Nobla Leiczon

Nobla Leiczon (i.e. Noble Lesson) is the name of what is generally regarded as one of the most important and valuable literary monuments of the Waldensians (q.v.). Some critics pronounce it as their most ancient writing, and date it of the 11th century. This general opinion that the origin of the work must be placed in the 11th century had been at first accepted by Herzog, but in more recent times he abandoned this position, and assigned it to a more modern date. This change of opinion has been earnestly and ably questioned by Ebrard, who, in an article in the Zeitschr. fur hist. Theo. in 1865, sums up the history of the controversy. We reproduce his argument in the main: "Till lately the Nobla Leiczon was regarded as one of the oldest of the Waldeisian writings. Dieckhoff, indeed, sought to bring down its date, in common with the whole Waldensian literature, to the 15th century, but upon grounds which were set aside first by Herzog, and lately, in the most conclusive manner, by Zeschwitz. Gieseler assigned its composition to about the year 1200, supporting this view upon verses 6,7:

'Ben ha mil et cent aucz compli entierament Que fo scripta l'ora car sen al dernier temp.'

Herzog, also, acknowledged that these words would lead to the end of the 12th century, rendering them thus: 'Indeed, 1100 years are now passed away since the hour was written that we are in the last time,' and understanding the allusion to be to 1Jo 2:18, the date of which epistle the author must have of course distinguished from that of the birth of Christ; so that, if the verses are genuine, they lead to a date which lies fully eleven centuries later than that of 1 John." The question, however, has recently taken a new turn since the discovery, in 1862, by Mr. Bradshaw, a fellow of King's College, Cambridge, of the Waldensian MSS. which Morland in Cromwell's time collected in the valleys and brought to Cambridge, but which had. long been given up for lost. In February of that year Mr. Bradshaw fortunately discovered them in the library of the university. Now volume B of the collection is a MS. of the Nobla Leiczon of the 15th century, and it contains verses 6, 7, in common with the Geneva and German codices heretofore known, but before the word cent there is an erasure in the MS., under which the numerical 4 is still clearly discernible. This Morlantl Codex, therefore, had originally the reading, Ben ha mail et cent aucz, etc. Another volume of the Morland MSS. contains a fragment of the Nobla Leiczon, in which ver. 6 reads thus, Ben ha mil et cccc aucz compli entierament. We have thus a variation in the reading of the text, and the question arises, Which of the two readings is the genuine one? In an article on the Waldenses in his Real-Encyklopadie, Herzog thinks the question is now settled conclusively against the older date. As the Waldenses, after their adhesion to the Reformed Church in 1332, fell instinctively and for practical objects into the way of altering passages in their older writings which did not agree with the Reformed Confession, so as to bring them into conformity to it; nay more, as with Leger (in his Histoire generale des Eglises Evang. des Vallees de Piemont ou Vaudois, 1669), the practice began of ascribing fabulously old dates to the Waldensian writings, and even falsifying manuscripts with that design; so Herzog sees here an instance of a similar falsification. The reading, mil et cent aucz, is a corruption of the text, in the erasure of the Morland Codex we have the genesis of the corruption before our eyes. The reading, mail et quatre cent aucz, is undoubtedly the true one, and thus the date of the composition falls as low as the 15th century. From these reasonings and conclusions of Herzog, professor Ebrard expresses his strong dissent. He still maintains, in the face of the Morland MSS., the genuineness of the reading, mil et cent aucz. Dr. Herzog has done his best to defend his position in a reply to Ebrard, but Ebrard has come forth with an able rejoinder to the reply, and the whole question may now be held to be thoroughly sifted. For our own part, we think that Ebrard has decidedly the best of the argument. He has confuted with complete success the rash assertion that the earlier date found in some of the MSS. was a deliberate falsification; and he has been able to give a probable and satisfactory explanation of the fact that in the two Morland MSS. the later date should have taken the place of the older one. We agree with him in thinking that Dr. Herzog has surrendered his former opinion of the age of the Nobla Leiczon too soon and without sufficient reason. See Brit. and For. Ev. Rev. July, 1865, p. 654, 655; Gieseler, Eccles. Hist. 2:380; Neander, Ch. Hist. 4:616; Lea, Hist. Sacerdotal Celibacy, p. 375; Zeitschr. f. hist. Theo. 1865, 1:160; 3:65; 1864, vol. ii.

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