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The Value and Influence of Cassiodorus' Ecclesiastical History

  • M. L. W. Laistner (a1)


Most students of history or literature have had at some time the experience of encountering statements or generalizations made by a writer of an earlier generation and then finding them repeated without question by his successors working in the same field of inquiry. What is more, if dissentient voices have been raised, they have often been overlooked or disregarded. The prevailing estimate of Cassiodorus' Ecclesiastical History affords an excellent example of the manner in which erroneous opinions have been repeated ad nauseam from one generation to the next, although more than thirty years have passed since two scholars of the first rank, Bidez and Parmentier, provided at least some of the evidence needed for a more just evaluation of Cassiodorus' book. There are two essential questions which seem to call for fresh investigation. The first is concerned with the value and accuracy of the compilation, the second with its diffusion during the Middle Ages and its popularity as a work of reference.



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1 The following abbreviations have been used throughout: HT = Historia Tripartita; MGH = Monumenta Germaniae Historica; PL = Migne, Patrologia Latina.

2 The best treatment of Cassiodorus' activities at Vivarium is now to be found in the brilliant book, Les Lettres grecques en Occident, by Pierre Courcelle (Bibliothèque des écoles françaises d'Athènes et de Rome, Fasc. 159; Paris, de Boccard, 1943), PP. 313–388. Cf. my review in Classical Philology for October, 1947.

3 Cf. J. Bidez, La tradition manuscrite de Sozomène et la Tripartite de Théodore le lecteur (A. Harnack und C. Schmidt, Texte und Untersuchungen XXXII [1908], Heft 2b), pp. 35 ff.; and generally, O. Bardenhewer, Geschichte der altkirchlichen Literatur 5 (1932), pp. 117–118.

4 Cf. Bidez, op. cit., p. 46, where the whole of Theodore's Preface is printed; Liberatus in PL 68, col. 969C.

5 De exordiis, chs. 20 and 26 (ed. Knöpfler, pp. 45 and 76–77).

6 PL 201, 403A (from HT 1058B–C) and 309D–310A (from HT 1051D); Policraticus (ed. C. C. Webb) II, 214, 10 ff.

7 Parmentier, L., Theodoret: Kirchengeschichte (Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte, Leipzig, 1911), p. LXVI.

8 M. Manitius, Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters I, p. 51. In the Nachträge published in II, p. 793 he alludes to the work of Bidez and Parmentier, but he does not point out that their researches invalidated his earlier opinion. M. van de Vyver (Speculum 6 [1931], pp. 264–265), refers to Bidez in a footnote, but his estimate of HT and the fact that he repeats a mistake in Bidez' book suggest that he had not read it very carefully. On p. 51 Bidez had stated that Epiphanius used Theodore Lector down to Book 2, chapter 3. This was either a slip or a misprint; and on p. 55 he says correctly that Theodore's Syntaxis was followed down to Book 2, chapter 7.

9 For example, the confusion between ὠδῖσιν and ᾠδαῖς, so that παρθενικαῖςὠδῖσιν in HT become virginum cantibus! See Parmentier, op. cit. p. LII.

10 See Thiele, Hans, Studien und Mitteilungen zur Geschichte des OSB 50 (1932), pp. 415417; the information in Jones, L. W., Divine and Human Readings by Cassiodorus (Columbia U. P., 1946), pp. 5657, is also insufficient, being taken from Thiele with some additions from Manitius' third volume. There are many omissions even in M. Manitius, HSS antiker Autoren in mittelalterlichen Bibliothekskatalogen, pp. 319–322.

11 The Liber pontificalis, apart from its specialized nature, making any references to eastern affairs merely incidental, only becomes a detailed record from the end of the sixth century. Cf. the judicious summary of Bardenhewer, op. cit. 5, p. 302.

12 M. Courcelle, whose account of Cassiodorus is otherwise so good, is utterly misleading in what he says about extant manuscripts of these two works. He asserts (op. cit., p. 351 with note 7) that “quantité de manuscrits carolingiens” of HT survive and, in support of this statement, he lists seven. One of these (Sangall. 561) contains saints' lives with, as far as can be judged from Scherrer, at most a few excerpts from HT. Casinensis 302, according to Lowe (Beneventan Script, p. 349), is written partly in ordinary minuscule (saec. x/xi), partly in Beneventan (saec. xi ex.). Vattasso dates Vat. lat. 1970 in the tenth century, while Stevenson, whose dates are less reliable, says of Vat. Pal. 823, “saec. ix vel x.” Reifferscheid, on whom M. Courcelle relies, dated Vercelli CI “saec. ix-x” and Naples VI D 18 “saec. x.” In short, under the term “carolingien” M. Courcelle lumps together manuscripts varying in date by two centuries or more. He follows a similar procedure in note 2 on the same page when he lists codices of the commentary on Psalms. For the information of the interested reader a more accurate enumeration of truly early manuscripts of that work follows. The dates are not mine but have been assigned by expert palaeographers, Lindsay or Lowe or, in one case, Bruckner: Autun 20A (saec. viii-ix); Durham B.II.20 (saec. viii med.); Laon 26 (saec. ix in.); Munich 14077–78 (saec. ix1, since Lindsay did not include mss of the later ninth century in his Notae latinae); Paris 12239–41 (saec. viii med.); St. Gall 202 (saec. ix med., period of Grimalt); Schaffhausen, Ministerialbibl. 77 (saec. viii–ix); and Troyes 657 (saec. viii ex.).

13 W. Levison, England and the Continent in the eighth century, p. 141, note 1, points out that I was mistaken in deriving a passage in Bede's commentary on Mark from HT. For Boniface, see ibid., p. 283; Alcuin, PL 101, 97 B–C (=PL 69, 909D–910A): Paulinus, MGH: Epist. IV, 526, 35 ff.

14 MGH: Concilia II, 484, 25–27, with quotations from HT on pp. 487 and 503; PL 106, 345C, 346B, 346C, 349C.

15 MGH: Epistulae VI, 481, 18, quoting from HT 4, 6; PL 121, 307C, 336A, 344B.

16 PL 125, 969B and 974B–D from HT 9, 20–23.

17 See Hellmann, S., Sedulius Scottus (Munich, 1906) whose edition of De rectoribus provides full information about Sedulius' sources. For the Collectaneum see ibid., p. 97.

18 G. Becker, Catalogi bibliothecarum antiqui 11, 193.

19 See page 53 above and MGH: Epistulae V, 248, 19ff., where Amalarius quotes HT on the subject of the Quartodecimans and Lenten fasting.

20 MGH: Epistulae VII, 419, 25–26 and 421, 3–4; for Nicholas I see above, Page 59.

21 PL 133, 535A; 134, 922C, 932B, and particularly 934D–936D (= PL 69, 1145A–1146D).

22 See Manitius, op. cit., II, p. 473, with the references there given.

23 See the excellent index to MGH: Libelli de lite, I–III, where this pamphlet literature has been conveniently collected.

24 Cf. MGH: Scriptores V, 525, 11 ff.; VI, 307 and 310; XX, 200 and 201.

25 MGH: Scriptores IV, 24s, 10 ff.; Manitius, op. cit., II, p. 196.

26 See the full discussion in S. Hellmann, op. cit., pp. 12–13.

27 I wish to thank my friend, Mr. S. H. Thomson, for consulting several catalogues inaccessible to me, and particularly for drawing my attention to the codex in Cracow. He also informs me that the manuscript collection there is intact.

28 See Gesammtkatalog der Wiegendrucke 6 (1934), Nos. 6163 to 6167.

The Value and Influence of Cassiodorus' Ecclesiastical History

  • M. L. W. Laistner (a1)


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