forgive me for not reading

I’m taking a course on theological librarianship through ATLA and University of Illinois Urbana/Champlain. I enjoyed the following snippet from a book on medieval libraries:

On the Monday after the first Sunday in Lent, before brethren come into the Chapter House, the librarian (custos librorum) shall have a carpet laid down, and all the books got together upon it, except those which the year previous had been assigned for reading. These the brethren are to bring with them, when they come into the chapter house, each his book in his hand….

Then the librarian shall read a statement as to the manner in which the brethren have had books during the past year. As each brother hears his name pronounced, he is to give back the book which had been entrusted to him for reading; and he whose conscience accuses him of not having read through the book which he had received, is to fall on his face, confess his fault, and entreat forgiveness.

The librarian shall make a fresh distribution of books, namely a different volume to each brother for his reading.

From Archbishop Lanfranc’s statute for English Benedictines, dated 1070; quoted on page 35 of Clark, J. W. Libraries in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods. The Rede Lecture, 1894. Chicago: Argonaut, Inc., 1968. (Google Books)

Imagine the difference such a practice would make in theological education today. While I know that to be competent in biblical studies or theology, one must be familiar with an array of books from multiple disciplines, imagine what it would be like to assign a single book by a master theologian to each individual student, who would then be responsible for reading the book–devouring it. I have so many books on my shelves that I have not yet even tasted, let alone devoured.

Another quote is worth noting. This one is from a letter written by Sidonius Apollinaris to Nymphidius (ca. ad 472):

It is high time for you to send the book back; if you liked it, you must have had enough of it by now; if you dislike it, more than enough. Whichever it be, you have now to clear your reputation. If you mean to delay the return of a volume for which I have to ask you, I shall think that you care more for the parchment than for the work. Farewell.

Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters. Tr. O.M. Dalton (1915) vol. 2. p. 51; Book V (

Part of this quote was printed on the overdue notices put out by the British library at some time or another (see p. 52 in John B. Trotti, “The Theological Library: In Touch With the Witnesses,” in Christian Librarianship: Essays On The Integration of Faith and Profession, Ed. Gregory A. Smith. Jefferson, N.C.: Macfarland, 2002, 48-54).

It seems that not much has changed over the years, when it comes to overdue books!

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