Gavril Stefanović Venclović
|Gavrilo Stefanović Venclović|
|Occupation||Writer, poet, philosopher, theologian|
Gavrilo Stefanović Venclović (Serbian Cyrillic: Гаврилo Стефановић Венцловић ; fl. 1670–1749) was a Serbian priest, writer, poet, orator, philosopher, and illuminator. He was one of the first and most notable representatives of Serbian Baroque literature (although he worked in the first half of 18th century, as Baroque trends in Serbian literature emerged in the late 17th century). But Venclović's most unforgettable service to his nation was his initial contribution as a scholar to the development of the vernacular – what was to become, a century later, the Serbian literary language.
Venclović was born in Srem province, then part of the Hungarian kingdom, now Serbia. There is little information about his childhood because of the turbulent times. A refugee from the Turkish army, he adopts the town of Sentandrea as his home. There he became a disciple of Kiprijan Račanin, who started a school for young monks, similar to the one in the municipality of Rača, near the river Drina, in Serbia. Later, as a parish priest serving the Military Frontier communities in Hungary, Venclović advises his peers to use the people's idiom and abandon the Slavonic-Serbian language (славяносербскій / slavjanoserbskij or словенскій slovenskij; Serbian: славеносрпски / slavenosrpski), a form of the Serbian language which was used by an educated merchant class under heavy influence of the Church Slavonic and Russian languages of that time.
The first Rača School in Srem was in the Monastery of St. Lucas. Venclović, through learning and talent, acquired special skills as a poet and icon painter. Also, he wrote and collected songs, and wrote Hagiography of Serbian saints. We know from archival records that Venclović attended a theological seminary from 1711 to 1715 and then went to Győr, a city in northwest Hungary, where he become a parish priest at the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas. In 1739, during religious persecutions, he came as a renowned speaker (slavni propovednik) to live among the Serbian Šajkaši in Komárom. He spoke his views frankly, but he disliked polemic; he found also more toleration than might have been expected. In 1735, according to his writings, he gives us a clue that he was then already old (v starosti). In politics he played a considerable part. Preaching to the Orthodox Šajkaši and the Slavonian Military Frontier troops in 1746 and encouraged by the very anti-Turkish inclinations that underlined his loyalty to the Habsburg monarch, he demanded loyalty to the ruling family, and total respect for the military code (as inseparable from dynastic patriotism). In this context Venclović appealed to the Šajkaši and soldiers alike to be devoted to the emperor, to refrain from abusing the weak, stealing, and betraying their comrades and fellow-men-at-arms. From 1747 we lose all trace of Venclović.
We know his scholarship was both brilliant and extensive; his sound sense and his singularly pure and devoted character gave him a great influence. He was remarkably free from the pedantry of the time, as is shown by his views about the use of the Serbian vernacular as a vehicle of culture. As a theologian his natural affinities were with the Russians, Ukrainians, Poles and other Slavs, with whom he shared the advantage of having grown up to the view of the Age of Enlightenment, by the natural progress of his studies and religious life. Thus he never lost his sympathy with humanism and with the great Russian representatives, Lazar Baranovych and Feofan Prokopovich.
His character is difficult to evaluate, for he possessed the usual Serbian Orthodox virtues in modest form. He seldom spoke about himself, if one was to guess, such was the norm in those days. He was Kiprian Račanin's best and the most prolific student in the Rača School. Venclović was a mystic and a man of excellent ability who spoke several Slavic dialects and languages, including Russian and Polish, and translated from the two languages with ease. He showed signs of the spirit of reform, asserting that the gospels should be translated from Old Church Slavonic into the vernacular (then known as Serbian Slavonic) so that the common people might understand. A century later Đuro Daničić and Vuk Karadžić translated the old Serbian Bible of Vencleviċ into the new reformed language as we know it today.
Gavrilo Stefanović Venclović's opus is interesting and multifarious. Orations, biographies, church songs, poems, illuminations and illustrations of church books, histories of European peoples and kings, etc. He was familiar with the works of contemporary Russian and Polish theologians of his day. From Russian he translated archbishop Lazar Baranovych's Mech dukhovny (The Spiritual Sword), and from Polish he translated Istorija Barona Cezara, kardinala rimskago. The sway of Old Church Slavonic as the medieval literary language of all the Eastern Orthodox Slavs lasted many centuries. In Russia it obtained until the time of Peter the Great (1672–1725), and among the Serbs until the time of Gavrilo Stefanović Venclović. He translated the bible from Old Slavonic to Old Serbian. Thus the Old Slavonic was relegated only to liturgical purposes. From then on, theology and church oratory and administration were carried on in Slavoserbian, a mixture of Old Slavic (Old Church Slavonic) in its Russian form with a popular Serbian rendering, until Vuk Karadžić came along. He was the first reformer to shake off the remnants of this ancient speech and to institute a phonetic orthography.
- Slova izbrana
- Udvorenje arhanđela Gavrila Devici Mariji
- Sajkasi orations
- The Spiritual Sword
- Prayers Against Bloody Waters
Milorad Pavić: Gavril Stefanović Venclović, 1980, Belgrade
Jovan Skerlić, Istorija Nove Srpske Književnosti / History of New Serbian Literature (Belgrade, 1914, 1921), pages 28 and 29.