From my diary

I have continued to read a cheap reprint of Harnack’s Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius, Theil 1, Halfte 2.  The volume has no index, so I have amused myself by compiling one in pencil at the front, and scribbling English notes in the margins.

While doing so I came across his notes on catenas — medieval Greek commentaries compiled by linking together chains (catenas) of quotations from earlier writers.  These seemed concise and useful, so I was thinking about transcribing and translating them.  Then I found <blush> that I had already transcribed them on this blog here!  Time to translate it, I think.

But I was looking at that data, and remarking on the statement of Harnack that Possinus printed the catena on Matthew of Nicetas of Serrae in 1646 at Toulouse.  Now quite a few of the fragments of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Gospel problems and solutions come from Nicetas on Luke, published from a Vatican ms., and a few from Possinus; but Migne does not link the two.

So who was Possinus?  A google search turns up the meagre information that he was a 17th century French Jesuit, Pierre Poussines, latinized as Petrus Possinus.  He certainly published a Catena Graecorum Patrum in Evangelium secundum Marcum, Rome, 1672.  He worked with Balthasar Corderius on a catena, Symbolarum in Matthæum tomus alter, quo continetur catena patrum Græcorum triginta … interprete Balthasare Corderio, Boude, 1647.

According to J. W. Burgon, The last twelve verses of the Gospel according to S. Mark vindicated, p.134, the 1673 catena was found by Possinus in the library of Charles de Montchal, Archbishop of Toulouse.

In the Oxford movement text of the Catena Aurea, vol. 3, pt. 1, p.ix., we find the following statement:

Mai has published a considerable part of another Catena, in his ninth vol. Vet. Script. Its date is very near the end of the 11th century, and it is entitled, ἀπὸ τῆς ἐκλογῆς τοῦ Νικητοῦ Σεῤῥῶν. He ascribes the first Catena to the same author, and a similar title is prefixed to a MS. in the Coislin Library, (Bibl. Coisl. No. 201.) of a later date, and containing a Catena on St. Luke of sixty-two Fathers. These three Catenae, though differing in date, yet very similar in the names and number of the authors cited, must all be traced to the same source. Nor does there seem any reason why they should not be successive copies, only increased as time went on, of the original MS. of Nicetas, whose name they bear. Nicetas flourished about 1077. He was at first Deacon at Constantinople, then Bishop of Serrae in Macedonia, afterwards Archbishop of Heraclea in Thrace. He is proved by Wolf (De Catenis) to have been the author of a Catena on Job, generally assigned to Olympiodorus; and Lambecius (v. 63. iii. 81.) describes a Catena of his on the Psalms. That published by Possinus on St. Matthew, from a MS. in the Library of the Elector of Bavaria, contains extracts from thirty Fathers, with a prologue and several expositions under the name of Nicetas. It seems very probable then that Nicetas was the author of a new class of Catenae, far exceeding in size and completeness those which previously existed. For among a great number of MSS. Catenae on the Gospels in the Paris, Venice, and Vienna Libraries, which bear date of the 10th or 11th centuries, there are scarcely any which number more than twelve Fathers, none certainly which approach to the extent of those above mentioned.

But much of this again relates to the catena on Luke.  Hmm.  Why so hard to find out much about Possinus?  I did find a statement that his catena was mainly based on extracts from Chrysostom, but then most catenas are.

Perhaps we shall just have to wait until more older scholarship appears online.

While doing this search I stumbled across a reference to an Ante-Nicene Exegesis of the Gospels, ed. HD Smith, 6 vols. (London: SPCK, 1925).  This apparently includes quotes from Possinus’ catena on Matthew.  I must confess I had never heard of the book!  But it sounds very interesting.  I wonder if it is online?


10 thoughts on “From my diary

  1. Hello,
    I’m doing research for a professor at my college on the Catenae of Nicetas — well, really on Polychronius and his frangments of a commentary on Job, but his works are referenced by Nicetas, so we are trying to find a copy or transcript online. Do you know how or where we can find the Catenae?
    Thank you.

  2. Hi,

    Nicetas wrote catenae on many of the books of the bible. You want catenas on Job, I think.

    You will find most of my posts on catenas linked here, although this one was not (sorry):

    What you need, I think, is Karo and Lietzmann’s Catenarum Graecarum Catalogus. This came out in 1902, but you can download a copy from via here:

    or you can get a print-off in book form from Lulu here:

    It’s all in Latin, tho, so I don’t know how good you are at that. But … it does list the names of the authors found in each catena and type of catena.

    You can also get information with an up-to-date bibliography in “Patrology” by Di Berardino, translated by Adrian Walford. This is the extra volume of Quasten published by a different publisher which takes the story up to John Damascene. This is less detailed, but probably very useful.

    You may be under the impression that the catena you want is in print. This is most unlikely. Prepare to deal with manuscripts.

  3. I have now got hold of my printed copy of K&L. Catenae in Job start on p. 319. Type 1 catenas have many quotes from Polychronius (based on ms. Paris graecus 151). So do type 2 catenas (p. 326).

    But … it seems there IS a printed edition of Nicetas’ commentary on Job, from 1637, based on Bodleian mss. I can’t quite follow the Latin, but perhaps it was reprinted in Venice in 1792, or reviewed, “recusa” or something.

    Another catena was printed in Venice in 1587 by Paulus Comitolus.

    You’ll have to read the stuff to make sense of it for yourself.

  4. My boss is going to be working on a translation of an ancient commentary on Job, and Polychronius, amoung others, was mentioned as one of the sources used.
    As a remarkable side note, soon to be published is a translation that he did of an ancient Armenian work, Commentary on the Four Evangelists, by Step’anos around the 4-5th century AD. I looked over your blog and saw your interest in ancient Armenian works, and have shown him this blog as well. The book will be published this spring, and I was fortunate enough to get to edit it.
    He and I think it’s wonderful to have found someone else with the same interests, both in Armenian and other ancient-early church writings, as rather obscure and rare as they are.
    Great work; we’ll be following your new posts.

  5. Thanks for the link; but it doesn’t display anything, so I suspect that it is only visible to people at institutions. I am merely an interested amateur, you see. Who is your professor? I am always interested to encounter people with enough knowledge to work with Armenian!

    I am very interested in the “Commentary on the four gospels”. Is it a catena, or a proper commentary? Does it mention Eusebius of Caesarea at all, perhaps when discussing the genealogies in Matthew/Luke?

    What is the commentary on Job that will be being translated? Always useful to know that people are at work.

  6. Step’anos’ work is in a very similar allegorical style to that of Origen and others of the Alexandrian school. He takes a part of a verse, or a whole verse, or a group of several, and then comments on it, giving its allusions to other parts of the Bible and thus the consistent coherencies and/or general insight into the whole meaning of the verse. I do not recall it’s mentioning Eusebius, but it certainly may be in there. The work really focuses on the Gosepel of Matthew (it comprises a large majority of the work entirely), so it’s possible.

    I’m sorry that the link didn’t work quite right. Here is the abstract information:

    Title: Origen’s Commentaries as Sources for Step’anos Siwnec’i’s Commentary on the Gospels
    Author(s): PAPAZIAN, Michael
    Journal: Le Muséon
    Volume: 117 Issue: 3-4 Date: 2004
    Pages: 507-525
    DOI: 10.2143/MUS.117.3.516936

    Abstract :
    The Commentary on the Four Evangelists by Step‘anos Siwnec‘i (c. 688-735), a bishop and author of some of the earliest Armenian biblical commentaries, survives whole in a single manuscript discovered at the beginning of the 20th century. While scholars have noted the strong Antiochene influence on Armenian biblical interpretation and on Step‘anos in particular, study of the commentary reveals tht Step‘anos relied on Origen’s commentaries on the Gospels as his main sources. After giving a brief account of Step‘anos’ life and work, this paper presents examples of parallels between Step‘anos and Origen’s commentaries. The paper ends with some suggestions for further research on Step‘anos’ exegetical method.

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