The late antique and medieval commentaries on scripture took the form of chains of quotations from ancient writers, including much lost early Christian commentary. These are known today as the catena (=chain) commentaries, and their study is a rather specialised one.
Thankfully it is receiving some real attention today. Hugh Houghton writes to say that a volume of papers edited by himself on the subject is now online. This contains a great number of papers that will interest most of us.
It begins with “An Introduction to Greek New Testament Commentaries with a Preliminary Checklist of New Testament Catena Manuscripts”! Of course we’re discussing ancient Greek New Testament commentaries here. This paper alone will be of use to many.
The volume is H.A. Houghton, Commentaries, Catenae and Biblical Tradition: Papers from the Ninth Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, in association with the COMPAUL project. Gorgias Press (2016)
Those who remember my volume of Eusebius, Gospel Problems and Solutions, may know that it included Coptic fragments of the work. Dr H’s volume includes an interesting paper, “An Overview of Research on Bohairic Catena Manuscripts on the Gospels” by Matthias Schulz – something that I would have killed to read back in 2011.
Of deep interest to many will be C. M. Kreinecker’s paper on Rufinus’ translation of Origen’s commentary on Romans. It’s always interesting to wonder how accurate Rufinus is, considering that he is the only version of much of Origen, and also remembering a load of accusations by Jerome. The rediscovery of the original Greek of the Commentary on Romans means that this particular work can now be investigated; and this paper examines the Latin biblical text involved.
This is excellent news. Add it to your library now.
Dr H. also added a note to my post on the lost – and now found! – gospel commentary of Fortunatianus, to advise that he is producing an English translation which will be available with the text in 2017. But, better yet, the translation will be available online. Which means, of course, that we can all read it.
It is really a great pleasure to see useful scholarship being made available to the whole world like this. Well done, everyone involved, and especially Dr Houghton.
Postscript: I also see that Dr H.’s own website has a bunch of his papers which, inevitably, are also of wide interest. Recommended.
These are tremendously useful, and one can only congratulate the publishers, Peeters, and the Pontifical Institute in Rome, respectively. These highly specialist tomes now stand a chance of being read!
John Litteral writes to tell me that a complete translation of Cramer’s catena-commentary on Galatians has been made by Bill Berg, and is available at a trivial price ($12)on Amazon here (US) and here (UK).
Some will be unaware of what a catena is. The medieval church created its bible commentaries by stringing together chains of quotations from the fathers. These chain-commentaries are known today as catenas (from the Latin for chain). These often reference now lost works, and so are of value as a source for lost early Christian commentary on scripture. They tend to be found in the margins of Greek bible manuscripts; but sometimes standalone. The author of each excerpt is indicated by an abbreviation at the start.
It’s pretty hard to work with the catenas. The text is often corrupt, the author marks even more often corrupt, and the editions are all old – sometimes very old – and difficult to access. So … scholars have ducked the task of producing modern editions.
In the 19th century John Cramer published a set of catenas on all the books of the New Testament, in eight volumes. Bill Berg has attacked the catena on Galatians.
The authors cited in this catena include John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Severian of Gabala, among others.
So … if ancient biblical commentary is your thing, pick up a copy. It should certainly encourage work on this subject!
The Glossa Ordinaria is a medieval Latin commentary on the bible, composed of excerpts from earlier writers (including the Fathers). John Litteral writes to say that he has setup a project to translate it, here.
The results are now starting to appear. The translation of the section on 1 John, 2 John and 3 John into English has now appeared. The book is available on Amazon here, for the trivial sum of $10.
Dr Litteral tells me that his team will start work on a portion of Cramer’s Catena on the epistles next. This is very good news indeed, for the catenas are nearly inaccessible, for practical purposes. To produce a critical edition is tough; to master the contents impossible except for those with excellent Byzantine Greek and plenty of time. In the modern academic environment, the latter is nearly impossible to supply. A first step in remedying the lack is to provide serviceable translations; and this is what John hopes to do.
It’s remarkable what you can find on Google books if you look. An idle search for “catena” yesterday revealed that someone has translated the entirety of Cramer’s catena on Mark into English! Yay!
But first, a few words about catenas!
Not everyone will know what a “catena” (the word means “chain”) is. The term itself is modern. It refers to medieval Greek biblical commentaries. These are composed entirely of extracts from earlier writers, chained together by slight wording alterations at the ends. They usually appear in the margins of Greek bibles; or, rather, the biblical text appears in a small box in the centre of the page, surrounded by a mass of small writing! The author of each catena entry is indicated, usually using the first letter of their name or something of the kind. This of course gives plenty of scope for misattribution! Often the main author used is John Chrysostom.
Catenas seem to arise in the 6th century, and often incorporate very interesting material. There can be several catenas for each book of the bible, and the relationships between them are tangled things.
In 1840 Cramer published the Greek text of catenas on all the books of the New Testament in 8 volumes. The work was shoddily done, as John Burgon among others remarked; but it was still an achievement, and Cramer’s work can be found on Archive.org. But … it was the Greek text only.
The man who has made this translation is a certain William Lamb, The Catena in Marcum: A Byzantine Anthology of Early Commentary on Mark, Brill 2012 (Preview here).
Lamb doesn’t try to edit the text, which is probably a wise decision. Pages 27-45 discuss what, precisely, it is that we are looking at.
Cramer published his catena on Mark under the name of Cyril of Alexandria, because a couple of the manuscripts attributed it to him. But Cyril is too early. Burgon suggested the little-known Victor of Antioch; and Lamb suggests (p.33) that we probably are mistaken to suppose that the work, in anything like its current form, was the work of any one man.
There is much in this. Burgon took the view that even a compilation must have an author. But this is to neglect the physical form in which the catena was transmitted; as a massive collection of marginalia. Marginalia exist in most manuscripts anyway. But bibles are a special case.
Most printed bibles belonging to members of modern Christian Unions bore the marks of ownership – underlinings, scribbled notes in the margins, and so forth. Ancient readers had much the same needs in this respect as modern ones. So it seems idle to doubt that notes on the meaning of the text would not arise spontaneously in manuscript copies of the scriptures. A copy in a monastic library might well acquire marginalia from several hands, all of it excerpted from other books in that library, and placed in the (wide) margins where they would be useful. Over time, we may suppose, some of these bibles could acquire quite a lot of marginal items.
Would a scribe copy such marginalia? Surely he might. Because the marginalia were not idle scribblings, but useful commentary. Scholia get copied, as we know.
A body of marginalia may, quite naturally, evolve into the sort of catena that we see in medieval manuscripts. If so, then there may indeed be no original author.
Later, of course, someone may decide to compose a set of marginalia. Such a task is well within the capabilities of medieval scholarship, after all.
It’s hard to be sure. All this is speculative. But it is far from impossible.
If any of this is true, however, it does point to the exceeding difficulty in editing such a “text” – because it isn’t really a text at all. It is whatever somebody thought worth adding to a bible margin.
Lamb’s book is a great deal more than just a translation. The translation is the item of permanent value, for scholarship ages; but the scholarship in the book is also very welcome. Chapter 2, which surveys the scholarship and the manuscript tradition, is interesting throughout and I refer you to the online preview.
It is a book to which I wish I had access. The price is not as bad as some; but at $163 on Amazon.com, it is still prohibitive.
I look forward to seeing bootleg PDF’s in circulation!
In the Patrologia Graeca 12, col. 93-4, we have a further interesting fragment of Origen’s thought on Genesis 1:22.
The PG is a reprint of the Delarue edition, and these Selecta in Genesim are extracted from the medieval Greek bible commentaries, or catenas (=’chains’), which were made up of quotations from earlier authors on each verse in turn, strung together in a chain. Here is one:
And God said, “Let us make man in our own image and likeness”. The first thing to discuss is whether this “image” means in body [ἐν σώματι], or in mind [ἐν πψχῇ].
And first let us consider the passages made use of by those who assert the former; among whom is Melito, who left works in which he asserts that God is corporeal. For when they discover the members of God named, the eyes of God looking down at the earth, and his ears listening to the prayers of the just, and the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, and the mouth of the Lord has spoken this, and the arm of God, and the hand, and the feet, and the fingers; at once they suppose that these [passages] teach about nothing else than the form of God.
For in what way, they say, did God appear to Abraham, Moses, and to the saints, if he did not have a form? and if he had a form, what form, if not human? and they heap up a thousand places, in which the members of God are named.
Against these it is necessary to reply firstly from the words of scripture.
And we oppose to these, who know nothing beyond the letter, the words of scripture contrary to their opinion, from Zechariah: the seven eyes of the Lord range through the whole world. Because if God has seven eyes, while we have only two, we were not created in his image.
And neither are we provided with wings, as is said of God in the 90th Psalm: Under his feathers we will shelter, Because if God has feathers, but we are animals without feathers, man was not made in the image of God.
And in what way can heaven, which is spherical and revolves constantly, be the throne of God, as they suppose? More, in what way is earth his footstool?
Let them tell us.
For is it possible that of the body, which extends from the knees to the soles of the feet, understanding the distance which there is between heaven and earth, when the earth is in the middle of the whole universe, and is upheld by Him, as is shown by geometrical demonstrations, the soles of God’s feet are among us, or among the antipodeans [αντιχθοσι]?
And after a few more rhetorical questions of the same kind, he finishes with:
And in what way can it be said that those who suppose these things are not stupid?
It’s an interesting point. The scriptures are inspired, but Jesus told parables, so that human beings could understand profound truths, and God uses this poetic language similarly, not to reveal that He has wings (!) but to teach us things not otherwise easy to express in human language.
I learn from the footnote 30 in the PG that this whole fragment is given by Theodoret in his Questiones on Genesis, Q. 20.
Likewise footnote 31 discusses the reference to Melito, the impeccably orthodox 2nd century Christian writer. It seems that Origen had in mind the lost work of Melito, Περὶ ἐνσωμάτου Θεοῦ, and supposed that this meant that Melito was one of those who stated that God was corporeal — some misunderstanding of Stoic terminology is probably involved here — while in reality the title should be understood On the incarnation of God. Since Origen wrote only 40-50 years after Melito, I wonder whether Origen had ever read the work, or whether it was already scarce?
Today I found myself wondering just what the early Christians would have to say on various controverted passages in Scripture, passages where modern issues cause us to look urgently at the text. If Theodoret’s Commentary on Romans is any guide, not much: but I would like to know, all the same.
The volumes in this series are rather pricey, I recall, which is unfortunate. This material ought to be online, surely? It is slightly sad to read the following comment in the introduction to the series:
We have chosen and ordered these selections primarily for a general lay reading audience of nonprofessionals who study the Bible regularly and who earnestly wish to have classic Christian observations on the text readily available to them.
Yes, but how will this audience ever access the product? My only access to any of it vanished with Library.nu.
Now I was wondering just how the volumes were assembled. We all know that the catenas have not been critically edited, and even accessing them is not a trivial matter. There is some discussion of this in the general introduction (PDF) to the series, which appears to be in the Genesis I-II volume:
[We] identified these classic comments by performing global searches of the Greek and Latin patristic corpus. They have searched for these texts in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) digitalized Greek database, the Cetedoc edition of the Latin texts of Corpus Christianorum from the Centre de traitement electronique des documents (Universit. catholique de Louvain), the Chadwyck-Healey Patrologia Latina Database (Migne) and the Packard Humanities Institute Latin databases. We have also utilized the CD-ROM searchable version of the Early Church Fathers, of which the Drew University project was an early co-sponsor along with the Electronic Bible Society. …
Having searched Latin and Greek databases, we then solicited from our Coptic, Syriac and Armenian editorial experts selections from these bodies of literature, seeking a fitting balance from all available exegetical traditions of ancient Christianity within our time frame. To all these we added the material we could find already in English translation. …
[We] supplied to each volume editor a substantial read-out [=print-out] of Greek and Latin glosses, explanations, observations and comments on each verse or pericope of Scripture text. …
TLG and Cetedoc are referenced more often than Migne or other printed Greek or Latin sources for these reasons: (1) the texts are more quickly and easily accessed digitally in a single location; (2) the texts are more reliable and in a better critical edition; (3) we believe that in the future these digital texts will be far more widely accessed both by novices and specialists; (4) short selections can be easily downloaded; and (5) the context of each text can be investigated by the interested reader.
Note that the searches were carried out by computer specialists, rather than scholars. The editors also say that only a fraction of the material assembled was used, as is natural.
I think we may be fairly confident, therefore, that ancient catena material was not used.
It’s still a good project. Would that I could access it!!
This evening I found the following snippet in Google Books, given as in theJournal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1989, p.380:
… Ethiopia’s access to foreign commentaries (including that of Iso’dad of Merv and the other Syrian scholars) is through the Geez version of Ibn at-Taiyib’s exegetica and the Geez adaptation of Coptic-Arabic Catena….
Now call me daft, but this sounds as if the Coptic gospel catena published by De Lagarde, which was translated into Arabic, was then onward translated into Ethiopic, or more precisely Ge`ez. And that someone out there knows this. It’s in a book review of some kind.
Unfortunately I have no access to the article in which this appears. Poking around the website for the JRAS of 1989, p.380 belongs to Michael Loewe, of “East Asian civilizations: a dialogue in five stages. By Wm. Theodore de Bary. (The Edwin O. Reischauer Lectures, 1986.) pp. xi, 160. Cambridge, Mass, and London, Harvard University Press, 1988. £15.95.” That doesn’t sound right, nor does the abstract look right. Cambridge University Press greedily demand 20 GBP to access the article, the swine.
Wish I could find the article. Anyone got any ideas?
UPDATE: I think the Google Books snippet must be in error in some way, probably in the page number? I’ve found the book itself reviewed above, and it has nothing relevant in it.
UPDATE: Found it! I took the snippet and pasted it into the general Google search, and up it came as a JSTOR review in JRAS 1990, p.379f. The article is a review of Roger W. Cowley, Ethiopian Biblical Interpretation, CUP, 1988. Now that sounds like an interesting book. Amazon list it at a fantastic price, unfortunately.
The PDF is a useful thing. If you have a copy of the editor software, Adobe Acrobat, you can do many useful things. I got hold of Sickenberger’s study of the catena of Nicetas a couple of days ago. Because I had Acrobat, I added a set of bookmarks for the bits I wanted. I translated them, as and where necessary. In the process I started to gain an overview of the work. I also OCR’d it, which gives me the means to use Google translate to work on the content. I also have Christophe Guignard’s French description, which helps a lot!
The catena of Nicetas on Luke, as you remember, is a medieval commentary on the Gospel of Luke, composed entirely of chains (catenae) of quotations from the Fathers. It was probably written between 1100-1105, although Sickenberger thinks 1080 AD. A list of the manuscripts in which it may be found — for it has never been published — is something that I have long wanted to have. As someone more used to dealing with texts composed in antiquity, I find that it is quite strange to find an extant copy so close to the date of composition!
A. Mss. of the complete catena
1) The oldest and most complete manuscript is the Vaticanus graecus 1611 (= V), written in 1116-7 AD. It is written on parchment, 38.5 x 30 cm, and contains 320 folios. The end is missing, however, as are two quires from the interior. But originally it contained the whole catena, and nothing else. The catena is divided into four books, and the date on which each was begun and completed is given in the colophon to each book, except, of course, for the last where the loss of the end portion includes the loss of its colophon. The copying was started on 11 June 1116 and book 3 was completed on 19 May 1117. The page layout is unusual, however. The text is laid out on each page in the shape of the Greek letter Π. At the top of each page, the text is given in 12 lines in a single column of full page width. But then it splits into two columns, initially of 28 lines each but increasing as the manuscript goes on to 29 from fol. 168, and then to 30 from fol. 201. The names of the authors of each extract are given in red ink. These are placed usually in the margin, but sometimes in the body of the text. Red ink is also often used for initials, and for text quoted from the gospel. The book hand is a cursive minuscule, probably all by one person. There are numerous abbreviations, some of which are expanded in the margins by a second hand of the same period. There are some corrections by the copyist himself, but in general the copy was made with great care. A more recent hand added an index on fol. 1v. Opinions vary as to the origin of the manuscript. There seems to be a link with the monastery of Rossano in southern Italy, founded in the 12th century AD, but it may have been brought there from Constantinople by the abbey’s founder, Bartholomew de Simeri. This is the manuscript used by Angelo Mai for his extracts of Eusebius and other authors in the 1820’s, and is undoubtedly the most important.
2) Paris Coislinianus 201 (C), paper, 15th century, contains the whole catena on 605 folios, 28.5 x 21.5 cms, each of 35 lines. The author names were written in red in the margin, but are now very pale. The division into books is not retained. The text is so clear that despite its recent date Sickenberger considered the manuscript more usable than any other for text critical purposes (presumably in the absence of an edition). This manuscript also contains the 57 extracts from Hesychius, and seems to be a descendant of the Iviron ms., judging from various features of the text.
3) Athos Iviron 371 (I) and manuscript 466 of the Metochion of the holy sepulchre of Constantinople, now in the National Library of Greek in Athens, are two halves of what was once one manuscript, parchment, 12-13th century, 24.5 x 19 cms. The Iviron ms contains 626 folios, but only the first 409 are original. Interestingly, after the division of this manuscript into two halves, in 1576 someone added paper quires to the back of the Iviron manuscript and copied the missing section there, probably from the Constantinople ms itself. Again author names appear in the margin in red ink in the original portion of the Iviron ms. But a distinguishing feature of this manuscript is that someone has added some 57 extra extracts under the lemma “of Jerusalem” which Sickenberger says come from a commentary by Hesychius of Jerusalem. The manuscript has been extensively corrected, apparently by the copyist.
B. Manuscripts of the first half of the catena
Parisinus graecus 208, paper, 14th century, 406 folios, 30 x 21.5 cms, which once belonged to Cardinal Mazarin, and also has the interpolations and alterations of the Iviron ms. However there are some differences from the Coislin ms., suggesting that it is a cousin of the Coislin ms, rather than an ancestor or descendant. The ms. is missing the start of the catena, and only contains the first part of it anyway. Author names are in the margin.
C. Manuscripts of the second half of the catena
Athos, Vatopedi 457, parchment, 13th century, 585 folios, 33.5 x 24.5 cms, each of 31 lines.
D. Manuscripts of book 1 only
1) Vatican gr. 1642, parchment, 12th century, 295 folios, 36.5 x 28.5 cms, each page has two columns each of 30 lines. It is a copy of V.
2) Vindobonensis theol. gr. 71 (=L), 12-13th century, in Vienna, 424 folios, 30 x 19.5 cms, only contains book 1 of the catena. It does contain some lacunae, notably the first 9 folios. It is the work of two copyists, the second and more careful copyist beginning work at fol. 80. The first indicates the names of the authors in the margin; the second in the margin or in the body of the text. Initials are written in red ink. The manuscript was bought in Constantinople by Augerius of Busbecke, as a note on fol. 1 and f. 242v indicates, and is of oriental origin. It is in general very clear and readable, except for the first word or two of the first line of each page, where water seems to be responsible.
E. Manuscripts of book 2 only
1) Angelicus gr. 100, from the Bibliotheca Angelica in Rome, parchment, 12th century, 32.5 x 22.5 cms, 343 folios. The beginning and ending are missing.
2) Florence, Mediceo-Laurenziana, Conventi Soppressi 176, parchment, 12-13th century, 314 folios, 33.5 x 24 cms. The manuscript is mentioned by Montfaucon in his Diarium Italicum (Paris, 1702), p. 362, lines 37-39.
3) Monacensis gr. 473, bombyzine, 14th century, 416 folios, 24.5 x 17 cms. Once belonged to the town library in Augsburg.
4) Casanat. 715 (formerly G II 9), paper, 16th century, very pretty manuscript. On folios 3-319 it contains book 2 of the catena of Nicetas. The incipit and explicit are the same as those in the Florence copy, indicating that this is a copy of it.
Analysis of the tradition
Sickenberger considers that the tradition divides into three families.
V is the representative of the first or Italian family, and descended from it are Vat. gr. 1642 and also Monac. 473 (14th c.)
The Vienna ms., L, is the main and only complete representative of the second or Byzantine family, although Ang. 100 (12-13th c.), Florence Laurentianus conventi soppressi 176 (12-13th c.) and Athos Vatopedi 457 (13th c.) are cousins to it, rather than children. Casan. 715 (16th c.) is a copy of the Florence ms.
Finally there is the “interpolated” family, where the Iviron ms. I plus the Metochion ms. is the best representative, from which C and Paris gr. 208 (14th c.) are descended, and of course the second part of I (fol. 410-626) copied from the Metochion ms.
Devreesse divided the mss. differently, however, but with much the same results.
There are also secondary witnesses to the catena, because it was inevitable that so large a work would attract abridgement.
The first of these abridgements is the catena published by Corderius. This is found in two mss. The first is the Venice Marcianus gr. 494 (13th century), which is very faulty. The authorship of extracts is often mistaken in this. The second is the Monacensis gr. 33 (16th century), which seems to be a copy of the former. Balthazar Cordier made a Latin translation of this catena, using a copy of the Venice ms., which he published at Anvers in 1628.
In the 14th century, Macarius Chrysocephalus, metropolitan of Philadelphia, composed a catena on Luke, in which he made use of copious extracts from the earlier work of Nicetas. A manuscript may be found in Oxford, in the Bodleian, Barrocianus 156 (written in 1344).
Guignard also mentions that an unpublished Latin translation exists of the whole catena of Nicetas, made from the Vatican manuscripts, and today at the Biblioteca Nazionale centrale (Rome), mss. 1742 and 1743, which was made at Sant’Andrea della Valle. I must confess that I wish I owned a copy of this!
Something I had meant to do, when I wrote about the catena of Nicetas, was to track down the works of J. Sickenberger mentioned as published in TU. I have, in fact, now updated that page with some links to Google books, although, as ever, non-US readers will not be able to read them.
TU 22.4: J. Sickenberger, Die Lukaskatene des Niketas von Herakleia untersucht (Leipzig, 1902) can be found here, or here.
TU 21.1: J. Sickenberger, Titus von Bostra. Studien zu dessen Lukashomilien (Leipzig, 1901) can be found here. This is not evidently about the catena on Luke by Nicetas, except that Titus of Bostra figures regularly in catenas, including that of Nicetas.
I have also updated both Google books pages with a “review” indicating the contents of each volume. That should make searching easier!
But how did I find them? Through a link to the right here, which I often use. Mischa Hooker compiled an index of TU volumes 1-32. It is such a useful resource!
My main remaining problem is that my German is not that good, and academic German of a century ago is pretty impenetrable!
The final item mentioned is Sickenberger’s 32 page monograph, Aus römischen Handschriften über die Lukas Katene des Niketas (1898). This is referred to here. But I was unable to locate the item itself. I suspected that perhaps it too was part of a serial. And a Google search indicated just that: “Röm. Quartalschrift für christl. Altertumskunde und für Kirchengeschichte, XII ” (don’t you just hate that habit of abbreviation?). I think it’s actually known as “Römischen Quartalschrift”. But I had no luck finding that volume online.
UPDATE: Now running OCR using Adobe Acrobat on TU 22.4. The only way I shall be able to work on that will be with the help of Google translate!