Notes on the Life of Nicholas of Myra by John the Deacon

Frequently listed among the important sources for the legends of St Nicholas of Myra is the Life written in Latin by John the Deacon.  This is not printed in Anrich’s collection of Greek sources, which is a nuisance.  Various versions of John’s text were created in the Middle Ages, and there is a translation of something into English online here.  But where to find John’s text?

Today I happened on some useful information.  The old Catholic Encyclopedia article on John the Deacon tells us:

(2) John, deacon of Naples, d. after 910. This deacon, or head of a diaconia at the church of St. Januarius of Naples, flourished towards the end of the ninth and the beginning of the tenth century, …. A biography of St. Nicholas of Mira (ed. Cardinal Mai in “Spicilegium Romanum”, IV, 323 sqq.) is not by this John but by another author of the same name.

The volume of Spicilegium Romanum is here, in a poor-quality scan.  This is indeed a different text to that translated above.  It is on p.323-339.  But surely so widely known a text as John the Deacon has been printed before this?

This leads me, of course, to a text that I have never consulted before: the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina, whose volumes are online here: Vol. 1. A – I and Vol. 2. K – Z, although not to non-US readers because of the greed of German publishers. Thankfully a V1 is here and V2 can be found here.  On p.890 (=p.203 of the PDF), we find an entry for Nicholas of Myra.

In the BHL we find the Life of John the Deacon in first place (BHL 6104-9), and printed by Falconius in Sancti confessoris pontificis … Nicolai acta primigenia (Neapoli, 1751), 112-22, containing chapters 1-13, and also on p.126.  Falconius is here, and the text starts here.

After John’s work there follows in the BHL a mass of other Latin versions of the Life, too many to be of any interest.  But it might be interesting to translate John’s Life of Nicholas into English.

8 thoughts on “Notes on the Life of Nicholas of Myra by John the Deacon

  1. What splendid things you apprise us of! Thank you!

    I commend following the further link to “The Translation of Saint Nicholas” found via your link to “a translation of something into English online”, as variously of interest – including the bibliography (which I have only glanced at so far).

    And browsing through your linked BHL vol. 2, and arriving at the plays of item 21 (p. 899), I find that Thomas Wright’s Early Mysteries listed there is scanned in the Internet Archive, too:

    https://archive.org/details/earlymysteriesa00unkngoog

  2. The (old) Cath.Ency. on John the Deacon mentions an Exposition on Heptateuch ‘said to be’ in a Paris MS. It is there in Paris, BNlat 12,309. It is a catena of quotations from the usual Latins, plus Origen and John Chrysostom (in Latin), also includes Tychonius. The latest seems to be Victor of Capua. When John quotes from Rufinus’ Liber de Fide he is the only witness (other than one surviving MS) to Pseudo-Rufinus’ (the so-called “Syrian”!) Liber de Fide. He also quotes from the 2nd Bk of the Liber, which is in fact a quote from the 2nd edition of Gregory of Elvira’s Liber de Fide, that found its way into the collection of tracts by Gregory of Nazianz translated by Rufinus of Aquileia. Augustine quoted from it as a tract “by an Eastern bishop”. All very confusing.

  3. Very tangentially (and self-indulgently?), I’ve just had a paper-proposal accepted involving Tolkien and (among other things) St. Nicholas and his literature and Father Christmas, for the Lustrum of the Dutch Tolkien Society.

  4. Congratulations on the Tolkien article! Those Father Christmas letters are nifty, so I am sure it will be interesting!

  5. Thanks! Those Father Christmas letters are indeed nifty: for years we read them one-a-day en famille from the first, 1976, version as a sort of adjunct to the Advent calendar. The expanded 1999 version would make it possible to start earlier doing that…

    I’ve never had access to this version, but it sounds like fun:

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