The homilies of Zeno of Verona

A correspondent wrote to ask about an English translation of the sermons of St. Zeno of Verona:

I am trying to find an English translation of St Zeno’s (of Verona) sermons.  In particular, I am looking for some typological comments he has said to have made on Eve and the church.

The name was unfamiliar to me, and is probably unfamiliar to us all, so I thought that a few notes might be generally helpful.[1]

A number of medieval manuscripts contain a collection of sermons in two books, ascribed to a certain Zeno of Verona.  The oldest of these mss. is 8th century.[2]  Book 1 contains 62 texts, and book 2 contains only 30.  Only about 30 of the homilies appear to be complete and revised, the remainder being outlines or fragments.  This suggests that the collection was not made by the author, but at some later date.

The texts make use of Hilary of Poitiers’ Commentary on the Psalms (A.D. 360), and so belong to the following period.  Jerome and Gennadius and the other biographers of the period do not mention Zeno, but Ambrose of Milan, around 380 mentions him as the recently deceased bishop of the city in a letter.[3]  There is mention of African writers, and the cult of an obscure Mauretanian saint, which has led to speculation that Zeno was of African origin.  There is, apparently, no real reason to dissent from the transmitted authorship.  He seems to have died around 371-2.

The majority of the homilies are exegetical, although some are moral in character.  The exegetical work is primarily around the Old Testament.

The editio princeps appeared in 1508. [4]

The text appears in PL 11, 253-528, and has been edited in the Corpus Christianorum series.[5]  No English translation seems to exist of any of this material, but a German translation appeared in the BKV series, and is online.[6]

He also refers to the kinds of casual paganism that Christians may encounter.[8]:

The following also displease God: those who run around tombs, who offer sacrificial meals to the stinking cadavers of the dead; those who out of love for overindulgence and drinking in disreputable places have suddenly produced martyrs for themselves [to celebrate boozily] through their wine-bottles and their cups; those who observe days; those who try to make ‘Egyptian’ [ill-omened] days out of favourable ones; those who try to find auguries and see their well-being / salvation in the violently torn-open stomachs of cattle.  (Sermon 1.25 (15).11)

This is little.  But surely someone could take the time and translate Zeno?

  1. [1]See J. Quasten, Patrology vol. 4, p.127-130, for more details.
  2. [2]A rather rubbishy list may be found on p.clxi of Giulari’s edition.
  3. [3]Letters I 5, 1.  The identification is made by Bigelmair in his Zeno von Verona, 1902, online here:
  4. [4]J. Giulari, S. Zenonis episcopi Veronensis sermones, Verona (1883). Online here:
  5. [5]B. Lofstedt, CCL 22 (1971).
  6. [7]
  7. [6]A. Bigelmair, BKV2 vol. 10, Munich, 1934.  Online here:[/ref]  I believe that an Italian translation may also exist.  Apparently the CCL text comments on the translations on p.55-59.

    Is Zeno interesting?  I can’t say that I know!  A web search unearths some interesting thoughts.

    In a sermon to new converts on baptism, he used astral themes.  He described Christ as our sun, the true sun, who once set and rose anew and will never set again, crowned with twelve rays, symbolising the twelve apostles.  Being asked about the horoscope of the new birth, he went through the zodiac, assigning a spiritual significance to each.[7]Stephen M. McCluskey, Astronomies and cultures in early medieval Europe, Cambridge, 2000, p.39.

  8. [8]Ken Dowden, European paganism, 2000, p.156

12 thoughts on “The homilies of Zeno of Verona

  1. St. Zeno’s my dude! He’s the one who had the nice little bit about the unborn Jesus, that I found through that book of quotes about Mary in the Fathers. He’s got a lot of interesting sermons, as far as I could tell from browsing while looking for the quote.

    Also, his basilica has that super-cool mosaic floor with King Arthur on it, IIRC.

    There’s so much out there, and it’s a real pity that so little has been translated.

  2. Oops, nope, mosaic floor’s in Otranto at Sta Maria Assunta. Don’t know what I was thinking. (Probably remembering something I saw on the Web around the same time I was searching for the quote.)

  3. Perhaps the mentioned Italian edition were

    Le opere di S. Zenone volgarizzate dal marchese Gio. Jacopo Dionisi canonico veronese
    Verona, 1784 ([Verona] : presso Dionigi Ramanzini)


    I sermoni del padre della chiesa santo Zenone, 8. vescovo di Verona / resi volgari da Cavattoni C. P
    Verona : L. de Giorgi, 1840

    For a contemporary Italian edition and translation, see in “Corpus scriptorum Ecclesiae aquileiensis”:

    Trattati / Zenone di Verona ; edizione di Gabriele Banterle riveduta e corretta da Roberto Ravazzolo ; introduzione di Giorgio Fedalto
    Roma : Città nuova : Aquileia : CSEA, 2008

    Banterle translation was originally published in 1987 as

    I discorsi / san Zenone di Verona ; introduzione, traduzione, note e indici di Gabriele Banterle
    Milano : Biblioteca ambrosiana ; Roma : Città nuova, 1987

  4. @Roberto: Thank you very much for the translations — I thought that there was something.

    @Maureen: Is there a reference for that quote by Zeno?

  5. Yeah, there is. It’s on the Internet Archive posting but not my podcast one. Not well-formatted, because I really didn’t understand the format back then:

    Lib. ii., Tractatus viii.
    (PL 11, 413, 3-12.)

    Lib. ii., Tractatus ix.
    (PL 11, 415, 17 – 416, 17.)

    It’s not a long quote, but there’s a huge number of footnotes on that page of Patrologia Latina!

    Livius has a translation on page 126-127 of The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers. It’s a lot longer and talks about the Nativity also. His translation covers (PL 11, 413, 3 – 414, 14) and (PL 11, 415, 17 – 417, 12.)

    There’s also a little bit after that from a Christmas sermon by Zeno, in some collection by some guy named Morris. Livius’ translation contains the memorable line, “To our Bread she gave suck.”

    In Natal., iv., ap. Morris, p. 28 f.

  6. Ach! I see why you’re asking! The German translation seems to have changed the numbering of Book II’s chapters. The introduction to Book II says they did. (Which makes it hard to find.)

    Migne’s Chapter IX seems to be the German version’s Chapter VIII. (The second part of Livius’ excerpt and mine starts in the second paragraph.) Migne’s Chapter VIII is the German version’s Chapter IX. But I think the end of Migne’s Chapter IX is appended to the German Chapter IX.

    Very confusing. The mss must be a real barrel of monkeys.

  7. Until the CCL edition, I don’t believe the text had ever been critically edited. So the variation probably means that the chapter divisions vary in the medieval mss.

    That in turn probably means that they are not authorial. That wouldn’t be a surprise, I suspect, since chapter divisions were only introduced into works of Augustine in the 6th century and Zeno is 4th century.

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