A curious quotation of Matthew 17:19 in Latin

In chapter 10 of John the Deacon’s 9th century “Life of St Nicholas” (BHL 6105), we find the following quotation from the gospel of Matthew:

Porro nemini hoc incredibile videatur, quia salvatoris est ista promissio, dicentis, “Si habueritis fidem sicut granum sinapis, dicetis monti,  ‘Transfer te,’ et transferetur.”

Moreover let this not seem incredible to anyone, because that promise is from the Saviour, who says, “If you have faith like a mustard seed, you shall say to the mountain, ‘Move yourself’, and it will be moved.”

This is Matthew 17:19, of course.  And yet… if I look at the Weber-Gryson 5th edition of the Vulgate, the text reads differently:

dicetis monti huic ‘transi hinc’ et transibit.

If I look at Sabatier’s edition of the Vetus Latina, it reads the same.

Nor is this all.  Collating the 4 editions and the 10 manuscripts that I am using for John the Deacon reveals a wide range of readings:

  • “dicetis monti,  transfer te, et transferetur” – Fal., M (corrector adds “et” before “dicetis”), O, W, L;
  • “dicetis monti transferre et transferi” – Corsi;
  • “dicetis monti, transferre et transferetur” – P, B, A;
  • “dicetis monti, transfer et transferetur” – G;
  • “dicetis huic monti transfer te et transferetur” – D;
  • “dicentes monti transfer et transferetur” – C;
  • “et dixeritis monti huic, te transfer, transferetur” – Mom., Lipp.;

It’s actually slightly tricky to collate.  The difference between “transfer te” (which can look like “transferte”) and “transferre” is minimal in some cases.  It’s not that easy to decide what the manuscript says, in one or two cases.

Googling produced some interesting results.  But it also identified what is probably the source for this translation of Mt. 17:19.  For this is exactly what appears in a text written around 374 AD.

The “Life of Anthony” by Athanasius of Alexandria was an influential text; and it was important enough to attract, not one, but two independent translations into Latin in the same time period.   Both are edited in the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina vol. 170, ed. Pascal Bertrand and Lois Gandt, who helpful produce a parallel text of both against the Greek at the end.

One of these, by a certain Evagrius of Antioch (discussed at Purple Motes here), is the one with our text.  The CCSL text is (p. 91, chapter 83):

83.  Hucusque Antonius.  Sed nos minime convenit diffidere tam, grande miraculum per hominem potuisse portendi.  Salvatoris enim promissio est, ista dicentis: Si habueritis fidem ut granum sinapis, dicetis huic monti, ‘Transfer te’, et transferetur.

transfer te] transferre A2, AASS
transferetur] transfertur G1

Note that the “promise of the saviour” is also in here.  I would suggest that John the Deacon had this in mind when he made his “Life of St Nicholas”.

The variants in Evagrius are likewise interesting – that “transferre” is not the majority reading but does indeed appear, and has made its way into the Acta Sanctorum.  It seems to be a corruption of “transfer te”.

The other early translation is anonymous, but reads:

dicetis monti huic, ‘Transi hinc illic’, et transferetur.

The CCSL tells me of two editions of Evagrius of Antioch.  The first appeared in 1615, from Heribert Rosweyde in his Vitas Patrum.  This is online here.  It’s the same as the CCSL.  The second was produced by Montfaucon in 1698, as part of his edition of the works of Athanasius, and was reprinted in the PG 26, col. 959, here. This gives yet another version of the words.

‘Hinc transmigra’ et transmigrabit.

But I discover an earlier edition, in Cologne in 1548, in an edition of the works of Athanasius.  Chapter 83 is on f.172v (online here).  This reads exactly the same as the CCSL text.

Interestingly the google search also revealed that the same text as Nicholas appears in the unique manuscript of the first Latin translation of Barlaam and Josaphat, edited in José Martínez Gázquez, Hystoria Barlae et Iosaphat (Bibl. Nacional de Napóles VIII.B.10), CSIC (1997), where the epilogue (p.193, here) gives:

dicetis monti huic: ‘transfer te’ et transferetur.

I understand that the Latin version of Evagrius was a very widely read text.  Clearly it was being read in Naples in the 9th century, when John the Deacon wrote his “Life of St Nicholas”, drawing upon Greek sources just as Evagrius had done before him.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *