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Master Theodoric, St. Matthew Receiving the Word of God (1381).

I was going through an old book of mine yesterday:

"This summary by Derrida points to the inevitability of the "idea of the
Book" in the middle ages as soon as a signifying system — words in
Scripture, things in nature — became a metaphor for the divinity: the
entire preexistent "totality" of God's plan was potential in the signifying
means. Although Augustine began with a distinction between writing and
the celestial Book, medieval reflections on the boundary line between
them seem fascinated by the presence of one in the other. Master Theodoric,
many centuries following Augustine, illustrates this fascination vividly in
his painting of Matthew receiving the Divine Logos as a physical text; and
Dante obviously meditated long and hard on this paradigm of writing, since
he opened La Vita Nuova with the phrase "in that part of the book of my
memory" and ended the Commedia with a vision of the cosmos as a magnificent
volume whose "leaves are bound by love." The cosmic Book was the ideal
sine qua non of medieval architects, who imagined that they were copying
it as a vast encyclopedia in stone when they designed cathedrals across
Europe and Britain from the eleventh century to the fourteenth. Like the
relics of a saint in a cathedral, letters themselves were intrinsically sacred
to St. Francis of Assisi, who is said to have collected every shred of parchment
that he found during his travels because "litterae sunt quibus componitur
gloriosissimum domini Dei nomen" ("letters are the things from which the
most glorious name of God is composed").

[Jesse M. Gellrich, The Idea of the Book in the Middle Ages; 1985]


Guido Reni, St. Matthew and the Angel (1640).[/I]

And to that I will add that the idea of the cosmic Book did not disappear
after the middle ages; in the Deism of the Enlightenment, which is still
at least in part with us today, the Book reflected the universal creation
of the Deity — thus launching a new wave of Encyclopedists. The cosmic
Book became synonymous with the Book of Nature. And from that the fields
of modern history, geology, biology, chemistry and physics, and especially
astronomy became what one might call a continued "reading of the book."

As Albert Einstein once said, "I want to know how God thinks; the rest is
a detail."

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