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Van Gennep's work on rites of passage can be viewed as part of the rise of anthropology in the period prior to the First World War, and has been very influential conceptually and on the practice of churches ever since. This article examines how his own historical work, taking baptism as an example of a rite of passage, compares with the practice of church history at the time. It then seeks to assess van Gennep's assumptions in comparison with the assumptions about the past used in church history writing today, acknowledging that the turn to plurality – that uniformity in doctrines, rituals and texts is subsequent to diversity – of recent scholarship is in several respects anticipated by van Gennep.
Since no library list from Iona has survived, and the only extant manuscript that can be linked with certainty to the island is a copy of the Vita sancti Columbae, it is on the basis of the texts quoted in Adomnán's two books that one can reconstruct the contents of the island's library. The Vita Germani by Constantius can be identified from the Vita Columbae, along with the anonymous Actus Silvestri. Incidentally, through Bede's words of praise for the learning displayed in the De locis sanctis, Adomnán himself was included in the later updates of the De viris inlustribus. One other piece of textual evidence that is relevant to Iona's library appears in the seventh-century Irish poem Amra Choluimb Chille in praise of Columba. Much speculation has been devoted to the form of the biblical text on Iona which, in turn, has focused on the presence of non-Vulgate lemmata in Adomnán's works.
In the late third century Eusebius of Caesarea, better remembered now for his work as a historian of the church, produced an apparatus for the reconciliation of the disagreements found in the four Christian gospels. It was a remarkable work in its own right for it preserved, as the tradition demanded, the plurality of the gospels, while allowing them to be presented and studied as a single entity, “the gospel,” and so succeeding in Tatian's aim in his Diatessaron — as exegesis and apologetics demanded. Moreover, though now largely forgotten, it remained an important element within theology for centuries. This paper's aim is to locate the significance of Eusebius's work in its original setting in the world of late antiquity and the Christian defense of pagan challenges to the gospels' integrity, and then to follow the influence of his work within just one strand of the tradition: that which forms the background of western, Latin theology. So it will note how that work was adopted and adapted by Jerome, how it then passed on to the late-patristic Latin schoolmasters who sought to transform all learning into convenient modules of defined value, and then was taken up by others in just one region of the Latin West, the insular world, such as the anonymous scribes of the Book of Kells, the Stowe Missal, and the Book of Deer, for whom Eusebius's work was a mystery that they could not simply abandon, even when they could not understand it. Throughout this period, the Eusebian Apparatus roused the intellect of scholars, teachers, and scribes, but in each milieu the significance and perceived utility of the Apparatus was different. The history of ideas is about changes within intellectual and textual continuities, and with the Apparatus we have a clearly identifiable scholarly tool that does not in itself change over the period, but whose reception and exploitation vary greatly.
In a famous passage on the training of those who wished to become wise in sacred letters, in effect, learned readers of the Christian scriptures, Cassiodorus wrote:
The first thing a student should do, having read [my] book is to go back and study carefully the works of those (introductores) who have written introductions to the sacred scriptures. We have found the following [useful]: Tyconius the Donatist; St Augustine’s De doctrina Christiana; Hadrian; Eucherius; and Junilius. I have carefully collected their works and bound them together into a collection so that through their various explanations and examples these men might make matters known who were previously unknown.
Written, probably, in the early 680s on lona, Adomnán’s De locis sanctis has excited interest, and been used as a quarry for facts about the Holy Land, ever since. It purports to report the pilgrim experiences of a ‘bishop of the Gaulish race’ (prooemium, I), Arculf, who, when later on Iona, told of what he had seen in Palestine, Alexandria, and Constantinople. Realising his ‘scoop’, Adomnán set the details down in a permanent record. Within twenty years this formed the basis of a more concise account by Bede, who added a few details of his own about Arculf which have become standard elements of the latter’s biography: the pilgrim, returning home, was blown by a gale on to the western shores of Britain, and thence he travelled to Iona where he told his story. However, while Arculf - through either Adomnán’s or Bede’s account - is the focus of attention in scholarship using these works as evidence, Bede recognized the expertise of Adomnán in the work, and did not reduce him to the status of an amanuensis.
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