Catenas on the Psalms: the “Palestinian catena”

There may be 29 different types of catena on the Psalms.  All of them contain quotations from works by the Fathers on the exegesis of the Psalms.  But the most important of these by far is the catena known to modern specialists as the “Palestinian catena”.  This catena was apparently originally compiled in 6th century Palestine, directly from a bunch of mostly now lost texts. 

It stands out for the size and quality of the extracts that are preserved in it.  These are mainly taken from the commentaries of Eusebius of Caesarea, Didymus the Blind, and Theodoret.  In some of the psalms, there is also material from Apollinaris of Laodicea, Asterius the Sophist, Basil of Caesarea, and — of course — Cyril of Alexandria, Chrysostom, and Origen.  For psalm 118 there is also material from Athanasius.

Psalms is a long book.  A catena on the psalms is also a long book.  Some time after composition, the catena was turned into two editions.  The first of these was in three volumes; on Psalms 1-50, 51-100, and 101-150.  The other was a two volume edition; on Psalms 1-76 and 77-150.

Naturally the volumes of each version have travelled down the centuries independently.

The three volume edition

Volume 1 of this edition is preserved in good condition in the catena of type VI (Karo and Lietzmann).  This is found in he following manuscripts:

  • Oxford, Bodleian Library, Barroci gr. 235 (9-10th century)
  • Mt. Athos, Iviron monastery 597 (1st half of 11th c.)
  • Bucharest, Romanian Academy Library gr. 931 + Constantinople, Panaghia Kamariotissi Patristic Library 9 (1st half of 11th century)
  • Munich, National library gr. 359 (10-11th c.)
  • Vatican Library gr. 1789 (10-11th c.).
  • Oxford, Bodleian, Auct. 1.1 (= Misc. 179) (17th c.), pp.169-262 containing Pss.10-50 and pp.262-284 (Ps. 9)
  • Oxford, Bodleian, Barocci gr. 154 (late 15th c.), a copy of Barocci 235.

These are all derived from the Barocci ms., and the other mss. serve only to supplement some passages today missing from the Barocci (I presume this means leaves have been lost down the years).

Marcel Richard made a check on the value of the material using the text for Ps. 37.  The whole commentary of Eusebius on this psalm happens to be extant, under the name of Basil, and is accessible in PG 30, col. 81-104 (now I ought to commission a translation of that!).  Origen’s two homilies on this psalm have reached us, in a version in Latin by Rufinus.  Theodoret’s Interpretatio in Psalmos is extant, and in PG 80.  The work of Didymus has perished.

Richard found that all the extracts from extant sources were reproduced correctly, and attributed to the correct authors.  The remaining extracts, from Didymus, were not found in any of the other authors, so are presumably also corrected quoted.  This gives us great confidence in using the catena.

The second volume existed in a single manuscript in Turin, Cod. 300 (C.II.6, 10th c.).  Unfortunately this was destroyed in the fire on 26th January 1904, without ever being photographed or printed.  No doubt the librarians who watched it burn had congratulated themselves just as modern ones do, that they had never allowed it to be photographed, thereby preserving it from “damage”.  Some leaves remain, and the Institut de Recherches et Histoire de Textes did their best, but the majority of the material from this excellent source is lost.

Fortunately this matters less for the Commentary of Eusebius.  A portion of this massive commentary has reached us in direct transmission, and contains Pss.51-95:3.  It’s in Cod. Coislin 44 (10th c.).

The third volume, on Pss.101-150, did not reach us, and no traces of it are known.

The two volume edition

The first volume of this edition, covering Pss.1-76, has been lost.  No copy of it came down to our times.

The second volume, however, covering Pss. 77-150, is extant.  This is fortunate, as it complements the losses in the three volume edition. 

This volume was classified by Karo and Lietzmann as type XI.  No single copy is entire, although it probably once existed complete in Milan, Ambrosian Library F 126 sup. (=A, 13th century) which is now mutilated at the start and end.  Fortunately Ms. Patmos, St. John’s Library 215 (=P, 12-13th c.) is complete at the end, and has only lost a couple of leaves at the front.  The material at the start of the catena is found in Ms. Vienna theol. gr. 59 (13th c.). 

A and P both descend from a copy in uncial.  A is the better, as P has been contaminated with material from the commentary of Theodoret.  Fortunately this is usually placed in the same places, and can be readily identified.

Indirect tradition

The material contained in the Palestinian catena is good, but the same material also appears in secondary catenas; catenas that used the Palestinian catena as a source.  This means that this indirect tradition can be a control on mistakes in the text.

The catenas that form this tradition appear in two forms; either a condensed version of the whole catena, or else a collection of extracts from across the catena.

Printed editions

It was always obvious to scholars that it should be possible to recover the commentary of Eusebius in almost complete form from these materials.  B. de Montfaucon printed an edition of his commentary on Pss.1-118, which is reprinted in PG 23, cols. 71-1396.  J.-B. Pitra reedited this in Analecta sacra Spicilegio Solesmensi parata, 3: Patres antenicaeni, Venice: S. Lazaro (1883), p.365-529.

Angelo Mai added the remainder, from Pss. 119-150, which is reprinted in PG 24, 9-78.  Unfortunately the materials used were printed with insufficient care, and are contaminated by material from Origen.

Carmelo Curti wrote a series of articles on this subject, all reprinted in Eusebiana 1: Commentarii in Psalmos, Catania 1989 (2nd ed).  Unfortunately I have never managed to see this, but I’ve just put in an ILL for it.

2 Responses to “Catenas on the Psalms: the “Palestinian catena””


  1. Mark DelCogliano

    I have heard that Sebastian Morlet is preparing an edition of Eusebius’s Commentarii in Psalmos for Sources Chretiennes.

  2. Roger Pearse

    That would be wonderful if so — thank you for the info!



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