Thursday, April 7, 2016

2016.04.12

Clemens Weidmann, Augustinus, Sermones selecti. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, Bd 101. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2015. Pp. vi, 238. ISBN 9783110333992. $140.00.

Reviewed by James J. O'Donnell, Arizona State University (jod@asu.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

The Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum has moved, with its 150th anniversary, from the Vienna Academy of Sciences to the University of Salzburg. In that century and a half, just past a hundred volumes have now been published. It vies with the Corpus Christianorum for international leadership in publication of critical editions of late antique Christian texts. CSEL has abided with Latin authors while CC has embraced Greek as well. CSEL has always been housed in academic settings and has adhered to a rigorous scholarly program and methodology, while CC in its earlier years was more enthusiastic in producing editions that did not meet the highest scholarly standards. Now both perform at a high level, with volumes appearing irregularly. Both have had systematic ambitions (to supplant the earlier imperfect editions collected in Patrologia Latina), but the work is unending and far from complete.

Augustine's sermons, the stenographically transcribed and then revised texts of hundreds of his liturgical homilies, have always posed a special challenge for editors, owing to the countless medieval manuscripts in which they occur and the habit of medieval scribes and clerics to rework Augustine into their own liturgy's needs. Caesarius of Arles (d. 542) did more than anyone to confuse the matter and Caesarius' great editor Germain Morin (d. 1946) did more than anyone to unconfuse the matter. P.-P. Verbracken, Etudes critiques sur les sermons authentiques de Saint Augustin (1976), is the best but aging guide to the authenticity and manuscript survival of these texts; the CSEL-related project of the Vienna Academy to catalog all the surviving medieval manuscripts of Augustine (Die handschriftliche Überlieferung der Werke des Heiligen Augustinus, so far in 14 fascicles) is the essential supplement. But new manuscripts have been discovered in the last generation and it is conceivable that more will be found.

Clemens Weidmann is one of those discoverers, of remains of sermons in an Erfurt manuscript examined in Weidmann's role as cataloger of the manuscripts of the former DDR. He also serves as member of the directing committee of CSEL. In the volume under review, he produces a fresh critical edition of thirteen sermons not previously recognized as authentic sermons of Augustine. Such publication thus constitutes both an assertion and defense of authenticity and a scrupulous examination of manuscript sources to produce a scholarly edition.

Recovery and editing of early Christian and medieval texts has always been divided between canonization and diversification. One impulse drives scholars to find and collect the works of figures of known interest and historical influence, indeed with an old bias in favor of those who stood well with church leaders in their own times. The 'fathers of the church' have been a recognized category for 16 centuries. At the same time, modern scholarship has been keenly interested in excavating the unheard voices of marginalized and little known figures. Much of what the latter enthusiasm seeks has been hiding in plain sight all along, in myriad manuscripts that have been less well examined. The commonest manuscript sources for this volume, for example, are the homiliaria once found in thousands of medieval churches, collections of sermons for use, where accurate attribution was not at a premium and indeed inaccurate but prestigious attribution to a great saint and father of the church was an advantage.

An edition of this sort is thus amphibious and ambiguous in important ways. It participates in the zeal for discovery, but its goal is ultimately the restitution of the canonical. The sermons presented here come wrenched from their original setting (scrupulously documented, of course) and are conjoined to be fitted into the canon of Augustine. What seems a purely technical detail of housekeeping contributes to the canonization, inasmuch as each sermon is now given a number that fits it into the taxonomy standardized since the seventeenth century edition of the Maurists. Their arrangement (by old testament, new testament, feasts of the year, feasts of saints) was part of their overall project of decisive canonization. To give a new partially recovered sermon a number that fits it into the place where the Maurists would have put it has the advantage of putting it alongside similar material; and the disadvantage of assimilation to very old categories of thinking

The work is, it must be said, dizzyingly complicated. Dozens of witnesses contribute to this edition. Six of the sermons, for instance, are represented in a collection of more than 600 sermons made by Robert de Bardi, friend of Petrarch and chancellor of the university of Paris in the fourteenth century—a collection known to us from 15th century copies now in Paris and itself going back to earlier large collections. On the other hand, three sermons here come from a Vienna manuscript homilary of the 8th/9th century, including the only copy of one of these sermons, the only complete text of another, and the best text of a third.

The main purposes of this edition are to establish the authenticity and the textual history of the sermons presented. Comprehensive commentary is explicitly foresworn. Each is presented with a (German) introduction, a formal edition with apparatus criticus and a substantial apparatus of loci similes from Augustine's work, to document the assertion of authenticity. The recent new format of CSEL will be unfamiliar to those who have known the series before: larger page size, more of the volume taken up by scholarly apparatus

Criteria of authenticity adduced include Augustinian style of language and doctrine, characteristics of quoted biblical texts (since Augustine used pre-Vulgate texts, this can be a strong differentiator), and the circumstances of transmission. Given that these texts have mainly been digested into homilaries, abridgments and omissions happen, and in particular this leaves the text with very little of the Sitz im Leben that keeps modern readers who are not in search of spiritual guidance attentive. (In one notorious case, a sermon preserved in homilaries was then discovered by François Dolbeau in a fuller version six times as long as the earlier known version. Weidmann is skeptical that such drastic abbreviation happened very often.) There is little if anything for the biographer here, no surprises that I can detect. The work is thus necessary, done with astonishing care and patience, and contributes to the common store of Augustine's production that all can draw upon.

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