Latin translations of the Greek fathers in Dark Ages monastic manuscript inventories

How widely known were the Greek fathers in the Latin world during the Dark Ages?  How accessible were they?

One possible source of information is the surviving inventories of medieval libraries.  A collection of these was printed by G. Becker in 1885 as Catalogi Bibliothecarum Antiqui, and it makes interesting reading indeed.  In fact if you want to get an idea of what a medieval library looked like, this is the best thing you can read.  Catalogue after catalogue, monastery after monastery.

If we do a search on “Origen”, we start finding results almost at once.  The seventh catalogue, from Fontanelle, ca. 823-33 AD, has four volumes of his homilies as entries 78-81.  The next catalogue (8), from Reichenau, at much the same time, is better still:

Homilies of Chrysostom on Matthew; Origen on Genesis, on Romans; and books from the Clementine Recognitions.  All of these are, of course, Latin translations.  It raises the question of just what the Latin world of that period had access to.

Back in 2021 an interesting article appeared in the Downside Review by Scott G. Bruce: “Veterum vestigia patrum: The Greek Patriarchs in the Manuscript Culture of Early Medieval Europe”.[1]  The abstract is worth quoting:

This article draws attention to the availability of Latin translations of Greek patristic literature in western reading communities before the year 800 through a survey of the contents of hundreds of surviving manuscripts from the Merovingian and Carolingian periods. An examination of the presence of the translated works of eastern church fathers in the 8th-century florilegium known as The Book of Sparks (Liber scintillarum) and monastic library catalogs from the early 9th century corroborates the impression left by the manuscript evidence. Taken together, these sources allow us to gauge the popularity of particular eastern authors among Latin readers in early medieval Europe and to weigh the influence and importance of Greek patristics in the western monastic tradition.

But the abstract is too modest: the author has surveyed nearly 1,800 Latin manuscripts created before 800 AD – a massive task.  His conclusion:

In conclusion, the legacy of the ancient fathers, in particular those of Greek origin, was an important aspect of the intellectual history of early medieval monasticism that has received little attention in modern scholarship. This article has laid the foundation for the study of the reception of the Greek fathers in the medieval Latin tradition. Its survey of the nearly 1800 Latin manuscripts created before or around the year 800 has shown that doctrinal, devotional, and historical works attributed to eastern Christian authors survived in relative abundance in western monastic libraries. Latin reading communities favored especially the biblical commentaries of Origen, the salvation history of Eusebius, and the homilies and sermons of John Chrysostom, but other Christian Greek authors like Basil of Caesarea, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Ephrem the Syrian, and Gregory of Nazianzos informed their thinking as well. An examination of the early 8th-century Book of Sparks and Carolingian book inventories from the first decades of the 9th century corroborated the evidence of the manuscripts, and also uncovered the presence of lesser known works of Eastern origin that attracted a western audience, including a spiritual guide by Evagrius of Pontus. … The Christological controversies of the late 8th century raised the currency of the Greek fathers even higher among Latin readers like Alcuin, who looked back to the 5th-century east for a language of authority with which to defend traditional Christian doctrine against the misguided interpretation of Christ’s nature put forward by the Adoptionists.

The article is very readable, and is recommended.

Note the presence of Ephraim the Syrian?  This is CPG 4080 = CPL 1143, De die judicii, on the Day of Judgement, found in the catalogue of St Riquier (Becker 11, p.27).  There’s an English translation online here.

Looking in Becker, I find mention of a Discourses to Monks in Whitby ca. 1180 (Becker 109, p.226), but all is not as it seems.  for Becker gives his source:

Edwards. Memoirs of libraries. (London 1859.) p. 109-111 excerpsit ex Young History of Whitby and Streoneshald Abbey {1817} p.918-920.

and the latter is accessible online.  On p.919 here we find that the entry is merely “Effrem” – the rest is speculation by the 19th century editor.  The work supposed here is CPG 3942 Exhortation to the Monks of Egypt (Sermones paraenetici ad monachos Aegypti), the first ten of which are online in English here.  (The translation site has gone, and is now preserved only at

Later in Becker there is yet another “liber, qui vocatur Ephrem” – a book which is called ‘Ephrem’ – as entry 37 of Stederburg (Becker 124, p.253, 12th c.).

It’s very useful to know just what was available in Dark Ages Europe.

  1. [1]Vol. 139, p.6-23.  DOI: 10.1177/0012580621994704

2 thoughts on “Latin translations of the Greek fathers in Dark Ages monastic manuscript inventories

  1. Just a small note: “the Homelies on Matthew by John Chrysostom” most likely refer to the so-called Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum, an originally Latin work probably written in Illyricum or Constantinople and attributed to John Chrysostom in the course of tradition (like many other works, he was one of the favorite fathers to whom a work could be attributed if one wasn’t sure of its authorship). There is in Karlsruhe the manuscript of this work from Reichenau (Augiensis perg. 93):

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