Medieval Patristic Collections

One way of knowing when an author has "arrived" at patristic status in medieval eyes is to see what company he keeps in collections of extracts. Conversely, a development which strongly encouraged later writers to look for "authority" in the writings of their predecessors was the habit of extracting from the texts short portions which could be quoted to support a particular viewpoint. Collections of such useful extracts were commonplace in the Carolingian period and beyond. The methodology remained in use throughout the Middle Ages. It kept a range of authors in play. But it unavoidably led to the breaking up into small pieces of what may have been an extended argument in the original.

Earlier Greek Christian and Byzantine catenae survive from the fifth century, many of which were published in the late nineteenth to twentieth centuries. Examples are: Procopius of Gaza (c.475 to c.538) on Ecclesiastes, containing excerpts from Origen, Gregory Thaumaturgos, Dionysius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Didymus Alexan-drinus, Evagrius, Nilus, and others (Corpus Christianorum Series Graeca [hereafter CCSG] 4), the Collectio Coisliniana (CCSG 15), and the Catena Siniatica on Genesis and Exodus (CCSG 2).

It was in about 700 that "patristic texts" began to be seen in canonical collections in the West, for example, in the Collectio Hibernensis. The Libri Carolini is a useful example of a collaborative enterprise. The Second Nicene Council of 787 had restored the Byzantine East to an iconophile position. This change, and with it the apparent ending of the iconoclastic controversy, was welcomed by Pope Hadrian. A copy of the proceedings of the Council (in Latin) came to the court of Charlemagne. The Emperor was unaware of the Papal approval of what had been agreed, and he set about having a rejoinder drawn up, on the assumption that the East was still in the wrong. This exercise of "amassing headings against the synod," capitulare adversus synodum, was formally orchestrated by Theodulph, still in ignorance of papal approval, as a critique of the Council. Politically misconceived though it turned out the enterprise was, it had the value of causing Carolingian scholars to think out their position on the use of authorities. The Libri Carolini make the point that the Holy Spirit is not now given in the measure in which he was given in apostolic times: secundum apostolicae mensurae gratiam (IV.20).

The ninth-century Sedulius Scottus's Collectaneum miscellaneum is a collection of excerpts of biblical, patristic, classical materials, including ready-made florilegia, which it has been suggested were copied out perhaps as an aide-memoire rather than as a teaching aid. He speaks with respect of the "wisdom of the Greeks," as "like multicoloured precious stones," which he has brought together with care and effort (Sedulius Scottus

1988:3). Burchard of Worms has a significant proportion of patristic texts (247 out of 1,785). Ivo of Chartres speaks of orthodoxi patres (Patrologia Latina 161.47), including popes, councils and scriptores ecclesiastici. Gratian includes a good deal of patristic material (on the authority perhaps of Gelasius's list De libris legendis et reiiciendis). So our writers are often used in extracted form with no expectation that the user will go back and read the whole book.

This system of collecting extracts largely provided the materials for the Glossa ordinaria, the standard commentary on the Bible, which was brought finally into being in the twelfth century, on the basis of work stretching back several centuries. For certain books of the Bible a single patristic commentator tended to be dominant. For example, Gregory the Great is naturally very important on the book of Job, because of his much-read Moralia. The seventh-century Irish monk Lathchen abbreviated Gregory's thoughts on Job in his Egloga and that formed a "work" in its own right, but one with a different purpose (Lathchen 1969:145).

The same habit of working from collections of extracts underlies the Sentences (sen-tentiae, or opinions) of Peter Lombard, which became the standard theological textbook from the thirteenth century. It prompted Thomas Aquinas as late as the thirteenth century to put together a "Catena Aurea," a "golden chain" of quotations on the Gospels.

The monastic custody of the early Christian literary tradition was a very different affair in East and West. To the Benedictines of the West we owe the survival of many copies of ancient secular and Christian texts which might otherwise have been lost; their attitude was one of stewardship. In the East, 'Athonite monasticism . . . has nothing to do with human culture and learning, and it consequently takes no part in education. . . . Vana curiositas? Study would only involve fierce struggles with Satan and the possibility of losing [one's] faith" (Amand de Mendieta 1961:25). Nevertheless, manuscript collections did survive unread. Indeed, it has been suggested that there are still to be found, in the collections of manuscripts on Mount Athos which have survived the depredations of centuries during which many have been removed or destroyed, "unknown or almost unknown theological treatises, homilies, exegetical commentaries or ascetic works of the Greek Fathers and other ecclesiastical writers" (Amand de Mendieta 1961:35).

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