This massively impressive collection is known after the ancient Latin name, Complutum, of the town and university of Alcalá de Henares, where it was produced under the direction of, and with funding from, the Spanish cardinal, Francisco Ximenes de Cisneros (1436–1517), archbishop of Toledo and primate of Spain (1495). Its publication, based on the best contemporary scholarship, was intended to reform and revive the Christian church, as Ximenes makes clear in his prologue (addressed to Pope Leo X), which reflects on the importance of both the original language of Scripture and the original text of Scripture:
There are many reasons, Holy Father, that impel us to print the languages of the original text of Holy Scripture. These are the principal ones. Words have their own unique character, and no translation of them, however complete, can entirely express their full meaning. This is especially the case in that language through which the Lord Himself spoke. The letter here of itself may be dead and like flesh which profits nought (‘for it is the spirit that gives life’ [2 Cor. 3:6]) because Christ concealed by the form of the words remains enclosed within its womb. But there is no doubt that there is a rich fecundity so astonishing and an abundance of sacred mysteries so teeming that since it is ever full to overflowing ‘streams of living water shall flow out from His breast’ [John 7:38]. And from this source those to whom it has been given ‘to behold the glory of the Lord with an unveiled face and thus be transformed into that very image’ [2 Cor. 3:18] can continually draw the marvellous secrets of His divinity. Indeed there can be no language or combination of letters from which the most hidden meanings of heavenly wisdom do not emerge and burgeon forth, as it were. Since, however, the most learned translator can present only a part of this, the full Scripture in translation inevitably remains up to the present time laden with a variety of sublime truths which cannot be understood form any source other than the original language.
Moreover, wherever there is diversity in the Latin manuscripts or the suspicion of a corrupted reading (we know how frequently this occurs because of the ignorance and negligence of copyists), it is necessary to go back to the original source of Scripture, as St. Jerome and St. Augustine and other ecclesiastical writers advise us to do, to examine the authenticity of the books of the Old Testament in the light of the correctness of the Hebrew text and of the New Testament in the light of the Greek copies. And so that every student of Holy Scripture might have at hand the original texts themselves and be able to quench his thirst at the very fountainhead of the water that flows unto life everlasting and not have to content himself with rivulets alone, we ordered the original languages of Holy Scripture with their translations adjoined to be printed an dedicated to your Holiness. And we first took care to print the New Testament in Greek and Latin together with a lexicon of all the Greek expressions that can help those reading that language. Thus we spared no effort on behalf of those who have not acquired a full knowledge of the Greek tongue.
There is no critical apparatus and only five marginal notes, these relate to readings at Matt 6.13; 1 Cor 13.3; 15.31; 15.51; 1 John 5.7f (we shall return to these in more detail in a few moments). Little information is offered as regards the textual basis of the Complutensian edition, although the editors claim to have used ‘very ancient and correct’ manuscripts (antiquissima emendatissimaque) supplied from the Vatican library by Pope Leo X:
Ordinary copies were not the archetypes for this impression, but very ancient and correct ones; and of such antiquity, that it would be utterly wrong not to own their authority; which the supreme pontiff Leo X., our most holy father in Christ and lord, desiring to favour this undertaking, sent from the apostolical library to the most reverend lord the cardinal of Spain, by whose authority and commandment we have this work printed.
Here is an image of a page of the Greek New Testament:
- J.P.R. Lyell, Cardinal Ximenes: Statesman, Ecclesiastic, Soldier, and Man of Letters, with an Account of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible (London: Crafton & Co., 1917)
- F.J. Norton, A Descriptive Catalogue of Printing in Spain and Portugal 1501 – 1520 (Cambridge: CUP, 1978), 11-15.
- J.C. Olin, Catholic Reform: From Cardinal Ximenes to the Council of Trent 1495-1563 (new York: Fordham UP, 1990), esp. 61-64 for ET of Ximenes’ dedicatory prologue cited above.
- E. Rummel, Jiménez de Cisneros: On the Threshold of Spain’s Golden Age (MRTS 212; Tempe, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999).