Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Ezekiel Culverwell's abbreviated Bible

Ezekiel Culverwell! How could he not have been what he was, a pillar of godliness (as the ODNB joint life of members of the Culverwell family calls him)? Their lives read together like a godly version of Wolf Hall, religious radicals who achieved, via the founder of the family success, Ezekiel's father Nicholas, great wealth, which they deployed to organise, disseminate, foster their beliefs and community.

The long-lived Ezekiel, son of this purposeful father, strikes me as carrying a businesslike outlook into his religious writings. Capable, diligent, he can achieve something that probably makes him unique in his age: being succinct about faith and the bible. Yes, his Treatise of faith concerning Perseverance runs to a more normal 527 pages (followed by a methodical authorial index of the principal contents), but his popular Way to a Blessed Estate in this Life runs to 17 short pages

I was first struck by his A ready way to remember the Scriptures. Or, A table of the Old and New Testament. By that late able, painfull, and worthy man of God, Ezekiel Culuervvell, minister of the Word, 1637. This was printed, as it says, after his death in the same year as John Donne, 1631, but there was clearly an earlier edition, for the introduction comes from Culverwell's pen, explaining what he had set out to do, how well it had worked for him, how the aide-memoire came to the press, what it can be used for, and what it will ensure. Look at his stress on 'chief' matters, principal matters:

"Having many years ago gathered and made this brief Collection of all the principal matters contained in the New Testament, whereby I may say (I lost not my labour) for I found it by good Experience no small help unto me; for by it I could easily find any principal matter; Now although the chief use thereof be for Divines and young Students, yet upon the desire of many good Christians, which have found the like fruit and benefit, I was willing to publish the same and make it more common; unto whom I wish, that reading over the New Testament, they diligently observe the contents and chief matter contained in every Chapter and Verse, and often repeat them over, and every day to go through some Chapter or other; and the better to keep the Contents in memory, to say over daily that which is past; whereby I have good proof, that by this means, in short time one may readily tell what are the Contents of any Chapter, and where any special matter is written, (which I conceive may be a good Exercise for the training up of Children of ten years old and upward) for by reading over these Contents, a man well exercised in the Scriptures, may in one hour see the principal matters in the whole New Testament: One special use thereof will be this to fill the Head, and so the Heart, with much heavenly matter, which is the best way to keep out idle thoughts. And therefore now having my hearts desire in what I did expect, I have thought good to publish the like on the Old Testament." 

Culverwell created a vade mecum to both Testaments, first to the New, then to the Old.

Above, he sets about Genesis. Recall, this isn't intended as a summary, but rather an orientation to the Bible's full contents, partly a guide by topic, partly by memorable events or words, so Genesis chapter 3 boils down to "3 Fall, 6. Punishment, 16. Cursed, 17. Thrust out of Paradise, Vers. 23."

Here, below, a double page spread from his reduction of The Book of Job:

There's no nonsense about it: here's some of the prohibitions in Leviticus, with Culverwell not mincing his words:

There's occasionally an aspect of a found poem, as when Ecclesiastes 10 is given as: "Dead flyes, 1. Folly in Ruler, 5. Speech, 12. King a childe, 16. Curse not the King"

Just how effective he is can be grasped from a double spread from his first completed section. this is from the Acts of the Apostles. We see him reduce Chapter 12 to "Herod, 1. James, 2. Peter, 3. Iron gate, 10. Rhode, 13. Herods oration, 21. Wormes, 23. Sauls returne, Vers. 25."

The 'Iron gate' is indeed the thing anyone would remember as the angel helps Peter escape from Herod's prison: "When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him", while verses 21 through to 23 read in full:
And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.22 And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. 23 And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.

Not that our 'painful and worthy man of God' was a corner-cutter. This was an aid to your Bible knowledge, to help you get to the chapter you wanted to consult, it saved time for the serious business. And the serious business was indeed just that. In his characteristically titled

Time well spent in sacred meditations. Divine observations. Heavenly exhortations Serving to confirme the penitent. Informe the ignorant. And, cherish the true-hearted Christian. By that late able, painfull, and worthy man of God, Mr. Ezechiel Culverwel minister of the Word. (1634), Culverwell sets out a working day for a true, believing student of the Bible:

This course have I by experience found profitable, and resolved upon, namely to be diligent in reading the holy Scriptures, and of them at the least every day four chap|ters; in like manner (for the increase of my knowledge) to spend three hours in the forenoon in searching out the sense of the hardest places, as two in the afternoon in the searching out the proprieties of the tongues, and other two in perusing the tracts and commentaries of learned men; one in meditation and prayer; what time remaineth to spend the fame in brotherly conference."

I'm rather charmed that anyone dared abbreviate the Bible, even as preparation for complete mastery of the holy text. Generally, their commentary and extrapolation piles up, like Hamlet's Ossa on Pelion.

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