Is Salonius’ commentary on Ecclesiastes authentic?

In my last post I raised the question of whether the two commentaries transmitted under the name of the 5th century bishop Salonius of Geneva[1] were in fact authentic.  These consist of a commentary on Proverbs, and one on Ecclesiastes.

This evening I stumbled across a 1987 dissertation by A.M. Wolters which mentions the scholarship on the subject.[2]  He states that it has been shown that the commentary on Proverbs can be shown to be an abbreviation of Bede’s commentary on the same subject.

I may as well quote the relevant passages directly:

At this point we should make reference also to the commentary on Proverbs attributed to Salonius, the fifth-century bishop of Geneva, in which the Valiant Woman is taken as an allegory of the Church. It has recently been shown, however, that this commentary is actually the work of a much later medieval author. Accordingly, we will deal with it later under the heading Pseudo-Salonius. (p.20)

The independence of Bede’s commentary on the Song has only recently become evident. Since there are many verbal correspondences with the proverbs commentary that was long attributed to Salonius of Geneva (fifth century), Bede seemed to be heavily dependent on Salonius. As we shall see shortly, however, the commentary ascribed to Salonius is in fact dependent on Bede, not the other way around. (p.32)

Before leaving Bede we should take note of the fact that the recent critical edition of his Proverbs commentary by D. Hurst (1983) is sadly deficient. His apparatus fontium still lists the commentary of Pseudo-Salonius as one of Bede’s sources (though his Praefatio acknowledges that this is incorrect)… (p.37)

The main passage is:

In the period from Bede’s death (735) until the twelfth century there is little to report with respect to the interpretation of the Song of the Valiant Woman. …  the only literary production that is relevant to our survey during these three-and-a-half centuries is the commentary which was until recently attributed to Salonius, the fifth-century bishop of Geneva.

It would carry us too far afield to enter into the scholarly discussion surrounding the true date and author of the work published as Salonii Commentarii in Parabolas Salomonis et in Ecclesiasten. Suffice it to point out that the traditional attribution was still defended by C. Curti in the critical edition of these commentaries which he published under this title (Catania, 1964), but was challenged by the French scholar Jean-Pierre Weiss in a review of this edition. [77] Since then Weiss has elaborated on his critique in two articles, both published in 1970,[78] and come to the conclusion that Pseudo-Salonius was a schoolmaster in Germany, probably of the ninth century.

Apparently quite independently of Weiss, the New Zealand scholar Valerie I. J. Flint also challenged the Salonian authorship, in yet another article published in 1970.[79] She concluded that the true author is Honorius Augustodunensis (eleventh-twelfth century), under whose name a version of the commentary was circulated in medieval Germany. We will content ourselves with the conclusion that Pseudo-Salonius lived after Bede and before the early twelfth century.

The commentary on Proverbs by Pseudo-Salonius now turns out to be a thoroughly unoriginal work, composed very largely of excerpts from Bede’s commentary, occasionally supplemented with passages drawn from Gregory the Great.[80]

Pseudo-Salonius’ own contribution consists almost exclusively in the format of the commentary, which is that of a dialogue between teacher and student, no doubt for use in schools.

The section on the Valiant Woman begins as follows:

‘Teacher. Who is that Valiant Woman of whom it says: “Who shall find a valiant woman? Her price is remote and from the farthest regions?”

‘Student. The holy catholic Church is called a valiant woman. The reason she is called a woman is that she gives birth to spiritual sons for God out of water and the Holy Spirit. She is called valiant because she disdains and despises all the things of this world, whether harmful or advantageous, because of faith and love for her Creator and Redeemer.’ [My translation.] [81]

Note that in pseudo-Salonius’ commentary the reference to the alphabetic acrostic and its function is omitted, and that the allegorical interpretation is restricted to the Church, without reference to the individual soul. For the rest, the content of the commentary is drawn directly from Bede, both here and throughout the section dealing with the Valiant Woman. Though based on Bede throughout, Pseudo-Salonius’ comments are very selective, using only a fraction of Bede’s work. In fact, he gives extracts of Bede’s commentary on only nine of the 22 verses, namely 10, 14, 24, 22 [in that order], 25 and 28-31. The remaining thirteen are simply passed over in silence.

Whoever Pseudo-Salonius was, and whenever it was in the early Middle Ages that he lived, it is clear that he was a transmitter of Bede’s views of the Song, and thus of the broader allegorical tradition which interprets the Valiant Woman as the church. (p.38-41)

Footnotes:

75.  J.-P. Weiss, “Essai de datation du Commentaire sur les Proverbes attribue abusivement a Salonius,” Sacris Erudiri 19 (1969/70) 95-96.

77. Revue des Etudes Latines 44 (1966) 482-84.

78. See his “Essai de datation” (n.75 above) and Studia Patristica X (Berlin, 1970) 161-167.

79. “The True Author of the Salonii Commentarii in parabolas Salomonis et in  Ecclesiasten,” Recherches de Theologie Ancienne et Medievale 37 (1970) 174-186.

80. See Weiss, “Essai de datation,” 87-94.

81. I am quoting from the Migne edition, 53, 989 (substituting Magister and Discipulus for Veranus and Salonius; see Weiss, “Essai de datation,” 98-99): “Magister. Quae est mulier illa fortis de qua dicit: Mulierem fortem auis inveniet? procul et de ultimis finibus pretium ejus? Discipulus. Mulier fortis appellatur sancta Ecclesia catholica; quae ideo mulier dicitur, quia Deo spirituales generat filios ex acqua et Spiritu sancto. Fortis ideo dicitur, quia cuncta saeculi hujus adversa simul et prospera, propter fidem Et amorem sui Conditoris ac Redemptoris contemnit et despicit.”

I have not been able to find Weiss’ or Flint’s articles online, unfortunately.

When given two works which clearly are verbally identical in passages, and so connected, it is more difficult to say in which direction the borrowing took place than is sometimes realised.  Not having read the arguments, I wouldn’t like to venture an opinion.  But it seems at least questionable whether these works have anything to do with Salonius.

  1. [1]PL 53, 967-1012, online here.
  2. [2]Albert Marten Wolters, The Song of the Valiant Woman (Prov. 31:10-31): A pattern in the history of interpretation (to 1600)., McMaster university thesis, 1987. Online here.

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