Lyon’s role in the history of texts: a keystone, Reg. lat. 331

With this blog article I’d like to celebrate the release of a digitization I’ve long been waiting for: MS Città del Vaticano, Bib. Apost. Vat., Reg. lat. 331 [here]. Jean-Baptiste Piggin, who does an amazing work monitoring the Vatican Library’s digitizations website [here], figured out that it was released between May 17th and May 25th, 2017. There’s a bit of bibliography on the codex, as you can see from the Vatican’s database [here]; the most careful, precise and recent studies on the codex itself can be found in Angel Anglada Anfruns’ latin (!) articles.

The head of the codex is lost; it now starts within Augustine’s epistle 140, which is actually more of a treatise, “on the New Testament’s grace” (f. 1r-22r; starting point: “mercede utilissima”, ed. CSEL 44, p. 164,25). Then we find epistles 137 (f. 22r-28v), 136 (f. 28v-29v), 138 (f. 29v-36r), 98 (f. 36r-39r). After this small collection of Augustine’s epistles, we go on with Pacian of Barcelona’s works, shortly interrupted by some Paulinus of Nola’s epistles, as follows: Pacian’s paraenesis (or de paenitentibus, f. 39r-44v); Paulinus’s epistle 40 (f. 44v-50r); Paulinus’s epistle 24 in an abbreviated form (f. 50r-54v); Pacian’s de baptismo (f. 54v-57v); Pacian’s epistle 1 (f. 57v-61r); Pacian’s epistle 2 (f. 61r-64r); Pacian’s epistle 3 (or contra tractatus Novatianorum, f. 64v-76r). After that, we read a collection of excerpts from historians: Eusebius (in Rufinus’ Latin translation) and Bede. You can see André Wilmart’s catalogue of Reginenses latini 1–500 for more details.

When you come to the Carolingian Lyon’s role in the history of Latin texts, this manuscript is an actual keystone. It illustrates on many levels the various kind of informations that you can gather from preserved manuscripts.

Florus’ study manuscript (Arbeitshandschrift)

Let’s start by what’s obvious when you leaf through the book: some disrespectful person wrote crazy looking notes and incomprehensible signs on almost the whole manuscript. For example (click on the picture to get the full page view):

Marginal note

Reg. lat. 331, f. 15v

Marginal note

Reg. lat. 331, f. 16v

Marginal signs

Reg. lat. 331, f. 73v

Of course, since you’re on this blog, you know what’s going on here: we are watching over Florus’ shoulder as he reads the manuscript.

In fact, a number of the notes and technical signs that we find in this manuscript correlate directly with Florus’ preserved writings. For example here:

Preparing an excerpt

Reg. lat. 331, f. 8v

Florus wrote a small note in the margin, stating how this passage of Augustine’s epistle 140 seemed interesting to him: Notanda ualde expositio, “Truly remarkable explanation”. He also put a PHIL’ sign in the margin: in Florus’ system, it means there’s a quotation or a reminiscence of Paul’s epistle to the Philippians in the text. Then you’ll notice a few brackets in the text:

…mihi uidetur intelligi. [Cane(m)] uero mundu(m) [appellauit non ratione…

and after a few more lines we find another one:

…etiam innocentibus irritentur.] Manu autem canis…

It’s as if someone had tried to mark out the passage. In fact, when you go to Florus’ masterpiece, his Expositio on Paul’s Epistles that’s made of more than 2,000 Augustinian excerpts, you’ll find the very same text. And of course, it’s a piece of the commentary on Philippians — as expected from the manuscript’s PHIL’ sign. In the edition, it’s the excerpt in Phil. 64 (CCCM 220B, p. 505); but since we’re lucky enough to have partially preserved the original manuscript of that work, I might as well show you the passage as Florus saw it himself:

Excerpt in Philippians 64 in the original manuscript

Lyon, BM, 484, f. 108r

The lines that are written in small capitals and blue ink, in the text’s body, are Paul’s sentences that the main, Augustinian text (in brown) explains. There’s also a marginal reference (blue rectangle) stating the reference in Augustine’s work, the same way we would do a footnote: here it says Ex libro de gratia Novi Testamenti, which is exactly Augustine’s epistle 140. In the text itself, we read: Canes appellauit non ratione… until …etiam innocentibus irritentur. That’s exactly the text that was marked out in MS Reg. lat. 331: only canem was changed to canes, a plural, which better fits the context; and the words vero mundum, that the brackets seemed to take out of the prepared passage, are indeed absent from Florus’ Expositio.

In the Reg. lat. 331, we can see Florus preparing several excerpts of Augustine’s epistle 140, corresponding to the excerpts Ex libro de gratia Noui testamenti in Florus’ Expositio. Since the beginning of epist. 140 in the Reg. lat. 331 is lost, that means that Florus’ Expositio may have preserved a few excerpts of its original, now lost text.

In Reg. lat. 331, Florus also annotated Augustine’s epistle 137, but he didn’t prepare excerpts for the Expositio. Indeed, this epistle is never quoted in the Expositio, probably because there isn’t anything on Paul’s epistle in it. On the contrary, Reg. lat. 331 shows no sign of Florus’ work in epistles 136, 138, and 98, whereas the Expositio contains a few excerpts from epistles 98 and 138. Since we know how Florus works, and since he didn’t work that way on the Reg. lat. 331’s epistles 98 and 138, we can safely deduce that Florus used, for those epistles, another exemplar.

Now the Reg. lat. 331 doesn’t stop with Augustine’s epistles, and Florus also did get on with his reading, through Paulinus of Nola’s and Pacian of Barcelona’s works. As it happens, we also know a compilation on Paul’s Epistles that is made from excerpts of Paulinus of Nola, and another made of excerpts of Pacian’s works. We don’t preserve any Carolingian Lyonnais MS of those, only two later copies; but one of them tells us that the materials were compiled by Florus of Lyon. What are the chances?… Of course, you guessed it: we find in Reg. lat. 331 the preparations of every excerpt of Paulinus’ epistle 40 that is actually used in the compilation extracted from Paulinus’ works; as well as the preparations of every single excerpt that can be found in the compilation extracted from Pacian’s works. Here are two short examples:

Reg. lat. 331, f. 49v

Here (↑) Florus prepares the excerpt of Paulinus of Nola’s epistle 40 that subsequently took place in his Paulinian compilation on the Apostle (exc. 42, in II Cor. V; CCCM 193B, p. 323).

Reg. lat. 331, f. 40r

Here (↑) he prepares an excerpt of Pacian’s paraenesis that he used in his Pacianian compilation on the Apostle (exc. 17, in Gal. I; CCCM 193B, p. 22).

You can see how Florus uses the same method every time: a marginal sign (PHIL’ – COR·II – GAL’ – etc.) marks both the reminiscence or quotation of Paul’s epistle in the Father’s work, and the destination of the excerpt in the compilation that Florus is preparing. Within the text, brackets mark out the passage, or passages, that will constitute the excerpt in the compilation; and the marked out text is carefully corrected and punctuated by Florus directly on the source manuscript.

This is, so to say, textbook Florus. However, if you leaf through the manuscript, you’ll see many notes and signs that do not pertain to the preparation of excerpts; those are much less mentioned in the bibliography, and much less studied, although they represent an invaluable source to the intellectual and spiritual life in Carolingian era. But let’s move on to another aspect that makes Reg. lat. 331 very special.

Reg. lat. 331 in the history of texts

I said before that Florus prepared, directly on Reg. lat. 331, all and every one of the 25 excerpts that compose his compilation on the Apostle from Pacian of Barcelona’s works. There’s a very good reason for that: Reg. lat. 331 is the actual manuscript that saved every single one of Pacian’s work that is preserved until today. Angel Anglada Anfruns’ critical edition has shown that every other manuscript of Pacian’s works that is preserved, and every printed edition ever, are descendants of the Reg. lat. 331.

Pacian lived in the 4th century. But his works didn’t spread, it seems, in the five next centuries, since we preserve no manuscripts from that time, nor later copies that would descend from those older copies. Only in the 9th century the Lyonnais clerics ran into some of Pacian’s works, and they took a copy for themselves: our Reg. lat. 331. This situation explains another strange little fact: when he quotes Pacian, Florus feels obligated to say that Jerome spoke about him in good terms. He never does that for any other author — but he knew Pacian’s authority wouldn’t be acknowledged just like that, simply because no-one actually knew Pacian at the time. Lyon’s cathedral library rediscovered him, saved him from oblivion, and they were very much aware about it.

Now can we go upstream, towards the Reg. lat. 331’s origins and ancestors? To this day we have identified only one of them: Paris, BNF, nal 1443 (digitized here). This manuscript contains a collection of Augustine’s and Paulinus of Nola’s letters. This manuscript was also copied in Lyons in Florus’ times, and it was also annotated by him:

Marginal note

Paris nal 1443, f. 30v

(See also this little note I wrote on this blog some time ago: Florus et les Arts libéraux selon Augustin.)

Some excerpts of Florus’ Augustinian Expositio were prepared directly on this manuscript, using the very same method that was used on the Reg. lat. 331; for example here, Florus prepares an excerpt on the 1st epistle to Timothy (TIM’·I· marginal sign):

Preparation of an excerpt

Paris nal 1443, f. 164r

While Reg. lat. 331 saved for us an antique collection of Pacian’s works, Paris nal 1443 reproduces, as Franz Dolveck recently explained [here], an antique collection of Paulinus of Nola’s and Augustine’s letters that certainly originated in Campania, maybe even in Nola.

The first two pieces of the collection are Paulinus’ epistles 40 and 24. Those are the two epistles Paulinus’ that we can read also in the Reg. lat. 331, in the same order; but in Paris nal 1443 the epistle 24 is extant, whereas Reg. lat. 331 offers a unique abbreviated form. Now if we look at epistle 24 in Paris nal 1443, we’ll notice a series of brackets that mark out eight big chunks of texts. This is not Florus’ «textbook» excerption activity, since these brackets don’t correlate with marginal signs of Paul’s epistles, since the marked out passages aren’t especially concerned with Paul’s epistles, and since they don’t correspond either to the excerpts of epistle 24 that Florus actually used in his compilation of Paulinus of Nola on the Apostle… He’s doing something else. But what? Well, the eight marked out passages correspond exactly to the abbreviated epistle 24 of Reg. lat. 331:

Paris nal 1443 Vatican Reg. lat. 331
f. 11r: beginning of epistle 24


f. 50r: beginning of the abbreviated epistle 24


f. 11v: end of passage A

…de caritate peccare. Caritas enim…

f. 50v: end of passage A and beginning of passage B

…de caritate peccare, | nisi forte id quoque altiore…

f. 11v: beginning of passage B

…non recte diuidas peccasti, ¨[nisi forte id quoque altiore…

f. 12r: end of passage B

…te seruiente possideat. Itaque de ipsius…

f. 50v: end of passage B and beginning of passage C

…te seruiente possideat. | Tu igitur inter mortuos…

f. 13r: beginning of passage C

…inherere timuerunt. ¨[Tu igitur inter mortuos…

f. 14r: end of passage C

…quoniam ego sanctus sum. Quae igitur nobis gratia…

​f. 51r: end of passage C and beginning of passage D

…quoniam ego sanctus sum. | Quamobrem temporalium quae…

f. 14r: beginning of passage D

…in terra uiuentium, ¨[quamobrem temporalium quae…

f. 15v: end of passage D

…in gloria Patris. Omnibus dicit: Venite…

f. 52r: end of passage C and beginning of passage E

…in gloria Patris. | Ideo dicit: Veni, sequere me…

f. 16r: beginning of passage E

…omnia ad me traham. ¨[Ideo dicit: Veni, sequere me…

f. 17v: end of passage E

…implicati otiamur Deo. Itaque nouitatem uitae…

f. 53r: end of passage E and beginning of passage F

…implicati otiamur Deo. | Hunc Dominum uocantem…

f. 20r: beginning of passage F

…resurrectionis instituens. ¨[Hunc Dominum uocantem…

f. 20v: end of passage F

…quoniam ego sum Dominus. Excitor hoc loco…

f. 53r: end of passage F and beginning of passage G

…quoniam ego sum Dominus. | Deum enim tantum impromptum…

 f. 20v: beginning of passage G

…perspici posse testatur: ¨[Deum enim tantum impromptum…

 f. 21v: end of passage G

…speculum uitae proponeret. Non ueni, inquit…

f. 53v: end of passage G and beginning of passage H

…speculum uitae proponeret. | Et nos lege ipsa…

 f. 22r: beginning of passage H

…Deum imitari est. ¨[Et nos lege ipsa…

f. 23r: end of epistle 24

…quoniam ego uici mundum. EXPLICIT

f. 54v: end of abbreviated epistle 24

…quoniam ego uici mundum. EXPLICIT

The correlation is clear and precise enough to be considered a material proof: those manuscripts — two invaluable copies of the texts they contain, both of them the offspring of antique traditions of which we don’t preserve any other witnesses — have a close material relationship in their origin. They were produced in the same place, in the same period, in the narrowest circle around Florus, and Florus was aware of their relationship. Maybe they were made for him and under his personal supervision?

Certainly more facts and more evidence could arise from a close comparison. But because the manuscripts were preserved in separate libraries from the 10th century on, such a comparison has been physically impossible for more than a thousand years. Now thanks to the great efforts of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana and the Bibliothèque nationale de France — sponsored, in all things Florus’, by Biblissima —, it has become possible on the internet.


Pierre Chambert-Protat

Membre de première année à l'École française de Rome, section Moyen Âge

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Pierre Chambert-Protat

Membre de première année à l'École française de Rome, section Moyen Âge

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