Fortunantianus of Aquileia and his lost gospel commentary

From Quasten’s Patrology 4, p.572:

According to Jerome (De vir. into 97), Fortunatianus, an African was bishop of Aquileia in the mid-fourth century at the time of the Emperor Constantius. and Pope Liberius. He died, it seems, shortly before 368. Fortunatlanus was at first a strong defender of Nicene orthodoxy and received Athanasius as a guest at Aquileia after the Synod of Serdica of 343. However, at the time of the council at Milan in 355, he succumbed to the threats of Constantius and signed the condemnation of Athanasius. He subsequently proved instrumental in persuading the exiled Pope Liberius to sign the Arian creed of Sirmium of 357.

There remain only three fragments of Fortunatianus’ commentary on the Gospels, which Jerome describes as a “margaritam de evangelio” (Ep. 10, 3) and which he read in preparation for his own commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (praef: PL 26, 20C).

Editions: Cf. CPL 104. — A. Wilmart, B. Bischoff, CCL 9(1957)365-370. — PLS I, 239, 217.
Studies: L. Duchesne, Libere et Fortunatien: MAH 28(1908)31-78 (cf. P. Glorieux, Hilaire et Libere: MSR 1[1944]7-34). – J. Lemarie, Italie. Aquilee: DSp 7(1971 )2161.

This is the entire entry for this obscure 4th century bishop and his now lost “pearl on the gospel”.

Why do I give this?

Today I discovered the CSEL site at the university of Salzburg, and the following page contained these interesting remarks.

An anonymous commentary on the Gospels in MS Köln, Erzbischöfliche Diözesan- und Dombibl. 17 (s. IX1/3) has now been identified by Lukas J. Dorfbauer as the work of bishop Fortunatianus of Aquileia.

It was thought that this commentary, of which only three fragments were known, had already been lost in its entirety by Carolingian times.

Thus, Fortunatianus’ work becomes the apparently oldest commentary on the Gospels written in the Latin West which is still extant; it amplifies our knowledge of ancient Christianity and its literature in many respects.

A critical edition of the text – in fact, the “editio princeps” – is currently in preparation for the CSEL. For now, please cf.

  • L. J. Dorfbauer,  Der Evangelienkommentar des Bischofs Fortunatian von Aquileia (Mitte 4. Jh.). Ein Neufund auf dem Gebiet der patristischen Literatur, Wiener Studien 126 (2013), 177-198).
  • Ders., Der Codex Köln, Erzbischöfliche Diözesan- und Dombibl. 17. Ein Beitrag zur Überlieferung des Evangelienkommentars des Bischofs Fortunatian von Aquileia, to be published in: Mittelalterliche Handschriften der Kölner Dombibliothek. Fünftes Symposion November 2012 (estimated for 2014).

A full digital reproduction of the manuscript in question can be found online via the homepage of Codices Electronici Ecclesiae Coloniensis: http://www.ceec.uni-koeln.de/

Well done, the CSEL, for giving the link to the online manuscript, rather than meanly concealing it.  It means that the text is accessible, if not in critical form.

It is always a delight to see something rescued from the losses of antiquity.  Congratulations Dr. Dorfbauer and the CSEL.  You have done something well worth doing.

I wonder if anyone will translate it into English?

19 Responses to “Fortunantianus of Aquileia and his lost gospel commentary”


  1. Tom

    What a wonderful find, thank you for letting us know. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  2. Roger Pearse

    It’s very cheering, isn’t it?

  3. David Wilmshurst

    Wonderful news! This kind of thing puts a spring into one’s step. One more precious text salvaged from the shipwreck of antiquity.

    I feel much the same as I did in 1979, in my final year at Oxford, when a few lines of the Roman elegiac poet Cornelius Gallus, the ‘missing link’ between Lucretius and Virgil, were discovered in Egypt. ‘Made miserable, Lycoris, by your wantonness …’ ‘What would we not barter of all the epics of empire for a few lines by Gallus?’ a nineteenth-century classicist once wrote. And then, against all hope and expectation, they turn up! (I have even taken the trouble to translate them in the Wikipedia article on Gallus, which so far has escaped contamination …)

  4. Vorkosigan

    Awesome.

  5. Roger Pearse

    It’s really encouraging (and I agree about the lyrics of Cornelius Gallus). There are any number of shabby handwritten books in manuscript collections lurking anonymously under the title of “De fide” or something generic like that. Digitisation would make a huge difference.

  6. Walter Dunphy

    Jerome, Preface to translation of Origen’s Homilies on Luke refers to a Commentary on Matthew as being “weak in content and expression” – it is thought to be a reference to Fortunatianus.

  7. Roger Pearse

    Thank you – useful.

  8. Sergio

    I live in Aquileia and look forward to read the commentary of my old bishop. :)

  9. pete head

    Thanks Roger

  10. Walter Dunphy

    L.J. Dorfbauer has his work cut out for him. The Koeln MS is very legible, but the text??? Some reads/translates easily, some is a jumble-sale. Comparison of Koeln with the Bischoff/McNally fragment shows Koeln to be very remote from Fortunatianus. It may fare better later (haven’t gone through the whole text).

  11. Roger Pearse

    Interesting – thank you. Let’s wish him well.

  12. Walter Dunphy

    All things being (un)equal in MSS transmission, the two Wilmart fragments are almost word-for-word in Koeln. At Mt 21.8, where the people cut down branches (ramos), our scribe has them cut down “Romanos”!!!

  13. Roger Pearse

    That is fascinating (and very funny!). The task of producing the editio princeps is always a rough one. Unless you can convince your publisher to allow you to print a text sans translation, in which case you can just print the ms. and shrug. :-)

  14. Lukas J. Dorfbauer

    In fact, there are far more testimonies for the Fortunatianus commentary than the three fragments hitherto known and the Cologne MS. Now that we have the full text of the work, it can easily be demonstrated that some anonymous/pseudonymous texts that have been known for a long time but regarded as autonomous ‘sermons’ froms Late Antiquity actually are excerpts from the Fortunatianus commentary that were culled from the work, reused,and then transmitted separately. In the meantime, I have also found a second MS which contains large parts of the commentary without giving the author’s name but under the same title as the Cologne MS (‘regula[m] evangeliorum quatuor’). I will present all these findings (and many more) on the Fortunatianus commentary in forthcoming publications. The work on the edition is proceding steadily, but slowly, because there are so much problems to be solved. Any comments are welcome.

  15. Roger Pearse

    Thank you very much for sharing this with us. That is very good news indeed! I think we will all be interested to hear of progress.

    May I ask how you came to find the lost commentary in the first place? Did you start by deciding “I intend to locate the commentary of Fortunatianus”? Or in some other way? (Anything that might help other researchers look for lost texts would be welcome)

    Is there any chance that some of your publications might appear online?

  16. Lukas J. Dorfbauer

    As to the finding of the commentary, no one can ‘plan’ such a thing. I realized that in Cologne Dombibl. MS 17 we have an early Carolingian manuscript containing a large anonymous commentary on the Gospels totally unexplored – despite the fact that the same MS also contains a very short alleged ‘epistula Anne ad Senecam’ which is apparently found nowhere else, and which scholards agree to have been composed in Late Antiquity. I decided to take a closer look on the anonymous commentary in this interesting MS, and I was stunned when I saw immediately on the second page of text (fol. 2v) that the scribe had written ‘Lucanus’ as the name of the evangelist Luke two times – duly ‘corrected’ by a later hand to the normal form ‘Lucas’. But ‘Lucanus’ instead of ‘Lucas’ is well attested in some of our oldest witnesses to the Latin gospel text, e.g. in Cyprian and in some pre-Vulgate MSS of the 4th and 5th century. So I ckecked the gospel text this commentary does comment on, and I saw that it was not the Vulgate, but a text closely resembling the one of African and Italian writers of the 3th and 4th century. I was surprised that no one had noticed these things before, and I decided to transcribe the whole text of the commentary, for it was clear that this is a work which could not have been originated later than the early 5th century. Then I recognized that this commentary contained the three fragments hitherto known from the allegedly lost work of Fortunatianus of Aquileia. There was no room for doubt that this must be Fortunatin’s commentary – especially since Jerome (vir. ill. 97) says that Fortunatianus’ work was 1) arranged ‘titulis ordinatis’, 2) written ‘sermone brevi et rustico’, and 3) a commentary on the gospels (not on a single gospel, as was the rule in Latin and Greek writers), which all is true for the commentary transmitted anonymously in the Cologne MS.

  17. Roger Pearse

    Thank you very much for this clear explanation. How very interesting! I’m not sure if many people would have picked up on the “Lucanus” issue, nor be aware of the Fortunatianus quotes. This is a very solid piece of work – thank you.

  18. James Snapp, Jr.

    Dr. D.,
    (Paging through the digital images, did I correctly discern that Mark is identified as the eagle and John as the lion?)

    Can you say, briefly, if there is any reference in the commentary to the contents of Mark 16:9-20?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  19. Lukas J. Dorfbauer

    1.) You are right, Mark is identified as the eagle, John as the lion. This is the older classification, as found in other early Christian writers. We should expect it in F.

    2.) No, there is no reference to Mk 16:9-20 in F.s commentary.



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