert. This was particularly so in light of on-going debates between monks and both canons regular and secular clerics about the propriety of public preaching by monks or their ordination or within monastic ranks about the proper role of manual labour in contemporary Benedictine life. For example, in the discussion of the Wedding Feast at Cana of Galilee, Rupert also looked at the possible implications of Jesus' and Mary's attendance at the wedding and the party which followed. Did this mean that contemporary men and women living under a religious rule were free to take part in such public events? He argued that it did not. The passage is intriguing in many respects and its inclusion in the Commentaria suggests that he expected many of his readers to be themselves members of religious orders.

With this in mind, it is interesting to consider the extended exhortation to his readers in the preface. He began it by addressing them in terms which would be applicable to any Christian reader: '[John's] act of witness wonderfully favours our hopes, that is, the hopes of all of us wards whom [Jesus] has written in as co-heirs to the eternal testament by his blood'. But he passed on to remarks which seem particularly addressed to other Benedictines. He cleverly adapts a phrase from the prologue to Benedict's Rule, 'dominici schola servitii', 'the school of the Lord's service', (used there to describe the monastery), to describe the proper environment for studying the Scripture, 'the school of Christ'. And in the same passage he also links the study of Scripture with virginity and the denial of physical affections in a manner which is reminiscent of the seventh chapter of the Rule:

We therefore, who examine the scriptures which testify to the Son of God and delight in the way of its testimonies as in great wealth, we ought all especially to examine [John's] testimony and scrutinise it with our whole heart, desiring it with all our mind and loving it above gold and precious stones. For if we are merchants like the one in the gospel and seek fine pearls, behold! here we find a precious pearl. Where can any of greater value be found? God the true lover of souls, lover of the beloved soul of John, fixed this pearl in his heart as a memorial of special affection so that his virgin state, belonging to him before all the saints, might proclaim with a lively voice to humankind that very Word which the Virgin Mary alone bore in the flesh. So those who study sacred letters in Christ's school must give away everything so as to buy that single pearl and cleanse their mind's eye from all the filth of physical affections.(See note 54)

Manuscripts of Rupert's commentary on John, like those of his other scriptural commentaries, have been preserved primarily in monastic libraries; this suggests that he did reach his primary audience. But was it his only audience? Contemporary reaction to the Commentary shows that he reached other readers as well, those outside the monastery. Both the autobiographical section of Rule and his remarks to Cuno in the later letter show that some cathedral scholars, secular clerics (rather than priest-monks like Rupert) and champions of the new learning, had read not just his shorter controversial works but this lengthy commentary. It is clear that Rupert's non-monastic audience was at best indifferent to monastic learning: Rupert told Cuno that they referred to persons of education as 'clerici', clerks, which did not leave much room for educated monks. Rupert however was still able to get their attention if not command their respect. He engaged in so much controversy with prominent teachers at cathedral schools that it seems unlikely he intended this work, which dealt with so many matters of current debate, to pass unnoticed in academic circles. If he did in fact address his commentary to secular clerks as well as his fellow monks, his efforts cannot be viewed as entirely successful. Unfortunately the reaction of the academic elite seems to have been to accuse him of heretical teaching.

Just as the style and topics of Rupert's work made it accessible both to monastic and cathedral scholars, so his use of both traditional methods of interpretation and the teaching techniques of the new schools drew upon the practices of both. The core of his exegesis of John was the painstaking careful reading of the biblical text which was the foundation both of the contemplative reading of the 'lectio diuina' and of basic instruction in the monastic schools. Whereas the devotional reader went on from this foundation to meditate upon the words and images of the passage, the teacher carefully expounded the grammar of the text, what the words meant, and how they were used. In this tradition, Rupert showed attention throughout his text to style, vocabulary, and syntax. Sometimes he attached an important exegetical point to his observations. For example, in commenting on Jn 1.34 in Book 2 of Commentary, Rupert noted the significance of the requirement given in Exodus that the paschal lamb be a male animal; in the same way, so as to be the paschal sacrifice for the sins of the world, the Son of God was incarnate not just as a human being but as a man.(See note 55)

Another example of this close reading is the significance Rupert attached to a variation between singular and plural in Jn 15. In Jn 15.10, Jesus had spoken to the disciples of keeping his commandments, 'praecepta mea' (rendering an original 'tàs entolás mou'). But at verse 12, he switches to the singular, 'This is my commandment', 'praeceptum meum' (rendering a Greek singular). Rupert commented:

But why did he say 'my commandments' in the plural there but use the singular here, 'This is my commandment'? Clearly because every commandment is from love alone and all commandments are one. For that which is many by the diversity of work is one in the root of love.(See note 56)

But Rupert also used two newer teaching tools, the 'quaestio', which would come to dominate the scholastic method in cathedral schools and universities, and the 'distinctio', a method also beloved of preachers, thus demonstrating again the close connection since Augustine's day between teaching and preaching on the Bible.(See note 57) Rupert's exegesis is studded with questions: it is part of the direct approach to both text and reader also seen in his fondness for paraphrase or apostrophe. Many interpretations begin with a rhetorical question, to which an analysis of some kind is the response.(See note 58) But he also used a more formal question as a device for discussion, usually posed indirectly and sometimes introduced with expression like 'quaerendum est' or 'quaerimus'. These questions often begin an argument in which various aspects of, or opinions about, a problem are dealt with, as in his most famous 'quaestio', that about the Eucharist in the section on Jn 6.32 in Book 6. The organisation of such questions is rudimentary in comparison to the developed questions of a century later but it is very important to recognise Rupert's willingness to adopt a device more characteristic of secular masters like Anselm of Laon or William of Champeaux in order to treat fully of matters which, although suggested by his text, are removed from its direct exposition.(See note 59)

Rupert did so in the explanation of three passages in particular, Jn 1.34 and 33b (a question on baptism), Jn 3.5 (a question on circumcision and its relationship to baptism), and Jn 6.32 (the question on the Eucharist). His discussion in each question ranges widely over topics only loosely connected with the passage at hand, but in each case it returns back to the text and remains anchored to its scriptural 'jumping-off place'. This control over the question which keeps it closely related to the biblical text accentuates the essentially exegetical, rather than theological, nature of Rupert's work. He was not seeking in his commentaries to use the Bible as a means to the end of discussing wider, more systematic questions, but rather to explicate a particular passage or book. It is interesting that this is similar to the way Evans characterises Abelard's use of 'quaestiones' in his commentaries on the Hexaemeron and Romans.(See note 60)

In the distinction Rupert found to hand a device which could not only provide a brief analysis but was also tied more closely to the texts of Scripture. In distinctions, a particular word is selected and the range of meanings which it can bear, whether in the Bible as a whole or in one particular book or section, is distinguished in order to find the correct sense for the passage under discussion. A good example is provided by the explication of Jn 4.35, where Rupert distinguished two meanings of the word 'harvest' (messis):

It must be noted that in the Lord's discourses, two harvests are found: one (about which he is speaking now) refers to the preaching of the gospel, whose harvesters are the apostles; and another (about which he speaks in another passage), which he also calls the consummation of the age, whose harvesters are the angels. Although these harvests differ in many respects, it is clear that they also differ in this, that that one which he calls the end of the age is just a harvest, but this one is called a harvest from one point of view but also called a sowing from another.(See note 61)

Distinctions require little discussion, since their meaning is usually regarded as self-evident, and are a succinct device for offering a range of senses while selecting one, in both of which respects they differ from questions whether formal or informal. This brevity, which gives them a didactic flavour, no doubt helps to explain their popularity as a device in sermons, which need to contain short, pithy, and clear explanations. Interestingly, Rupert used questions less and less in the course of the Commentary (there are fifteen in the first three books and only five in the remaining eleven) but the distinctions appear as the questions taper off, possibly another indication (like the lengthening of lemmata) of a growing concern over the length of his exposition.

More important that the devices which Rupert used to convey his interpretation is its content, which in his eyes is dominated by certain themes that John the evangelist used to structure his narrative of the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Among the most important are witnessing, true prophecy, and the interrelationship between the synagogue and the church. Rupert drew these themes out of the gospel text, often by recognising and highlighting the evangelist's quotations or allusions to the Pentateuch, occasionally by forcing allusions which do not appear to be present. They also illuminated his own vision of salvation history. Another key element for Rupert was the attention paid by the evangelist to the two central sacraments, baptism and holy communion, the first of which provided Rupert with a context in which to explain his understanding of John's pneumatology as well as his Christology. Perhaps the clearest demonstration of these thematic interpretations and indeed of Rupert's whole exegesis of John, is to summarise his exposition. However, we must first face an issue which may seem to preclude any possible value being attached to his interpretation. Even a short summary of the Commentaria reveals a very basic flaw. Rupert's exposition is very anti-Semitic.

Some would argue that in this he is simply reflecting something real about the gospel. The evangelist's own use of the Greek phrase 'hoi Ioudaioi', 'the Jews', is indeed troubling and there has been much discussion of the meaning of the phrase in modern exegesis. It is impossible to deny that many passages in the gospel express great anger toward the group so denominated. However the very quality of that hostility argues, as many commentators would now argue, for a quite recent break within the particular Jewish community to which the evangelist belonged between those who have become followers of Jesus and those who have not. John's bitterness is that of one who has been cast out from a community of which he was once part, a community whose values and qualities remain of the greatest importance to him. The corollary to his anger is his strong but more subtly argued conviction that Jesus is the new or true Moses and so by extension his followers are the new or true Israel. St Paul demonstrates some of the same hurt and anger in his letters, such as those to the Thessalonians, yet Paul never lost sight of the central importance of the covenant with Moses and its continued validity.

Both the beloved disciple and St Paul were taking part in disputes which, however heated and angry they became, were still in essence internal to the widely-distributed and (as we now know) highly diverse first-century Jewish community of the eastern Mediterranean. Rupert, like most other mediaeval and patristic writers, was part of a different world which understood those disputes in quite a different and very tragic way. Heir to a Christianised late antique gentile culture which was already anti-Semitic before the conversion of the Roman Empire, Rupert read John's Gospel as an outsider to the world of which it was a part and saw in it justification for condemning the Jews. However, it should be stressed in some mitigation of this that, although Rupert often employs the anti-heretical rhetoric in his commentary in a way which makes it clear that he had in mind not just his contemporaries but those contemporaries who disagreed with him, there are no parallel instances in which he applies the anti-Jewish polemic in his interpetation to his Jewish contemporaries. And although we must be aware of this fault and its influence on his interpretation, we shall see that one of the great strengths of the Commentary is its emphasis on John's rootedness in the Old Testament, especially Deuteronomy.

Christology and Trinitarian theology dominate book 1, expressed in terms traditional in Johannine exegesis, that is, as John's deliberate refutation of various heresies about the Trinity and the Incarnation. Although many of the heresies Rupert mentioned (e.g., Patripassionism, Arianism) belong to the patristic age, this section of the commentary is not therefore wholly archaic. The thirteenth century, with its re-opening of the apparently closed issue of the hypostatic union of God and Man in Christ, amply demonstrates how patristic issues could become contemporary hot-spots. In the same way, although Rupert's discussion in this book of the question of mutability in the divine will was based in part on texts from Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory, his own controversial work on the topic shows it had become a contemporary theological problem. Book 1 is the one most closely linked with the preface, containing a direct allusion to it and sharing with it the idea that two Johns, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, act as twin witnesses to the truth within this gospel. This is part of Rupert's emphasis on Dt 19.15, the legal requirement that at least two or three witnesses were necessary to establish fact. With the introduction of John the Baptist into the gospel prologue, Rupert's exposition widened out from the traditional refutation of heresy to include further discussion of the role of John the Baptist as a witness, as well as of the sacrament of baptism, and the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation. All these would become very important for Rupert's exegesis of the whole gospel. He also touched on the distinctions between true and false prophecy and on creation and the nature of evil. In expounding Jn 1.11, 18, and 27b, Rupert adumbrated another point which will occupy centre stage in his exposition, the contrast between Gentile faith and Jewish unbelief.

In commenting on Jn 1.21, Rupert had to deal, as modern commentators and expositors still must, with the apparent contradiction between John the Baptist's denial there that he was Elijah and Jesus' statements in the synoptic tradition (Mt 11 and Lk 7) that he was. He solved the contradiction by use of the traditional device of multiple senses: both answers were true, each on a different level. Jesus' answer was right 'mystico intellectu': although John the Baptist was not literally Elijah come back to earth from heaven, but the son of Zachariah and Elizabeth, he still came 'in spiritu et virtute Eliae'. Since those who asked him were not seeking to understand such mysteries (a point of view characteristic of Rupert's dismissive attitude towards the Pharisees), John gives them a straightforward answer, which is true in the literal sense only. Book 1 ends with a discussion of baptism.

Book 2 continues to deal with the topic of baptism in a discussion which deserves to be reported in some detail because through it we can follow the first clear outline of Rupert's vision of salvation history, a central theme in his reading of this gospel. In the discussion of Jn 1.34 and 33b (whose order he reversed here), Rupert identified several points to be particularly considered about the Johannine account of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist: the most important of these is the difference between the two baptisms, that is, that given by John and that given by Christ. Rupert concluded that, although John's baptism of repentance prepared the way for the one to come after him who will baptise for the remission of sins, it was not therefore a necessary precondition of Christian baptism. Instead, the real purpose of John's baptism was to reveal Jesus. Part of this discussion was given a contemporary application by Rupert, who combined texts from John and Is 53 to show that from Christian baptism we learn that the proper ministry of Christ was to bear the sins of the world and that this was an example to would-be priests.

Rupert continued by comparing the effects of these two baptisms on their recipients: Jesus, in his baptism by John, took upon himself the sins of those who died before he revealed the rule of Christian baptism after his resurrection. They were waiting among the dead to be saved by his passion. But those who were still alive at the time of the establishment of Christian baptism would not receive its benefits from an earlier baptism by John alone. Nor would their former repentance save them 'fidei Christi non admixta'. Rupert stressed that John's baptism indicated repentance but did not bestow the remission of sins. Christ, on the other hand, baptised the faithful of the Old Covenant with the water and blood which flowed from his side (Jn 19.34) and continues to baptise now, according to Rupert, in the Holy Spirit with water and the mystery (sacramentum) of his blood, bestowing perfect remission of sins.

After this discussion, which introduced an interpretation of the flow of blood and water from Jesus' side to which Rupert will return more than once in his exposition, he focused the remainder of the discussion on Christian baptism. Central to Rupert's exposition here are the two operations of Christian baptism, the remission of sins and the conferring of the 'ornamenta' of various graces, by which is meant charismatic gifts such as faith, wisdom, speaking in tongues, or their interpretation. These operations demonstrate the continuity as well as the diversity of the Holy Spirit's work in the two covenants: the gifts show continuity, the remission of sins shows the difference. Only Christ has the power to send the Holy Spirit, who remits sins, so the sacrifices and ritual cleansings of the Old Testament could not remove sin. Therefore, according to Rupert, the harrowing of hell was necessary: the 'patres' (i.e., the just of the Old Covenant who died before the mission of the Spirit and the institution of Christian baptism) had to wait among the dead for Jesus. However, because they had been saved proleptically by that baptism of water and blood which would flow from the side of Jesus on the cross, God granted the operation of gifts of grace, such as prophecy, to the saints of the Old Covenant as well. The juxtaposition of continuity and diversity in the two covenants is an important idea in Rupert's understanding of John's Gospel.

In addition to this discussion of the role of baptism in salvation history, book 2 includes straightforward exposition of the calls of the disciples and extended use of one of Rupert's favourite expository devices, paraphrase. It concludes with a two-fold exegesis of the account of the wedding at Cana. First, Rupert went through the story lemma by lemma, giving his literal exegesis. The spiritual sense is given afterwards, at the end of the book, immediately after the lemma for Jn 2.12, introduced as a reading 'secundum mysteria allegoriae'.(See note 62) Rupert engaged in no theoretical discussions in this commentary of the differences between the two senses so these parallel treatments of the same pericope, nearly unique in the Commentary, are important. In light of his professed desire to fill a gap which Augustine had left by concentrating on the literal sense, it is interesting to see what the literal sense included for Rupert. Unlike most of his predecessors (who put tropology, the moral sense, among the spiritual senses), he dealt with moral interpretation, in this case the contemporary implications of Jesus and Mary's presence at the wedding at Cana, as part of the literal section.

Rupert concentrated his allegorical exposition on the true meaning of the six water jars of Jn 2.6. Like Augustine, Bede, and Alcuin before him, Rupert correlated the six jars with six ages of world history, but without simply borrowing their interpretations. His ages are presented quite differently from Bede's and Alcuin's and although some of the same people were named by Augustine as symbolic of their age, Rupert made quite different points with them.(See note 63) Those ages are:

  • The age of Adam and Eve
  • The age of Noah
  • The age of Abraham and Sarah
  • The age of Solomon
  • The age of the Babylonian Exile
  • The age of the Incarnation

According to Rupert, in each of these ages scripture offers the reader the water of history (his usual word for the literal sense) transformed into the wine of spiritual understanding. For example, in the first age, that of Adam and Eve, history teaches of the institution of marriage. But the real mystery there is Christ's saving work, for he left his father (God) and his mother (the Jewish people) and was joined to his wife (the church chosen from among the gentiles) that they might be made one flesh (Head and Body).(See note 64)

The book concludes with a return to historical matters, the chronology of Jesus' life and public ministry, another sign of Rupert's interest in the literal sense of John. He used the liturgical calendar, which celebrated both the baptism of Jesus and the miracle at Cana on the feast of the Epiphany, to argue that those two events took place on the same day, one year apart. Thus according to Rupert's reading of John, Jesus was baptised on the thirteenth day of his thirtieth year, a year about which we are otherwise mostly ignorant. The miracle at Cana came near the beginning of Jesus' thirty-first year.

Since so much of book 3 covers the story of Nicodemus' visit to Jesus and their discussion, the topics of baptism and salvation are also prominent here. It begins the with the first of Rupert's methodological metaphors. Studying the gospels is compared to navigation: just as a wise mariner uses the fixed stars and not the planets to guide his ship, so we should be guided by holy doctors or teachers and not heretical writers in our study. Rupert observes that it is easier for the sailor-student to be shipwrecked in reading John than in any other part of the Bible. After this introduction, he resumed his chronological concerns, now fixing the chronology of John the Baptist's arrest and death. Much of the book consists of straightforward exposition of the events narrated, like the driving of the money changers from the Temple, or paraphrase and elaboration of Jesus' words, as in the account of the conversation with Nicodemus.

In the cleansing of the Temple, Rupert has to deal with his first really serious difficulty in comparing the synoptic and Johannine accounts. He concluded that Jesus must have cleansed the Temple twice, once at the beginning of his ministry and once at the end, for the alternative theories cannot be reconciled with the texts. This book also contains Rupert's discussion of the nature and validity of circumcision, especially in comparison with baptism, a side issue which surfaced as a result of his analysis of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. It is curious that the anti-Jewish polemic in the 'quaestio' about circumcision is less heated than the usual anti-Jewish and anti-Pharisaic rhetoric in the surrounding exposition. After his move to Deutz, Rupert took part in at least one debate with Jewish leaders, as we learn from an account by another participant, Hermann of Scheda, who became a canon regular after his later conversion and left an account in his writings. It is possible that the difference in tone between the circumcision question and the rest of the Commentary reflects a different origin or purpose: perhaps Rupert has included here something which grew out of an earlier debate, while he was still based in Liège.(See note 65)

Book 3 ends in the middle of an episode about John the Baptist and his continuing witness to Jesus (Jn 3.22-36). So it is not surprising that Rupert opened book 4 with a brief recapitulation of the earlier discussion of this episode before proceeding with his explication of Jn 3.27. However, most of book 4 focuses on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. For Rupert, as for his predecessor Augustine, she prefigures the new Gentile church. However she is only the first of a key series of gospel characters who occupy this role in the Commentary, and the only one also so used by Augustine. Jesus and his disciples' journey through Samaria itself is in Rupert's exposition a prefiguration of church's later mission to the Gentile world as shown in Acts and the letters of St Paul. Rupert proceeds through the text by his characteristic mixture of explication and paraphrase, often using Old Testament events or passages to expound the meaning of Jesus' words. The book concludes with a chronological discussion of the time of the year at which the Samaritan journey took place, based on Jesus' observation about the harvest, and an explanation of the healing of the ruler's son, who represents the Jewish people in Rupert's exegesis, as the Samaritan woman had the Gentiles. This is the passage in which Rupert first put forward his views on the final salvation of the Jews. Reluctant, it would appear, either to so spiritualise the promises of the Old Covenant that they might find complete fulfilment in the church or to leave them unfulfilled in his grand scheme of salvation history, Rupert used these two gospel characters to present the final two stages in that history. Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the sixth hour, Rupert pointed out, but he healed the ruler's son at the seventh hour. Therefore after all the gentiles have been converted (as signified by the woman's acknowledgement of Jesus as the Christ) will come the conversion and salvation of the Jews (as signified by the healing of the ruler's son).

The on-going discussion of Rupert's theology of baptism continued in this book, especially at the beginning, and he also returned to another theme adumbrated earlier, that of the true prophet (which first appeared in his discussion of John the Baptist in book 1). Here in explicating Jn 4.48, which contains Jesus' reproach, 'Unless you see signs and wonders, you do not believe', Rupert used an Old Testament passage, Dt 18.15, the promise of a prophet like Moses and like Dt 19.15 an important text overall in the Commentary, to make the point that a true prophet is known by his words and not by signs and wonders. One of the puzzling complexities of Rupert's writing on John is the juxtaposition of his insight into the importance of Deuteronomy and the person of Moses for the evangelist (an importance echoed again for twentieth-century students of the Fourth Gospel in T.F. Glasson's 1963 monograph Moses in the Fourth Gospel(See note 66)) with his attitudes towards the Jews of the time of Jesus or in his own time.

Rupert began book 5 (which corresponds to the modern chapter 5) with another methodological metaphor. His starting point is the very conventional image of the evangelist as an eagle, the animal then believed capable of looking straight at the noonday sun unharmed, but he goes beyond this by the use he makes of the corollary, that Christ is the sun on which he gazes.

It rightly pleases the Holy Spirit to signify this evangelist John by an eagle (as almost all are aware). For he has contemplated with clear insight Christ, the sun of righteousness, going about through His circular course and returning in His orbits, that is, disposing all things and foreseeing everything in His secret counsel. And in his gospel John has depicted Christ's ways with as it were a reasoning talon, as on a clear sundial, so that a diligent reader may discern the circular course of His wisdom and the orbits of His counsel, however blurred his eyes may be. And so he describes some of the journeys and actions of the son of man in order to hint at the counsel of the same Son of God, just as astronomers are accustomed to draw certain geometric circuits for their own use when studying the rising or setting of the sun. In the course of this work, it should be particularly noted that John omits no Passover and so, just as though one were to reckon a route from the eastern horizon upwards towards the advancing degrees of the sun's course, he reckons the course of his narrative from this feast in accordance with the words and deeds of the Lord Christ and contemplates the great and necessary signs of the Christian faith.(See note 67)

Rupert passed from this involved introduction to another discussion of chronology. As its reference to Passover implies, he inferred (on the basis of his previous chronological discussion of the Samaritan journey at Jn 4.35) that the unnamed festival of Jn 5.1 was the Passover. This point of view is not shared by modern commentators, who tend either to concentrate on the significance of its being the sabbath (arguably the evangelist's principal concern) or to take the feast as Pentecost (Weeks), thereby precluding a chronological arrangement in the gospel as we have it.(See note 68) The healing at the pool of Bethsaida was explicated by a combination of straightforward explanations of unusual terms or place names, numerology, and the mystical sense. The latter allowed Rupert to continue his discussion of baptism here and also find in the crippled man by the pool another figure of the Gentile church. He explicated Jesus' discourse in 5.30 on with elaborate paraphrase, by which he was able, for example, to turn five verses of the gospel (Jn 5.35-40) into five pages of declamation.

Book 5 demonstrates one of the main problems which Rupert has created for himself by the apparent rigidity of his salvation-historical model. According to that model, the Gentile church had come into being only because the Jewish people at the time of Christ rejected him, with the result that their descendants were to be passed over as we have seen until all the Gentiles were saved. Rupert therefore sometimes distorted his text by ignoring or giving a negative twist to any reactions reported by the evangelist, whether they were in fact positive, negative, or even indifferent. So here in explicating chapter 5 of the gospel, he seized what opportunities were offered by the text of chapter 5 not only to attack Christological heresy (against which he felt parts of Jesus' discourse had been recorded by the evangelist) but also Jesus' Jewish hearers. For example, Jesus' words in Jn 5.28, 'Do not wonder at this', are taken by Rupert not as a natural admonition after the surprising claims of verses 25-7, but as implying a hostile reaction. Rupert paraphrased Jesus' words in this way:

'Do not wonder at this', he said, 'because yours is not a positive wonderment. For you do not wonder at these words as if they were words of life and power, but as if at the madness of one having a demon!(See note 69)

Book 6, which contains the well-known Eucharistic 'quaestio', begins with another of Rupert's chronological discussions.(See note 70) Although his chronology of the gospel is eccentric from the modern standpoint, it is indicative of a kind of attention to the literal and historical which contrast sharply with the more allegorical approach of Augustine. In Rupert's view, John does not describe the rest of the year in which the Passover of Jn 5.1 fell because it was covered in detail by the other evangelists as the year in which Jesus' public ministry began. Instead the evangelist skipped in Jn 6.4 to a third Passover, that of the following year, which is to be Jesus' last year on earth, ending with the Passover at which he was crucified.

In the first part of his exposition of chapter 6, Rupert proceeded carefully, using the familiar devices of paraphrase and close reading, together with the consideration of synoptic parallels. There is also the usual polemic against the Jews of Jesus' day, heretics, and simoniacs (against whom, as motivated by greed, he applies several verses of chapter 6). In the context of the papal reform movement, which had produced the troubled times in Liège during his youth, and his experience of exile, the importance of simony in Rupert's interpretation is understandable, and he will return to it again in the discussion of Judas in Book 7. In mitigation of Rupert's anti-Semitic and supersessionist tendencies, it is important to recall that he seldom if ever explicitly applied this polemic against his Jewish contemporaries although he did, as here, explicitly apply his anti-heretical polemic to his own time.(See note 71) Because he interpreted the boy with a basket of provisions as a figure of the Jewish people, who carry with them the five books of the Law (the five barley loaves) and the prophets and psalms (the two fish), Rupert took from the multiplication miracle that neither the Old Covenant not the letter of scripture is sufficient to feed us: the Holy Spirit and spiritual understanding, symbolised by Jesus' act of multiplication, are needed as well.

Although Rupert first mentioned the importance of the Eucharist in commenting on Jn 6.1-2, baptism remained at the forefront, as far as the sacraments were concerned, in Rupert's explanations of the feeding of the 5000 and especially of Jesus' walking on the water, since the crossing of the sea was to him a sign both of Christ's death and Christian baptism. This changed with the discourses about the Bread of Life, and the explications of verses 32, 53b, and 54 are particularly concerned with the Eucharist. Here Rupert wove that sacrament, as he had earlier done with baptism, into his grand scheme of salvation history, so that its entire sweep emerged for the first time. According to Rupert, the two sacraments necessary for salvation are baptism and the Eucharist. Instituted in Jesus' lifetime and given salvific power by his death, resurrection, and mission of the Spirit, these two are required for entry into heaven. Thus he argued strongly in his comments on verses 53b and 54 for actual reception of Holy Communion, since it is by receiving the sacramental body of Christ that we are unified as Christ's body the church. He also compared those who refused to eat what they should, the Eucharist, with Adam and Eve, who ate what they should not.

Applying this historically, Rupert concluded that the saints of the Old Covenant not only needed in some way to have been baptised in order to be saved, they also needed to have in some way received the Eucharist. We have already seen that for Rupert, the flow of blood and water from the side of Christ described in Jn 19.34 accomplished their baptism. Here he taught explicitly that the harrowing of hell brought them the body of Christ in such a way that they could be said to have participated in the Eucharist. Hence he must challenge any interpretation of Paul's words about the Exodus in 1 Cor 10.3-4 which identified the manna and the water which came from the rock with Christ's true Eucharistic body and blood.(See note 72) For if they were the true body and blood of the sacrament and not in some sense a sign, the saints of the Old Covenant such as Moses and Aaron who took part in the Exodus would not have needed the harrowing of hell. On the other hand, Rupert's scheme of salvation history also obliged him to affirm that Jesus' resurrection body, in which he descended to the saints of the Old Covenant, was to be identified with the consecrated body of the Eucharist in precisely the way in which the manna was not, or else the harrowing of hell would have had no such salvific effect. It is easy to see how Rupert's sacramental theology, which is so bound up with his exegesis and contingent upon his theories of salvation history, would have appeared not just eccentric, but wrong-headed, to those who came at it from a different angle.

Rupert began Book 7 with an extended image drawn from Ps 109.4 (Vlg): just as the people could not bear the brightness of Moses' face after he had spoken with God, so those around Christ cannot look on him with understanding. During this book, Rupert first finished his exegesis of the Eucharistic discourse of chapter 6 and then went on to deal with most of the modern chapter 7. In the course of this discussion, he brought up the two remaining most controversial questions in the Commentary, whether Judas shared in the last supper and the nature of evil and its implication for divine omnipotence.

Although the exposition of the rest of the Eucharistic discourse is often stated, as it was in Book 6, in terms of anti-Jewish polemic, Rupert makes clear that his real target are those of his contemporaries who refuse to agree with him about the Eucharist, who are symbolised by the disciples of Jn 6.61 who withdrew from following Jesus because of their inability to understand the Eucharistic discourses. Here he stressed in his comments on Jn 6.60-64 that the Eucharistic elements were not to be crudely identified either with Christ's living earthly body nor with the corpse which was taken down from the cross.(See note 73)

In addition to containing controversial elements, Book 7 contains an unusually high proportion of texts given a contemporary twist. Three passages stand out in particular: Rupert's exegesis of Jn 6.67, 6.70-71b, and Jn 7.16. In explicating Jn 6.67, in which many disciples leave Jesus because of the Bread of Life discourses, Rupert drew a parallel between Jesus' reaction and what that of his contemporaries ought to be when monks withdraw from the monastery. Some are quick to blame the abbot for bad judgement in accepting men who were not serious or devout enough. But Jesus himself suffered the same fate here, and not on account of bad judgement. Rather this event, like some of the synoptic parables, points to the unavoidable admixture of good and bad in the church, in individual monasteries, even among those who followed Jesus. Some will be faithful to the end and some will not, and even Christ will not finally winnow out the unrighteous before the final judgement. Rupert was not yet an abbot at the time but perhaps either he already saw himself in that role or else was zealous on behalf of his own abbot.

Jn 6.70-71b provided Rupert with one of several opportunities to discuss the problem of Judas. Why, he asked, was Judas chosen as an apostle, the forerunners of bishops? Are there Judases in the contemporary church? (Because the evangelist implied in Jn 12.6 that Judas was motivated at least partly by a desire for gain, Rupert could confidently answer that simoniacs were like contemporary Judases.) If so, should they be permitted to receive and administer sacraments? It is in this context that Rupert pointed out that the true sacraments were only established by Christ's death, resurrection, and mission of the Holy Spirit, so that Judas never received them, and furthermore he was no longer present at the Last Supper to receive bread and wine from Jesus' hands.(See note 74)

In his exegesis of Jn 7.16 (in which Jesus answers his detractors by saying 'My teaching is not my own, but his who sent me.'), Rupert took the reproaches of Jesus' Jewish hearers and especially the Pharisees' criticisms in v. 15 as having not simply a contemporary, but even a personal, application. In his hands, it became an a spirited defence of his own authority against his opponents among the cathedral-school-educated secular clergy:

Therefore today as often as anyone follows some step of teaching up from below, so as to be able to go up with Jesus into the Temple and to open his mouth in the midst of the assembly [cp. Jn 7.14], if there are those who scorn him out of a fault like the Jews' because perhaps he has not travelled long distances about the earth in search of great and renowned teachers nor poured over foreign studies and say to him on that account 'Who is he?' or 'How has he acquired learning since he has not studied?' [Jn 7.15], it will be a sufficient defence for him, if he can say what is true, that his teaching is not his own but that of him to whom all teaching belongs.(See note 75)

Book 7 concludes part 1 and it ends with a further elaboration of Rupert's scheme of salvation history, as part of his explication of the images of water and spirit in Jn 7.37-9. Two rivers flow from Christ, according to Rupert: one, the remission of sins, the other, the distribution of grace and charismatic gifts. This out-flowing of the Holy Spirit pours out no only for and within Israel but beyond it to the Gentile world which is now to be saved. In true Ambrosian fashion, Rupert linked that water image with the water which flowed from the rock struck by Moses in the desert, the blood and water which would flow from Jesus' side in Jn 19.36, and the breathing forth of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles (Jn 20.22). The whole image of spirit overflowing for the salvation of Jews and Gentiles is made poignant by Rupert's conviction that in mentioning that Jesus spoke on the last day of Tabernacles (Jn 7.37), John is emphasising that this was the last day that this festival would ever be celebrated, because at the very next Passover the Old Covenant and all its ordinances would end and the New Covenant begin and Tabernacles would be no more.

The second part, beginning with Book 8, is quite different from the first part. There are far fewer digressions to discuss wider issues in exegesis and theology. The lemmata, as we have already observed, are longer. Although Rupert continued to use his favourite device of paraphrase in exposition of his text, those expositions are far more succinct than before. However, this change is gradual and becomes more striking as part 2 continues: in many ways, Book 8 is still very like the latter books of part 1, with explications of key themes like witnessing and continued allusions to school authors like Horace and Vergil. He returned again to the theme of true witnessing not only in discussing the woman taken in adultery but also in dealing with the confrontation of Jn 8.21-30. The trend of Book 7, to emphasise in anti-Jewish polemic the inexcusability of the actions of the Pharisees and priests in condemning Jesus while blurring the distinction between the crowd and its leaders in that regard (which seems clearly indicated by the gospel text), was continued. However there is less tendency to find pointed modern applications for his polemics.

Rupert dealt with the story of the woman taken in adultery on both a literal and mystical level, though with nothing like the detail used in the earlier exposition of the wedding at Cana. On the spiritual level, he found in her another of his prefigurations of the Gentile church. He differed from modern commentators in linking this pericope integrally to its present setting in Jn 8, unaware that it was probably not part of this gospel as written. In general his greater willingness to accept the internal sequence of events and discourses as historical sets him apart from modern exegetes, but it also enabled him to find and make use of thematic and verbal links between various discourses of Jesus.

At the end of Book 8, the exposition of Jesus' saying that the devil was a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies (Jn 8.44) creates a bridge to Book 9. At the end of 8, Rupert distinguished the substantial relationship between God and truth from the accidental relationship between the devil, who is only a fallen angel, and lies. This distinction allowed him to avoid what might otherwise prove to be intractable problems about Evil and the divine will. At the beginning of 9, he quoted as a thema Prov 25.27 ('As it is not good for a man to eat much honey, so he that is a searcher of majesty shall be overwhelmed by glory.'). This he used pointedly against those (his opponents) who devoted too much time to such questions beyond human understanding:

Moreover that one is a searcher of majesty who, while trying to penetrate the great abyss of God's judgements (that is to say, when he hears or sees what is said about the devil in the present passage, 'He was a murderer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth, because there is no truth in him', etc), involves himself in inescapable petty questions very rashly and occasionally childishly saying 'If God made all things to be very good, whence does evil come?' or 'How can it inhere in or be born in a good substance?'. Likewise he says, 'Why did God make that angel whom he foreknew would be the inventor of evil?' ... Overzealous searchers, involving themselves with these and other petty questions of the same sort, are all oppressed by the glory of majesty and, just like those sated with much honey, unbalance themselves just as, for example, the Manicheans did.... Therefore we say only this in accordance with the aforesaid wise man, venerating with the apostle the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God, his incomprehensible judgements, and his unsearchable paths [cp. Rom 11.33], that God made all things for himself, the wicked also for the evil day [Prov 16.4], that is, he made for himself the one also whom he foreknew would be evil for his proper wrongdoing, knowing at any rate this also, that he could use that one's malice to a good purpose.(See note 76)

From Book 9 on, the differences between the two parts become more marked. As Rupert's exposition becomes increasingly a straightforward explanation of each lemma and its meaning, accompanied by exhortations to imitate Christ's example or follow his words, there is consequently less of interest to comment on. In explaining the healing of the man born blind, he did however offer at Jn 9.3 both a literal and mystical interpretation, clearly labelled and separately presented. In book 10, Rupert took care to explain the mystical significance of the story of the raising of Lazarus, mentioning Mary, Lazarus' sister, as another figure of the Gentile church. In commenting on Jn 11.5, he expressed a desire to expatiate on the Lucan story of Mary and Martha, but felt constrained from doing so:

In Martha and Mary, he [Christ] wanted to signify in advance the state of the church in the present day when, according to another evangelist, he entered a certain village and this very Martha welcomed him into her house; while she was busy about much serving, Mary was listening to his word, sitting at his feet, etc, which we are now passing over from the desire to avoid excessive wordiness.(See note 77)

He managed to fight this desire to avoid 'prolixitas' long enough to offer an interpretation of the two sisters in Bethany which, traditionally, compared the active and contemplative lives. But he did not do so often. Briefer mystical explanations and a more devotional tone predominate as Rupert more nearly approached the events of Holy Week and the Farewell Discourses, but in Book 10, he also dealt again with resolving discrepancies among the accounts by various evangelists of the anointing at Bethany in his exposition of Jn 12.2-3.

The question of Judas also recurred, both in Book 10 and in Book 12. This seems to have been so particularly important to Rupert because of his own attitude towards and experiences of those he believed to be simoniacal prelates. As we have seen, through Judas' alleged theft from the common purse and also his willingness to receive money for informing against Jesus, Rupert was able to connect the figure of Judas with simony and the crisis of his own early religious life. He began book 11 with the first extended metaphor since part 2 began, one about a will and testator which is similar to the section from his preface mentioned above (p 11). The Last Supper, Farewell Discourses, and high priestly prayer are the subject matter of Books 11 and 12; Books 13 and 14 deal with Christ's passion, death, and resurrection. Much of the exposition in these final four books could very easily serve as the basis for a modern devotional commentary or sermon.

So intent had Rupert become on finishing his basic exposition of the letter of John with further undue words that when he reached Jn 19.34, which contains the image of water and blood which was so important in his earlier exegesis of the gospel, his explanation was extremely brief. However he did in the next lemma (Jn 19.35-7) develop the meaning of the blood and water and the sacrament of baptism, which has apparently regained its position of primacy in Rupert's exposition, along the now familiar lines. He also brought in again the theme of witnessing, identifying the three witnesses of Dt 19.15 as the evangelist himself, the law, and the prophets.

In Book 14, the post-Resurrection appearances to Mary Magdalene and the apostle Thomas allowed Rupert to return to the salvation-historical themes of Book 4: like the Samaritan woman, Mary Magdalene is a figure of the Gentile church and Thomas is, like the ruler's son, a figure of the Jewish people. So at the end, Rupert once again affirms the final salvation of all humankind, Gentile as well as Jew, through the saving work of Christ. This long and in many ways difficult commentary ends with a characteristically-phrased affirmation:

This (Jn 21.25) is irrefutably true. For behold, the world cannot contain this one book written by this disciple and, although one small man could hold it in one hand, the whole body of men cannot contain the entire depths of its mysteries. How much more would the world, which draws back from seeking and is slow to understand, not contain it, if everything were written down. Therefore, because for them these few things do not suffice as evidence nor do many things succeed better, now let the veteran witness be seated, because it has been sufficiently established for well-disposed hearers that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.(See note 78)

In the course of nearly 800 pages, Rupert showed a great attention to the history and the letter of John's gospel, thus bearing out his claim to have presented something different from Augustine. He nonetheless provided sufficient spiritual or mystical explanation to present from this gospel a broad pageant of salvation history which extends beyond the time of gospel writer or even his own time to an unspecified future of universal salvation. Deeply read in the Latin Fathers, he faithfully recapitulated both their virtues and some of their worst vices, imitating their polemical style in his condemnations of both the Jews of the time of Jesus and the heretics of the patristic age. Both these condemnations were given contemporary twists by Rupert against those he considered to offer equivalent modern threats, simoniacs, for instance, and (all too frequently) his opponents among modern theologians whose teaching he believed to be threatening. Although they were unnamed, the parties referred to had, no doubt, little difficulty in recognising themselves, which must have helped to fuel that hostility which Rupert noted in his letter to Cuno but disingenuously found so hard to understand.


It is a truism to observe that the Middle Ages did not, on the whole, value originality or outright novelty for its own sake. In fact, innovation in the thought of the period was often introduced as renewal or restoration of an earlier and better age. We have seen how Rupert, a man in some ways set apart from his contemporaries by his conviction that he had received unique spiritual gifts, amply demonstrated this by the difficulties into which he fell by apparently offering new interpretations of some much-commented-on scriptural texts. Yet to our age all mediaeval exegesis, not simply Rupert's, offers perspectives on the Bible which seem novel. It predates not just 'higher criticism' but the corrosive split between liberal and fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible: mediaeval scholars used 'literal interpretation' and 'literal meaning' quite differently than they are used today! And so to read mediaeval exegesis on John, or any other book of the Bible for that matter, is to open a window on a world which seems strange to us, which brought different points of view to bear on ancient texts and offered other answers to problems which still concern modern scholars.

Of course, mediaeval exegesis had both strengths and weaknesses. These have been well-exemplified in our summary of the Commentary. The focus of the best mediaeval exegesis is on the enduring or prophetic meaning of the book, looking at its significance to the author's day in the wider context of salvation history. Its greatest strength lies in its attitude toward meaning and truth in scripture: precisely because both its readers and writers shared a community of faith, the discussion of literal versus spiritual meaning which was so important a part of mediaeval criticism could be conducted in an atmosphere far less poisoned than that created by the modern debate on meaning between liberal and fundamentalist commentators. On the other hand, it lacked the historical perspective and linguistic depth of the best of modern scholarship and was much marred by a sense of triumphalism which often expressed itself in anti-Semitism. And from the twelfth century on, the wider field of theology became highly charged by a series of conflicts which, beginning with questions of theological method, sometimes spilled over into exegesis proper.

Modern biblical scholarship, too, has its strengths and weaknesses. Its focus is analytical, examining origins, sources, compositional stages, and the like. Its strengths are legion but two in particular stand out in contrast with mediaeval exegesis: the far greater knowledge of biblical languages and of ancient history and archaeology. Yet it has its weaknesses as well: a tendency to present theoretical constructions (or reconstructions) as proven fact, a kind of triumphalism about the progress of modern knowledge and its superiority to past accomplishments, and the bitter divisions between theoretical and confessional camps, which are at root conflicts over exegesis and exegetical method.

Just as the weaknesses of mediaeval exegesis can be corrected by the admixture of the best of modern exegesis, so perhaps mediaeval exegesis can support some of the weaknesses of exegesis in our own times. The study of mediaeval exege sis, despite all its flaws, once allowed to grow beyond a purely historical (or worse, antiquarian) interest, has the potential to become a valuable tool for gaining fresh perspective. Because his Commentary offers so clear a picture of both the strengtha and weaknesses of mediaeval exegesis, whether of John or of some other book, I chose to present Rupert as an example rather than attempt an over-view of mediaeval exegesis in the abstract. He was, however, not very influential on the later course of mediaeval exegesis. Although his work became a centre of controversy at the time of the protestant reformation, his scriptural writings circulated only within a limited area before they were printed in the sixteenth century. He does not seem to have been used as a source by the compilers of the Glossa Ordinaria, for obvious reasons. But he is a valuable example for two reasons: he is representative of the largest body of mediaeval readers of the Bible, traditional Benedictine monks, and his work, standing as it does at a period of change and conflict in mediaeval theology, offers a paradigm of fidelity to tradition and faith without critical compromise.

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