Academy of the inscriptions and the humanities: Reports of the meetings of the year 1920, pp.380-386

A NEW MANUSCRIPT OF TERTULLIAN, BY DOM WILMART, BENEDICTINE OF FARNBOROUGH (ENGLAND).


The discovery of a forgotten manuscript, containing works of Tertullian, is an unforeseen adventure, that neither the work of philology undertaken for about fifty years, nor the state of our libraries and their catalogues would have made probable in advance. It was known that the text tradition of the writings of Tertullian has been extremely reduced, impoverished even, since the 16th century; nobody was astonished by this, nor did anyone think that it could not still improve, if only by a more judicious use of the already known resources. The manuscript that a chance made me open, moreover, is described very exactly and very completely - in minute detail - in the inventory of the Library of Troyes printed in 18551. The writer, A. Harmand, enumerate the titles and reproduces the beginning of the five treatises of Tertullian which form part of the collection; it only omits, in consequence of I know not what distraction, to mention the name of the African author. It is this lapse of memory, without any doubt which allowed manuscript 523 of the town of Troyes to remain unknown; it is important to repair this lapse, and to better make known this invaluable volume, while indicating the benefit that we can draw from it.

It has been claimed in Germany that the conservation of the works of the great polemicist constituted "a historical enigma2". Of how many known writers both sacred and profane could the same thing not be said, if this judgement were completely in conformity with the nature of the facts? In the majority of the cases where a literary work survived only by rare manuscripts, it is enough to notice that we owe it to an exceptional chance, and consequently more or less inexplicable; there is no other " enigma ", generally. It is true that Tertullian, read still greedily in the Latin world in the 4th century, passed to the background, which was fatal, starting from the 5th century; replaced by "authorities" both more modern and more reliable3; and it is also a fact that, leaving aside the Apologeticum which was much copied, the manuscript tradition of his treatises is extremely weak. Nevertheless, we would be rather well provided, if we still had the various manuscripts known to the Middle Ages4; to say no more, we could read the text of a half-dozen of opuscules whose name alone remains5.

The history of our Corpus Tertullianeum, as patient scholars have succeeded in fixing features of them6, is easier to summarize. Three treatises are now represented only by editions of the 16th century, that of Gaigny or Mesnart (Paris, 1545) and that of Pamélius (Antwerp, 1579); these are De baptismo, De pudicitia and De ieiunio. It is necessary to suppose behind this group three collections, more or less wide in scope. The 29 other treatises reached us by two lines of manuscripts, independent of each other. The first is reduced, actually, to only the Agobardinus, a quite invaluable volume in spite of the losses which it underwent, composed for the Church of Lyon at the time of the famous Archbishop Agobard (d. 840) and numbered nowadays Latin No 1662 in the collection of our national library. This manuscript which included in the beginning twenty-one treatises only contains now twelve of them, with the beginning of De carne Christi (chap. I-X); and on these twelve treatises, seven are entirely unique to it7; for the five others, as for the preserved portion of De carne Christi, there is the control of the parallel witnesses, but it is an imperfect control in all the cases, except that of De carne Christi8. These manuscripts of the other line, which together or alone give us the text of the last sixteen treatises and the principal part of De carne Christi, form a large and at first sight imposing family. Thanks to the search of Mr. Kroymann, it appears that the nineteen units which make it up derive in the last analysis from a single manuscript probably copied at Cluny in the10th century, and whose aspect remains undecided enough through all these incomplete or degenerate reproductions. Two sister manuscripts, written in the 11th century, one from the old library of Pierre Pithou (today at the University of Montpellier, no 54), the other of Payerne (today at Schlestadt, no 88), give a certain text, often supported by a related tradition of 15th century, for the continuation of De carne Christi and four other treatises9. For all the remainder, we have either the one of the twins of 11th century10, always joined by the manuscripts of the 15th century, or only of this recent series whose various members line up behind two ancestors (VI, 9 and VI, 10 of Magliabechiana, in Florence); in fact, there are eight treatises which have no better guarantors than the Italian derivatives11.

In view of these figures, this allows us to measure the immediate advantages which the contents of the manuscript of Troyes supply to textual criticism. Five opuscules, insufficiently documented, receive an unexpected support, which is also variable for each one of them. I enumerate them in the order according to which the new witness presents them, and I note successively the precise detail of the old tradition:

1. (fol. 124 back). Adversus Iudaeos :
Manuscripts of Schlestadt and Florence; independent manuscript of Fulda.

2. (fol. 142 back). De carne Christi :
Chap. I-X(pt. 1): Manuscripts of Paris (Agobardinus), Montpellier, Schlestadt, Florence; - chap. X(pt. 2)-XXV: the same, except the manuscript of Paris.

3. (fol. 157 recto). "De resurrectione mortuorum" (i.e., under a special title, De carnis resurrectione):
Manuscripts of Montpellier, Schlestadt and Florence (employed recently by Mr. Kroymann for the critical edition of Vienna).

4. (fol. 194 recto). De baptismo12:
No manuscript; only the Parisian edition of 1545, reprinted again by G Wissowa.

5. (fol.200 back). De paenententia :
Only manuscripts of Florence.

In the case of the last two treatises, the profit is obvious, since we lacked any manuscript or had only late manuscripts to consult. But the interest is not less considerable of now being able to discuss, particularly in connection with the three other treatises, a specious theory of Mr. Kroymann.

On the basis of the idea that the work of Tertullian was only saved for the posterity by a miracle at the end of antiquity, and then observing that the Cluny tradition represented a methodical classification of the various treatises and that it was characterized at the same time by a significant number of variants of all types; the scientist editor believed he had discovered that the manuscript of Agobard was the only one worthy of trust and represented the mainstream heritage of the Fathers; the group controlled by the manuscripts of Montpellier and Schlestadt would only be, on the contrary, the product of an arbitrary revision made in France in the Carolignian era. The first chapters of De carne Christi, which are the only place of meeting of all the witnesses, were screened to demonstrate the triumph of this dualistic system. But here we have precisely an unexpected third witness, able, if not to reconcile the enemy brothers, at least to show whether their disagreement is as real as it is claimed. A first comparison of the alternative readings made me naturally note that there are simply varied discordances, explicable by a multiform tradition. The Cluny redaction can be often faulty, although sometimes the manuscript of Troyes supports it; but this cannot be taken for granted. The new document also swarms with the faults which have accumulated from generations of negligent copyists; it is the common fate of the majority of the manuscripts which have a long past; and such are, each to its cost, the manuscript of Agobard and the ancestor of the Cluny group: more or less inaccurate witnesses, but without malicious intent.

The only error of Mr. Kroymann is thus to have sought to simplify a complex tradition. The manuscript of Troyes recalls us to the fact that the literary facts are usually of a richness which cannot be appreciated in an adequate way. It was written only in 12th century, having been copied in Clairvaux, as a final note indicates13, and probably at the time of St. Bernard14. If one trusted appearances, one would be tempted to estimate it little. However, fortunately for us, it still has the undeniable mark of the antiquity which distinguished its first prototype. It is not only that the context is excellent, giving on the one hand (fol. 1 to 124, verso) seventeen sermons of Eusebius of Emesa (d. ca. 359), translated from Greek and almost all unedited, and in addition (fol. 200 v to fol. 2l0v) the curious opuscule of a certain Pontius Maximus which allow us to assess well the origin of festival of Christmas in the Roman Empire in the 4th century. But we still find, throughout the volume, a succession of subscriptions which certify the resemblance of the medieval copy to the primitive collection. One reads, in particular, after the title of De carne Christi :

Nicasi vivas in nostro Christo domino amen.

Two other notes mention in the same way this Nicasius, recipient of the collection (fol. 77 recto and 89 back). Nicasius is a frequent cognomen in Africa and Gaul of 4th to 6th centuries, rare in Italy; there is thus a serious presumption that this collection of work of Eusebius of Emesa, of Tertullian and of Pontius Maximus was made for a African or a Gaul rather than for an Italian; but this by no means excludes Italy as place of origin. In any case, the manuscript of Troyes supplies to us his model, i.e. a specimen of Christian antiquity.

It remains to make a remark about it, in the absence of the complete study which it deserves. The examination of its characteristic variants shows immediately that Martin Mesnart, the Parisian editor of 1545, listed many times, in margin of his text of Tertullian, the identical readings. This humanist thus had in his hands either this same manuscript, or a similar manuscript. This last assumption, indeed, is not excluded, given the mode of propagation of the books in the order of Citeaux; from Champagne and Burgundy, to the islands of Brittany or the areas of the Danube, copies were put in circulation as quickly as the monastic foundations multiplied.


1. p.380 n.1 general Catalogue of the public manuscripts of library of departments, series in-quarto, vol. II, p. 228.

2. p.381 n.1. cf. A. Harnack, Tertullian in der Literatur der alten Kirche, in Sitzungsberichte of the Academy of Science of Berlin, 1895, p. 561.

3. p.381 n.2. The majority of the details concerning the reputation of Tertullian and the fortune of his writings in the Occident until the 7th century were assembled by Mr. Harnack in the quoted essay, p. 545 ff.; this corrects and supplements that of Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur of the same author, vol. I 1893, p. 667 ff., 679 ff. [also due to Mr. E Preuschen).

4. p.381 n.3. In particular in Bobbio, Cluny, Corbie, Gorze, Hirschau, Lorsch, Malmesbury, to give the precise references.

5. p.381 n.4. De munere, in a collection of Corbie, totally lost (cf G Becker, Catalogi bibliothecarum antiqui, 1885, p. 139: N 31); - De spe fidelium, paradiso, De carne et anima, De animae submissione, superstitione saeculi, in the portion disappeared from the Agobardinus (cf Mr. Klussmann, Curarum Tertullianearum particulae tres, 1889, I, p. 12 ff).

6. p.381 n.5. See especially work of E. Kroymann, in Sitzungsberichte of the Academy of Science of Vienna, vol. CXXXVIII, 1898, Abh. III (34 pp.), and vol. CXLIII, 1901, Abh. VI (39 pp.).

7. p.382 n.1. To know: Ad Nationes, Scorpiace, De testimonio animae, De spectaculis, De idololatria, De anima, De oratione. - These seven treatises and the three preceding indicated were published again by A. Reifferscheid and G Wissowa in the Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum of the Academy of Vienna: Quinti Septimi Florentis Tertulliani opera, Pars I. 1890 (vol. XX of the Corpus).

8. p.382 n.2. One finds for De carne both witnesses of the 11th century, M and P, and those of the 15th; for De praescriptione haereticorum, one may still use P; but De corona, De cultu feminarum (Book I: " De habitu muliebri "), the Ad uxorem and De exhortatione castitatis are present only in the manuscripts of the 15th century.

9. p.383 n.1. De patientia, De carnis resurrectione, Adversus Praxean, Aversus Valentinianos.

10 p.383 n.2. M provides Adversus Marcionem; P to its cost Adversus Hermogenem and Adversus Iudaeos, and also the apocryphal Adversus omnes haereses. These treatises apart from Adversus Iudaeos, and the preceding four given at the same time from M and P, were published together by E. Kroymann in the Corpus of Vienna: Quinti Septimi Florentis Tertulliani will opera, Pars III, 1906 (vol. XLVII). - Adversus Iudaeos was preserved independently in a significant manuscript of Fulda which contains the Apologeticum.

11 p.383 n.3. De fuga, Ad Scapulam, Ad martyras, De paenitentia, De virginibus velandis, De cultu feminarum (2nd book), De monogamia, De pallio. These opuscules have not been republished yet by the Academy of Vienna, other than those which are common to both families of manuscripts.

12 p.384 n.1. The manuscript offers an inversion of chapters XV-XVII and omits two last chapters (XIX-XX) as well as part of the preceding. This accident and this gapcertainly existed already in the prototype and thus give some idea of it.

13 p.385 n.1. From the same copyist hand, it would seem: Liber sce Marie de Claravalle (fol. 210 v).

14 p.385 n.2. See in Memoires of the academic Company of the Aube (Vol. LXXXI, 1917): The old library of Clairvaux. p. 38 ff.


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