Christophe Guignard on the catena of Nicetas

Continuing from yesterday, here is another excerpt from Christophe Guignard’s book La lettre de Julius Africanus à Aristide

As I remarked, one of the charms of this book is that, in order to establish a text of the fragments of the letter of 2nd century writer Julius Africanus to Aristides on the genealogy of Christ, it provides a modern overview of all the sorts of sources of the fragments of lost patristic works.  These sources crop up in a rather hangdog, shamefaced manner in so many books, briefly referred to as if everyone knew everything about them, when in truth no-one knows much.  Dr. Guignard is, of course, surveying the scene for bits and pieces of the letter to Aristides, which has not reached us in its own right.  But the same sources are used, or not used, for most patristic authors, and are the source of all those “fragments” that tend to appear at the back of editions of authors.

One of the great failures of scholarship over the last two centuries is the failure to provide editions of the catenas.  These medieval Greek bible commentaries, composed entirely of chains (catenae) of quotations from the Fathers linked together, remain our brightest hope for extracts from many now lost authors.  Yet they remain unpublished, for the most part.  If they were published, it was in pre-critical editions of the 16-17th century.  The attempt by J. Cramer, in eight volumes in the mid-19th century, to remedy this for the New Testament, was met with much criticism.  I believe one or two scholars have attempted to edit a catena today, but if so their work has not come my way.

Let us return to Dr. G., p.56.  The translation is mine.

The catena of Nicetas on Luke

An immense work in four books,210 gathering more than three thousand extracts, the catena on Luke composed by Nicetas of Heraclea (11-12th century)211 is today still unpublished, even if fragments of many authors or works have been published.212   In the absence of an edition, the description of its content given by Ch. Th. Krikonis based on the manuscript Iviron 371 is of signal service, despite its imprecisions.213

The catena of Nicetas is an essential witness for the Gospel Problems and Solutions of Eusebius: it was in one of its manuscripts that Cardinal Mai discovered the most important fragments of the Eusebian text outside the ecloge.  It is, together with the latter, the sole witness to the first part of the Letter to Aristides (§1-9 of our edition), and also includes further extracts.  However it would be hasty to conclude that it is simply one of the witnesses to the text of the Gospel Problems, since Nicetas also had access to the Ecclesiastical History [of Eusebius].214  We must, therefore, consider this point.  For the moment, let us present the catena and its manuscripts, and indicate the content of the part which interests us.

I will also give the footnotes for this short section, which must have involved incredible labour to compile and are full of good things.  TU is the series Texte und Untersuchungen, in which this volume appears itself as TU 167.

210 The gospel of Luke was divided into 80 chapters in the time of Nicetas.  The first book of the catena covers the first 16; book 2 begins with the 17th (Luke 6:17 ff.); books 3 with the 40th (11:27ff); book 4 with the 63rd (18:18ff.).  All the same it is not certain that this division, which appears in the manuscript Vaticanus graecus 1611 and its descendants is by Nicetas (see J. Sickenberger, TU 22/4, p.34-36 and 80).

211 CPG C 135 (type IV of Karo and Lietzmann).  The Greek title is, according to the Vaticanus gr. 1611 (folio 1r): Συναγωγὴ ἐξηγήεων εἰς τὸ κατὰ Λουκᾶν ἅγιον εὐαγγέλιον ἐκ διαφόρων ἐρμηνευτῶν παρὰ Νικήτα διακόνου τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ μεγάλης ἐκκλησίας καὶ διδασκάλου γεγονυῖα (Sickenberger, TU 22/4, p.34)

212 See the references given by R. Devreese, “Chaînes exégétiques grecques”, DBS 1 (1928), col. 1184 ff; among the more recent publications, we cite as an example M. Richard, “Les citations de Theodoret conservées dans la chaîne de Nicétas sur l’évangile selon saint Luc”, Revue biblique 43 (1934), p.88-96 (reprinted in Opera minora, vol. 2, Turnhout: Brepols, 1977, no. 43) or P. Géhin, SC 514 (Chapters of the disciples of Evagrius).

213 Χ. Θ. Κρικώνης, Συναγωγὴ Πατέρων, (cited as: Krikonis).  See the criticisms of W. Lackner, Jahrbuch der österreichischen Byzantinistik 24 (1975), p.287-289 (equally useful for the identification of a certain number of extracts which were dismissed by Krikonis), of M. Aubineau, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 70 (1977), p.118-121, and of A. A. Fourlas, “Die Lukaskatene des Niketas von Heraclea”, p. 268-274, more positive.  The studies of J. Sickenberger remain equally useful (“Aus römischen Handschriften”, p.55-84, and above all TU 22/4; see likewise TU 21/1).

214 The lemma Εὐσεβίου ἐκκλησιαστικῆς ἱστορίας appears against Luke 3:1-3 (extract no. 540 Krikonis: Iviron 371, fol. 124-5; Vaticanus gr. 1611, fol. 48).  According to the description by Krikonis, these are extracts from chapters 6 and 8-10 of book 1 [of the HE] (see also J. Sickenburger, TU 22/4, p.87).

I ought to add that the articles by Karo and Lietzmann, which classify catenas, are on archive.org, and, if you prefer a paper copy, I made one available at Lulu.com here for a nominal price.  I always felt that I should have added some material in English to that, by way of a guide to readers, but who has the time?

That’s part of one page, that lot!  Dr. Guignard promises us more on the manuscripts of this work in the next section or two, which I have not yet read.  But I think it will indeed be useful to have a list of these, over and above the three mentioned here. 

3 Responses to “Christophe Guignard on the catena of Nicetas”


  1. berenike

    Since one of the chief reasons for editing these catenae would be the reconstruction of lost work, would it not be more useful to produce some kind of hypertext version? Fr Roberto Busa, a founding father of humanities computing, just died, which I suppose is why this is in my thoughts.

  2. Roger Pearse

    I think any version would be useful, in truth. The format of the final output is not really the main obstacle, I think.

  3. More on catenas at Roger Pearse

    [...] I had meant to do, when I wrote about the catena of Nicetas, was to track down the works of J. Sickenberger mentioned as published in TU.  I have, in fact, [...]



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