Pages ... Text ... Translation ... Discussion ... Text type     About Trithemius ... References

In 1492 the Abbot Trithemius was writing his catalogue of Church Writers, De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis.  Since only the Apologeticum had been printed at this date, any work he refers to must be a reference to a manuscript.   Fascinatingly he refers to De extasi.  The original edition was published by Johann Amerbach in 1494, but versions in manuscript form also exist.

This photocopy is taken from a copy printed in 1515, the year before Trithemius died.  I have seen the editio princeps also, which has the same text.  The order of the treatises is attested in no known manuscript; but the contents correspond to a member of the beta-branch (Hirsau) of the Cluny collection, which lacked the Apologeticum in all but a few late copies.


1515_page.gif (137642 bytes)

The text

This has been copied from the edition of 1515, IEHAN PETIT, in Trithemius’ lifetime. Letter at start Ex domo Carthusien. Basil.v.Calend.Septembris. Anno domini. M.CCCCXCIIII (1494), written to Amerbach by a Carthusian he consulted as to the publishable nature or otherwise of the work.

I have also compared it with the later edition of 1546 which has extra appendices, Peter Quentel (Coloniae) has prefatory matter by Trithemius from Spanheim, 1492.

Abbreviations have been expanded where possible. This is the entry for Tertullian. The 3rd column is the first few words of each treatise:

Tertullianus presbyter, patria carthaginensis africanae prouinciae, patre Centurione viro proconsulari, homo acris et vehementis ingenii, tam in diuinis qui in secularibus scripturis doctissimus, quippe qui apud carthaginem rhetoricam multis annis gloriose docuit, scripsit latino sermone pene infinita opuscula in quibus haereticorum errores fortiter contriuit. Huius scripta beatissimus martyr Cyprianus in tanta veneratione habuit, ut nullum sine eorum lectione diem preteriret. Dicere enim ad notarium suum consueuerat, Da magistrum, Tertullianum videlicet designans. Tandem in errorem Montani dilapsus dicitur propter quod eius opuscula inter apocrypha computantur.xv di.sancta romana. Et licet in aliquibus erraverit, in multis tamen bene scripsit, sicut eius volumina testantur, De quibus vidi:

De patientia dei: Librum vnum. Confiteor ad dominum deum.
Aduersus Praxeam: li.i. Varie diabolus aemur.
Contra marcionem: li.v. Si quid retro gestu est.
Contra iudeos: li.i. Proxie accedit dispu.
Contra omnes hereses: li.i. Duorum haereticorum.
De praescriptionibus haereticorum: li.i. Conditionem praesentium
Aduersus Hermogenem: li.i. Solemus haereticis co.
Contra Valentinianos: li.i. Valentiniani frequen.
De carne christi: li.i. Qui fidem resurrectionis.
De resurrectione carnis: li.i. Fiducia christianorum.
De corona militis: li.i. Proxie factu e libera.
Ad martyres: li.i. Inter carnis alimenta.
De poenitentia: li.i. Poenitentia hoc genus.
De velandis virginibus: li.i. Propriu iam negocium.
De habitu muliebri: li.i. Si tata i terra morare.
De cultu foeminarum: li.i. Ancillae dei vnui cofer.
Ad vxorem: li.ii. Dilectissima in domino.
De persecutione ad Fabium: li.i. Quaesisti pxime Fabi
Ad scapulam: li.i. Nos quide neque expa.
Exhortatorium castitatis: li.i. Non dubito frat’te post.
De monogamia: li.i. Haeretici nuptias au.
De pallio: li.i. Principes semper Afri.
De spectaculis li.i
De extasi:
De pudicitia: li.i.
De ieiuniis: li.i.
Aduersus Apolonium. li.i

Scripsit quoque & alia plura variosque tractatus, qui ad manus nostras adhuc minime venerunt, vixitque usque ad senecta & senium studiosus. Claruit Seueri imperatoris temporibus. Anno domini CC.

Note: The entry for De extasi in the 1546 edition has li.i. rather than


Tertullian the priest, from Carthage in the province of Africa, whose father was Proconsular Centurion, an acrid man and of a vehement disposition, but most learned in both divine and secular writings, and who taught rhetoric in Carthage for many years gloriously, wrote in the Latin language infinite works in which he confuted vigorously the errors of the heretics. These writings the most blessed martyr Cyprian had in so much veneration, that he allowed no day to pass without reading them. For he [had a habit] to say to his notary, "Give me the master", clearly designating Tertullian. However it is said he fell into the error of Montanus on account of which his works are reckoned among the apocrypha. [xv di.sancta romana ?] And if it is allowed that he erred in some things, in many nevertheless he wrote well, as his volumes testify, of which I have seen:


Also he wrote many and various other works, of which little has come to our hand, and he remained studious until old age and senility. He flourished in the times of the emperor Severus. AD200.


I've never come across any mention of this other than the reference in Migne's PL I in De Codicibus.   So all this is my thoughts:

The De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis is a catalogue of writers and their works, beginning with Clement of Rome. Naturally it includes a section on Tertullian, which is most interesting for the list of works which the author has seen ("vidi"), in 1494. Interestingly it omits the Apologeticum, which was the only work in print at that time, but which evidently Trithemius did not have.

The titles listed fall into three groups:

The remaining titles were clearly not to hand when he wrote, as he does not quote the opening words for them. It could be suggested that these are the titles from Jerome, plus De spectaculis. But the titles are not in the same order, and it would seem strange to disarrange them for the sake of it.

Text type

Since the incipits are given, it is possible to classify the manuscript to some extent 7:

Praes. 1:1 -- condicio A, -ditio P post correctionem Rhenani, conditionem P ante correctionem Rhenani, []onditionem N, condicionem F X Trith.

Cor. 1:1 -- liberalitas A N, liberalitate F X Trith.

Haer. 1:1 -- quorum F X Ppc, []uorum N, duorum Pac Trith.

About Trithemius

Trithemius is the latinised name of Johann Zeller from Trittenheim, or Johann von Trittenheim as he called himself. He was born in 1462. At the age of 20 he entered the poor Benedictine monastery of Spanheim, which only had 6 monks, becoming Abbot the following year.

Sponheim was part of the group of German Benedictine monasteries that had accepted the Bursfeld reform. Trithemius was very active in the meetings of the group, and visited many of the monasteries, in the process obtaining books for his own abbey from monks who did not understand their worth. He assembled a famous collection of 2000 books, 800 of them MSS, in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and other languages, although his successor promptly alienated many of them.

He wrote works of his own on pastoral subjects, but became notorious for his interest in sending messages to remote locations using spirits (‘steganography’) which he averred was natural science, but which most people felt was witchcraft. These studies were published in his Steganographia and Polygraphia, and were patronised by the Emperor Maximilian and many other powerful people of the time. In consequence he acquired a reputation as a magician, and in fact once met Faust, with whom he was not impressed.

However as part of these dubious studies he devised means of encryption which stand at the beginning of that discipline. Perhaps it would be kindest to see him, not as an occultist in the modern sense, but rather as a scientific innovator who lived too early to recognise the division between science, philosophy, alchemy, and astrology, as all of these things were mixed together in the books at that date with little certain knowledge of the boundaries. Nonetheless it would seem clear that although his devotion to Christ seems genuine enough, he did in fact step over the line.

While his own literary productions are of interest, there is also some evidence that he was prepared (for whatever reason) to produce forged histories of the Franks.

Disagreements with his monks eventually forced him to leave Sponheim, and after stays with princely patrons at Cologne and Berlin he became abbot of Wurzberg, where he died in 1516.

Trithemius was a complex man whose attitudes included a sincere devotion to the monastic life, an even stronger commitment to humanistic literary studies, and an interest in the ‘secret knowledge’ of the time which he attempted to use for technical purposes. His main importance today lies in his initiation of studies of encryption.


This is not a comprehensive bibliography on Trithemius, for which Arnold should be consulted, but includes items in English that will allow the interested reader to learn more, and those items I have myself.  

1.  Klaus ARNOLD, Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516) : Zweite, bibliographisch und überlieferungsgeschichtlich neu bearbeite Auflage, Quellen und Forschungen zur Geschichte des Bistums und Nochstifts Würzburg XXIII, Würzburg, Kommissionsverlag F. Schöningh, 1971. (rev. ed. 1991).  Checked.

The authoritative study. A detailed source with copious references, in German.  pp.117-123 discuss De Scriptoribus, followed by a discussion of his sources; although there is no discussion of Tertullian.

2. Noel L. BRANN, The Abbot Trithemius (1462-1516) : The Renaissance of Monastic Humanism, Brill, Leiden, 1981 (Vol XXIV in Studies in the History of Christian Thought).  Checked

A frustrating book, because it feels unfinished.   The data has not been tied down properly, and much that one would want to know is left vague.  Incredibly there is no proper list of what Trithemius published when - merely a vague list of the reprints the author used.  I learnt remarkably little about the composition and purpose of De scriptoribus from it, and little on where to go next. 

3. Roland BEHRENDT, The Library of Abbot Trithemius, American Benedictine Review X (1959), pp.67-85. Checked.

Less useful than you might think, being mainly a defence of Trithemius' sincerity as a monk.

4.  D.I. HOWIE, Benedictine Monks, Manuscripts Copying, and the Renaissance : Johannes Trithemius' De laude scriptorum, Revue Bénédictine 86 (1976), pp.129-154.  Checked.

Discusses Trithemius' praise of MSS rather than printed works, and the context of renaissance monasticism.  Useful references.

5. Richard B. MARKS, A Cologne Benedictine Scriptorium ca. 1490 and Trithemius' De laude scriptorum, Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch 15 (1980), pp.162-171.  Checked.

Discussing how Trithemius' ideas reflect real practise in a flourishing scriptorium known to him.

6. Frank L. BORCHARDT, Forgery, False Attribution, and Fiction: Early modern German History and Literature, Studi Umanistici Piceni 6 (1986), pp.27-35. Checked

A couple of paragraphs (p.33) mention that Trithemius forged a history of the Franks and pedigrees for the emperor Maximilian I.  The idea is described as an instance of renaissance forgery, and references given.

7. Pierre PETITMENGIN, Tertullien entre la fin du XIIe et le début du XVIe siècle, in M. CORTESI (ed), Padri Greci e Latini a confronto: Atti del Convegno di studi della Società Internazionale per lo Studio del Medioevo Latino.  Firenze: SISMEL (2004).  pp. 63-88.  Checked.

Apparently the details on Tertullian do not appear in Trithemius' first draft, preserved in a manuscript copy (not printed).  See A. Schlecter, Der Kathalogus brevis ecclesiasticorum scriptorum in Karlsruhe, Cod. Schwarzach 4 und Johannes Trithemius, in Scripturus vitam. Lateinische Biographie von der Antike bis in die Gegenwart.  Festgabe für Walter Berschein.  Heidelberg (2002) pp.1057-1075.  Not checked.  (Details Petitmengin 2004 p.74 n.43).

This page has been online since 11th December 1999.

Return to the Tertullian Project / About these pages