The Bible, the Waldensians and Olivetano

By Giorgio Tourn , Riforma-

The history of the Bible’s translation by Olivetano and funded by the Waldensians in 1535. A book that,
even today, deserves special attention.

The so called ‘Olivetan Bible,’ published as a valuable work in Neuchätel in 1535, is the first complete translation of the Bible into French, born in a reformed environment. Ordered by Guglielmo Farel and fundded by the Waldensians, who had just been incorporated to the Reform, the work was the responsibility of humanist and pedagogue Pierre Robert Olivétan, a distinguished figure in evangelic groups. He fulfilled the need to translate and publish biblical texts for other believers to reach them and read them. But the critical system of notes and indexes, including an important essay from Juan Calvino, along with the translation also make it a fundamental document of the first protestant theology in French. It is important to mention that it was published a year after Luthero had completed, in 1534, his translation of
the Bible into German. Pastor Giorgio Tourn is the autor of ‘The Olivetan Bible.’ Below there is an article from Pastor Tourn published in this week’s edition of Riforma, spanish translated by Claudia Florentin, ALC News.

The translation of the Bible into the vernacular language and its printing, which defines the Reform, did not just mean the creation of evangelic churches and European languages, but a different Reading of the Bible itself. Used so far exclusively in the ecclesiastical environment, a traditional document, made into a book, becomes a part of the modern culture as a creative proposal. In this cultural review, the Wladensians were protagonists in 1535 when they funded Olivetano’s text, whose characters deserve special attention.
If at a given time bibles were printed at universities, the Bible sees the light in a town of Giura, outside modern Europe, but located in ancient Lotaringia, the territory that goes from Flandes to Geneva, alongside the Rin, it inherits its tradition from modernity, not only that, but it is also permanently in the heart of tomorrow’s Europe. Here, in fact, the power cities, Paris, London, oppose the culture cities, Strasbourg, Basel. Our Bible was born in this part of the city, where the ruling class, aware of its choices, looks forward. However, as opposed to what happens in other locations, London, Zurich, Wittenberg, where the ruling classes were in charge of the work, in our case the management was abnormal in every aspect.

The publishing place is abnormal, just as the men who produced the work: youngsters who escaped the kingdom of France and a handful of Waldensian heretics prohibited by the European society for centuries, both situations as a result of religious disagreement and not the expression of power. They intended to take part in the religious revolution of their country and they do so with the printing of the fundamental book of faith.

The printer, after having repeatedly taken the risk of being judged, and having failed to settle in Geneva, bothered by the religious conflict, he settled safely in Giura. The intellectuals coming with him are malcontents looking for fortune. Leading this assorted group there is a young intellectual, Pierre Robert, known as Olivetano due to his sympathy. He had graduated from the top French universities, in line with the new theology, he convinced his cousin Calvino, who was also a refugee in Basel. This group of intellectuals intended to publish a Bible in French, the language of their own country, to cconduct them to the Gospel.

Lead by penniless refugees, lacking political support and perspectives, the work, absurd and condemned to fail, is completed thanks to the intervention of people like them, out of any civil context: the poor from Lyon, the Waldensians. Prohibited for centuries located at the time in the marginal parts of Latin Europe, they gather the amount needed to complete the work; historians just register the event, but how they managed to obtain the money is still hard to understand.

Olivetano stays for months at a country house in the Waldensian valleys of Piedmont translating the parts of the Old Testament he likes the most and correcting the remaining books with the tools he has acquired: few but of exceptional quality. The reformed theologists, who did the same work in Zurich, being able to use a library, and having a house and a salary, are far from this crazy man who, just enlighted by a candle, in a country house, works in the translation of the biblical profets’ word and makes it live for its readers.

The work, beyond any logic and prediction, succeded and the Waldensians in their assembly in Chanforan read his Bible.

Equally fascinating is the structure of this Bible, just as its characters and context. The translation of the Biblical text has a very articulated system of critial tools for its understanding. Mainly, texts that frame the general message of the Scripture, theological topics indexes, which are fundamental, and the translation is accompaigned by notes which mention other biblical texts with the same reasoning or mentioning the same character, and, dealing with a topic, Olivetan often cites, transcribing the handwriting of theological terms in the original language. This critical system is more abundant in the books of the Old Testament and more sintetic in the New Testament.

Who is this work targeted to? To the preacher in the new communities more than to the individual evangelic believer; since it is voluminous, it will not be sold for a long time, which will help its survival until today.

Original piece

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