Dedication image of St Bernward, from The Bernward Gospels by Unknown German artist

Unknown German artist

Dedication image of St Bernward, from The Bernward Gospels, c.1015, Illuminated manuscript, Dom-Museum Hildesheim, Germany, DS 18, fol. 16v, © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / Dom-Museum Hildesheim / Art Resource, NY

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Appointed by God’s Election

Commentary by

Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way. (1 Timothy 3:2–4)

In the tenth century bishops of Hildesheim in lower Saxony were appointed by the Holy Roman Emperor. The ruling Ottonian dynasty of that time was Saxon and they elevated Hildesheim to be their home bishopric. Bishop Bernward, depicted here with the manuscript he had commissioned, was a Saxon nobleman who started his career as a chaplain at the imperial court. He was also tutor to Emperor Otto III at the age of six.

His credentials, therefore, went beyond the simple requirements of 1 Timothy 3 and extended into the sphere of privileged family connections. Bernward’s episcopate at Hildesheim in the late tenth and the early eleventh century was marked by significant acts of patronage. The Bernward Gospels—the gospel book he donated to St Michael’s Abbey, which he founded and chose for his burial site—were part of this beneficence.

The bishop had himself represented in a two-page dedication scene. We see him here presenting the gospels to the Virgin and Child, who are depicted on the facing page (not shown here). He is wearing sumptuous liturgical vestments and is standing in a church, next to an altar with the eucharistic bread and chalice set upon it. This is liturgical portraiture at its best: Bernward’s sacramental authority is acknowledged by Christ and his mother.

In the dedicatory inscription framing the page on which he is depicted, the bishop refers to himself as ‘only scarcely worthy of this name, and of the adornment of such great episcopal vestment’. In a similar self-definition from a different source, Bernward had stated he was ‘appointed bishop by God’s election and not of [his] own merit’.

Such non-individualistic views are related to theological interpretations of 1 Timothy 3:6 by Augustine, Jerome, and John Chrysostom, warning against pride. They focused their attention on the admonition that while the office of bishop is a noble task, those who aspire to it should not be ‘puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil’.

 

References

Gorday, Peter J. (ed.). 2000. Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, 9 (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press)

Kingsley, Jennifer P. 2014. The Bernward Gospels: Art, Memory, and the Episcopate in Medieval Germany (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press)