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* Medieval Studies: Patrologia Latina

Guide to interdisciplinary research in medieval studies.

Patrologia Latina info

Patrologiae Cursus Completus. Series Latina. Ed. Jacques-Paul Migne. 221 Vols. Paris, 1844-1864.

The Scope

Essentially, the Patrologia Latina published by Jacques-Paul Migne (1800-1875) contains all the then available published writings of Latin ecclesiastical authors ranging from the second century to Pope Innocent III (c. 1160-1216). Relying on a clever system of subscriptions, and on an aggressive publicity campaign through the publication of prospectuses and newspaper articles, Migne managed to publish this vast Latin corpus in two series spanning twenty years. The first series (vols. 1-73) appeared from 1844 to 1849, covering the period from Tertullian (c. 160-c. 240) to Gregory the Great (c. 540-604). The second series (vols. 74-217) appeared between 1849 and 1855, and covered from the papacy of Gregory the Great (590-604) to that of Innocent III (1198-1216). Next, four volumes of indexes were published between 1862 and 1864. However, it is necessary to emphasize that Migne did not publish these texts as primary sources exclusively. As most of the Patrologia Latina slavishly replicates previous critical editions, the texts of this collection often appear with the introductions and commentaries traditionally attached to them, regardless of the fact that many of these commentaries were written after 1216.

In 1865 Migne sold the literary rights to the Patrologia Latina to the Parisian publishing firm of Garnier. Only three years later a fire completely destroyed Migne's presses and stereo-type plates, so that all subsequent Garnier editions were necessarily inferior because they had to rely on printed copies instead of the original plates.

The Background
Jacques-Paul Migne was born at Saint-Flour, 25 October, 1800. After completing his university courses Migne studied theology in Orléans, where he temporarily filled the position of professor at the college of Châteaudun. Ordained priest in 1824,  the following year he was named curé at Puiseaux, in the Diocese of Orléans. While it is true that in the first decades of the nineteenth century France went through a Christian revival following the anti-Church movement of the French revolution—the Charter of 1814 had declared Catholicism the official religion of the state—Migne personally witnessed how anticlerical attitudes were still deeply embedded in the local authorities. He bluntly reacted to this situation by composing a 200-page treatise examining the relation between Church and State entitled De la Liberté, par un Prêtre, which immediately caused the anger of the Bishop of Orléans, Mrg de Beauregard. The treatise was confiscated, and Migne decided to leave the provinces for Paris. It is not an exaggeration to say that the confrontation with the Bishop of Orléans became one of the most important turning points in the life and career of this young priest. Throughout his numerous publishing adventures, chiefly in the form of newspapers and ecclesiastical books, Migne saw himself as an advocate of ordinary priests against what he conceived as the abuses of the secular and religious authorities. Thus he founded a newspaper La Vérité canonique, designed to advise those clerics who experienced problems with the hierarchy of the Church. Furthermore, as we will see, he launched a theological revolution by making available for the first time a comprehensive collection of the masterpieces of Catholicism to a large section of the population thanks to low prices and an attractive design.
Just one decade after Migne arrived penniless in Paris in the early 1830s, he had created one of the largest industrial enterprises of the second half of the nineteenth century: a publishing firm, the Ateliers catholiques, located in the Parisian suburb Petit-Montrouge. It included large steam-powered printing presses as well as more than 300 hundred workers covering each single stage involved in the complex process of printing: there were type cutters, compositors, printers, proofreaders, editors, binders, accountants, etc. Low wages, automatization, and poor editorial standards—most of the works included in the Latin and Greek patrologies were mere reprints—became the main ingredients that made possible an extremely large output available at an affordable price (Kirsch, 1913-22: Vol. 10, 290-1); (Bloch, 1994: 1-22).

Whereas Migne is best remembered for the multi-volume collections of the Latin and Greek patrologies,  in fact he began his professional career as a journalist, being often in charge of several newspapers at a time. Remarkably, he managed to avoid the law prohibiting this type of monopoly by hiring straw men as editors and managers. Moreover, before the publication of the patrologies themselves, which represent only half of his entire output, Migne had already published 400 volumes of ecclesiastical works, a part of an ambitious project entitled Bibliothèque universelle du clergé, and which eventually ended with the publication of more than 1000 books. As the title of this enterprise clearly suggests, Migne's agenda went beyond the profitable popularization of ecclesiastical authors, and beyond his role as an apologist of the troubled priest. In a desire to overturn the secularization movement of the French Revolution, Migne attempted to produce a universal work that would match, and improve, other publications of a similar scope. For example, in reading the volumes of the Patrologiae many nineteenth-century readers might have recalled the greatest editorial enterprise of the previous century: Diderot & D' Alambert's Encyclopédie.

How to use the Patrologiae Cursus Completus. Series Latina
hough the editors systematically included comprehensive indexes at the end of each volume, readers soon discovered that they did not follow a clear pattern. For instance, concerning the first three volumes, which cover the works of Tertullian, there are several types of indexes. The first volume includes an “index” (Index Tomi Primi) which is actually a Table of Contents (Syllabus rerum quae in primo tomo continentur). The second volume contains three kinds of indexes. First, there is an index on Tertullian’s usage of the Latin language (Index Latinitatis Tertullianeae), a comprehensive list designed to explain how Tertullian employs certain Latin words, as he often departs from classical standards. Apart from indicating the volume, column, and location within the column, the entries also include quotations where the term in question appears. Second, there is an index containing the names of authors mentioned in the works of Tertullian (Index Veterum Scriptorum quorum mentio in scriptis Tertulliani). Third, we encounter an “index” (Index Tomi Secundi), which, as in the first volume, is in effect a Table of Contents. Finally, in the third volume  a general index (Index Generalis in Opera Tertulliani) is followed by a Table of Contents or Syllabus.

Since the type of inconsistency and complexity described above was exacerbated by the publication of subsequent volumes, Migne and his associates eventually promised readers to publish a multi-volume general index at the end of the entire series: 218-221. In the first of these four volumes of indexes, the general plan is described by means of a preface, and a list of 24 series of indexes, each of these series containing more than a dozen of the indexes proper—both the preface and the list of indexes are in French and Latin. Reading about the content of each of these indexes can be a true delight for they reveal not only the theological interests of the time, but also classificatory idiosyncrasies that one would find difficult to match even by using the most sophisticated database. For instance, within the fourth series we read about an Index of Evil Angels or Demons (Index de Angelis malis vel Daemonibus), as they were described by the successive fathers of the Church, including information about the names of these demons, the story of their fall, the punishments and power they use against men, etc. And in an attempt to emulate the achievement of Diderot & D' Alambert's Encyclopédie, the last of these tables of indexes, the twenty-fourth series, begins with a General Index of Arts and Sciences (Index generalis Scientiarum et Artium), which is then followed by indexes covering every imaginable branch of human knowledge: inventions, occult Sciences, astronomy and meteorology, cosmology, geology and palaeontology, mineralogy, etc. Unexpected treasures of this last series include an index that identifies the garments worn by priests, monks and laymen (Index de Vestibus sacerdotalibus, monasticis et laicalibus) leading to  explanations of the mythical significance of each type of clothing.

Nevertheless, those who are not entirely familiar with theological issues and the history of the Church in general might find it difficult to use Migne's four-volume indexes. A major improvement has been the publication of Elucidatio in 235 Tabulas Patrologiæ Latinæ, which lists around 760 key terms and their precise location in the four-volume indexes. For example, we learn that the term Absolutio is listed in column 1266 of the first volume of these indexes, and within the Index Patristico-Theologicus. Finally, the Rossell Hope Robbins Library also holds a very useful card catalogue that updates the spelling of the names of authors and works, including information about other editions prior to and after the Patrologia Latina.

Why Is the Patrologia Latina Useful?
Admittedly, the editors of the Patrologia Latina did not follow strict scholarly standards. They did not collate all the available manuscripts as witnesses of a particular work. If they had done so, it is unlikely that Migne could have published so much in only two decades. Instead, and with the exception of the first three volumes devoted to Tertullian, masterly edited by one of the chief editors of the entire series, Jean-Baptiste-Franςois Pitra (1812-1889), the Patrologia Latina mostly included reprints from the best available printed editions of ecclesiastical authors. As R. Howard Bloch argues, Migne was merely applying the same techniques he used for the publication of his newspapers, which, like a modern Reader's Digest, contained news reprinted from other newspapers and magazines. However, we should not conclude that Migne and his associates did not at least attempt to balance quantity with quality. Migne himself wrote 5,000 letters of inquiry to bishops, theologians, and professors, in order to obtain information on the names of the best commentators and editions. Therefore, Migne the publisher ended up with a large list of anonymous contributors and editors under the general supervision of Dom Pitra, who wrote the list of authors to be included in the whole series (Bloch, 1994: 23-40; 58-77).

Despite the shortcomings of an editorial policy almost exclusively focused on the mass-production and reprints of texts—old mistakes were perpetuated and new ones introduced—the Patrologia Latina is still unique in scope, and it overwhelmingly improves its two seventeenth-century predecessors: the Magna bibliotheca veterum patrum, et antiquorum scriptorum ecclesiasticorum. 15 vols. (Cologne: Anton Hierat, 1618-1622); and the Maxima bibliotheca veterum patrum, et antiquorum scriptorum ecclesiasticorum. 27 vols. (Lyon: Anissonius, 1677). Fortunately, in the last decades new editorial projects have been launched in order to improve both the content and critical apparatus of the Patrologia Latina. The Benedictines of Steenbruge (Belgium) have been editing texts of Christian literature from Tertullian to the Venerable Bede (c. 672-735) since the early 1950s. In scope, this new collection is an equivalent of the first 96 volumes in Migne's series: Corpus christianorum. Series Latina (Turnhout: Brepols, 1953-). Along with the Corpus Christianorum the researcher is advised to use E. Dekkers & E. Gaar's Clavis patrum latinorum (Steenbrugge, Saint Peter's Abbey, 1961). It lists 2,348 Christian texts from Tertullian to Bede. Additionally, a series with texts of a more recent date than those in the Corpus Christianorum, which are either missing from Migne or badly edited, is being currently published: Corpus Christianorum. Continuatio Mediaevalis (Turnhout: Brepols, 1966-). In regard to specific corrections to the Migne's volumes, one needs to look at P. Glorieux's Pour revaloriser Migne. Tables rectificatives (Lille, Saint Peter's Abbey, 1955). More importantly, a supplement to Migne's volumes 1-96 has been published, which corrects author attributions and adds texts omitted by Migne: A.-G. Hamman. Patrologiae cursus completus a J. P. Migne editus. Series Latina. Supplementum. 5 vols. (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1958-1974) (Caenegen, 1978: 207-209).

The Electronic Database
Scholars are also encouraged to use our copy of the CD-Rom of Chadwyck-Healey's Patrologia Latina Database. While this electronic resource faithfully reproduces Migne's Patrologia—even the images of the printed edition have been scanned, and are identifiable by the insertion of ornamental icons—it also adds extraordinary search tools to facilitate access to this vast work. For instance, every Latin and Greek word is electronically indexed and searchable. Moreover, the challenges of an inflected language like Latin are easily overcome by using the stem of a particular word, let's say infinit-, in combination with a wild card: infinit*. Then we would duly obtain infinitus, infinitum, infinito, etc. Apart from the generic keyword, there are also Boolean searches allowing scholars to look for two or more words that might appear in the same document. The sophisticated researcher can also narrow a search by including information s/he already knows, such as the specific volume, author name, or title of work.

The electronic database also offers two great improvements to the printed edition. First, since Migne did not clearly distinguish between primary and secondary sources—the main texts offen appear with comments by a later author—the database displays an interface that makes a clear separation between medieval and modern authors (before and after 1500). Second, the database also includes updates derived from twentieth-century scholarship, which is particularly useful to identify works that have been wrongly attributed. Thus, a document of the database might contain references to sources like Clavis patrum latinorum, Pour revaloriser Migne, and the Supplementum, or a brief note about a new author attribution (Magoulias, 1998: 111-119).

But let us illustrate what we have been discussing so far with a particular example of how a historical document was edited in the printed Patrologia Latina and in turn displayed in the database. The Department of Rare Books & Special Collections holds a papal bull issued by Celestinus III on 29 March, 1197 (Würdtwein, 1769-1777: II, 344; Migne, 1844-1864: 206, 1207; Ricci, 1937: II, 1868-1869). Basically, this documents sanctions the addition of a parish to the Charter of Mainz, as the editors of the printed edition aptly summarize in Latin in the heading of the document, adding in square brakets an exact reference to the source used (author, title, volume and page): Stefan Alexander Würdtwein. Diocesis Moguntina in archidiaconatus distincta et commentationibus diplomaticis illustrata. 3 vols. (Mannheim, 1769-1777). The database version replicates the style of the printed edition, including column number and location within each column (A, B, C, etc). Overall, a comparison with the original document provides further evidence for the usefulness of the Patrologia Latina, both printed and electronic. Apart from the fact that the transcription of the document has been done for us, including the expansion of the abbreviations, one wonders where else a scholar could find this document in the context of all the works produced by Celestinus III, or at least atributed to him. Furthermore, the comparison between manuscript and printed versions can generate exciting research possibilities. The scribe of our copy consistently spelt the Latin name of the city of Mainz with an "a", Maguntia, as oppossed to the more common Moguntia. Did Würdtwein assume that the scribe made a mistake so that the transcription included his corrected version? Conversely, are there other copies of this bull, bearing the spelling of our copy?

Select Bibliography

Bloch, R. Howard. God's Plagiarist: being an Account of the Fabulous Industry and Irregular Commerce of the Abbé Migne. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Caenegen, R. C. van. Guide to the Sources of Medieval History. Amsterdam; New York, Oxford: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1978.
Elucidatio in 235 Tabulas Patrologiæ Latinæ. Rotterdam: Soc. Editr. de Forel, 1952.
Glorieux, Palémon. Pour revaloriser Migne; Tables rectificatives. Lille: Facultés Catholiques, 1952.
Hamman, A.-G. Patrologiae cursus completus a J. P. Migne editus. Series Latina. Supplementum. 5 vols. Paris: Garnier Frères, 1958-1974.

________. Le retour aux pères de l'Église. Paris: Beauchesne, 1975.

Kirsch, Johann Peter. "Jacques-Paul Migne." In The Catholic Encyclopedia. Ed. Charles G. Herbermann et alii. 17 vols. (Vol. 10, 290-1). New York: Encyclopedia Press, 1913-1922.

Langlois, Claude & François Laplanche, eds. La Science catholique: "L'Encyclopédie Théologique" de Migne (1844-1873) entre apologétique et vulgarisation. Paris: Cerf, 1992.

Magoulias, Michael. "The Editorial Principles of the Patrologia Latina Database." In Testi, manoscritti, ipertesti: compatibilità informatica e letteratura medievale; atti del convegno internazionale, Firenze, Certosa del Galluzzo, 31 maggio-1 giugno 1996. Ed. Lino Leonardi. 111-119. Florence: SISMEL edizioni del Galluzo, 1998.
Migne, J-P. & John Batteridge Pearson. Index alphabeticus omnium doctorum, patrum, scriptorumque ecclesiasticorum quorum opera scriptaque vel minima in Patrologia Latina reperiuntur. Ridgewood, NJ: Gregg press, 1965.

Ricci, Seymour de. Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada. 4 vols. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1935-1940.

Würdtwein, Stefan Alexander. Diocesis Moguntina in archidiaconatus distincta et commentationibus diplomaticis illustrata. 3 vols. Mannheim, 1769-1777.

Pablo Alvarez