From Erasmus to Migne

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Erasmus already displayed some of the instincts we see again in the nineteenth century. He recognized the importance of establishing reliable texts of the Fathers. In the early 1500s he was exploring the works of Origen, conscious that Origen had been branded a heretic, but drawn to a number of his ideas. He tells John Colet in a letter (181) of 1504, that he has read a good part of Origen's works and he believes that he has profited. His interest lay not only in the Greek Fathers, to which his own increasing command of Greek was giving him access, but in the Latins who had long been routinely available. Editorial work on Jerome (1516), Cyprian (1520), Arnobius (1522), Hilary (1523), Irenaeus (1526), Ambrose

(1537), eleven volumes on Augustine, and after he moved to Freiburg, on Lactantius (1529), Chrysostom (1530), and Basil (1532), brought him back to Origen shortly before he died.

Quotations from the Fathers by Luther and Calvin make it clear that respect for the Fathers did not die away altogether in sixteenth-century reforming circles with the call to sola scriptura. Calvin cites Augustine 204 times in the Institutes, Gregory the Great and Ambrose more than 20 times each and Chrysostom 36 times. At the Council of Trent both sides marshaled Augustine and other Fathers in argument.

There is a still-useful body of editions of patristic texts and discussion of their place in the Christian scheme of things, deriving from the work of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century and later scholars. Francisco Torres, one of the "Fathers" of the Council of Trent, took an interest in the patristic fontes. Jacques Sirmond (1559-1651) was the Jesuit editor of a range of patristic texts. These supplemented and improved the early printed books, which had included printings of a number of patristic texts.

The Maurists, the Benedictine monks of St Maur, were, from the 1670s, engaged upon the production of texts. J. Mabillon (1632-1707) brought the study of paleography into the edition of texts. D. de Montfaucon (1655-1741) produced editions of Athanasius, Chrysostom, and some of Origen. L. d'Achery and F. Aubert are other notable names in this endeavor. English scholars of the seventeenth century who took an interest in the Greek Fathers include Henry Savile (who edited Chrysostom), Lancelot Andrews, John Cosin, Patrick Young, James Ussher, Richard Montague, William Laud, and even two Puritan chaplains to Oliver Cromwell, Peter Sterry and Jeremiah White. The group known as the "Cambridge Platonists" included Benjamin Whichcote, Henry More, Ralph Cudworth, and John Smith. They returned to the confidence that as rational creatures, human beings could enjoy the vision of God by an exercise in the "purification" of their reason.

In the nineteenth century, J. P. Migne, a priest turned Paris publisher, produced the Patrologia Latina series (1844-55) and the Patrologia Graeca (1857-66). The first series went up to the early thirteenth century (the pontificate of Innocent III); the second to the fifteenth century, with a Latin translation alongside the Greek text. Migne's Patrologia preserved some texts (e.g. those of the Maurists) which were lost in the French Revolution. He left scholars in patristic and medieval Greek and Latin studies lastingly in his debt. The texts were extremely varied in standard; some were reprints of the Maurist editions, or of early printed editions. Migne did not hesitate to reprint some existing editions without critical revision. The indexing was uncertain. Few texts were reliable editorially and there was much misattribution. But the texts were there, conveniently assembled and available in most academic libraries, the essential foundation for worldwide patristic studies which had hitherto been lacking because of the limited availability of the early printed texts.

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