Héribert Rosweyde’s Vitae Patrum   Leave a comment

While studying William Wright’s description of a Syriac manuscript of saints’ lives (Add. 12174), I was impelled to see if Saint John’s had a copy of Héribert Rosweyde’s Vitae Patrum (Antwerp, 1615), and I was not disappointed. Upon request, my colleague kindly (on whose blog this post might fit well) brought the book up for my perusal, and here are a few photos of the pigskin-covered tome that show its size, fine typography, and maps.

Héribert Rosweyde (1569-1629) stands at the beginning of the work of the Bollandists, the society dedicated to the scientific study of saints’ lives, work well represented by the voluminous and ponderous Acta Sanctorum, the journal Analecta Bollandiana, and the Subsidia Hagiographica series, the latter two publications continuing to this day. In the words of the Bollandist Hippolyte Delehaye, “L’oeurve capitale de Rosweyde, le Vitae Patrum, parut en 1615. C’est véritablement la pierre fondamentale des Acta Sanctorum” (L’oeuvre des Bollandistes à travers trois siècles, 1615-1915, 2d ed. [Brussels, 1959], p. 17; ET pp. 16-17),[1] and again,

Le recueil que Rosweyde entreprenait de publier est un des plus considérables, un des plus célèbres aussi, de toute la littérature hagiographique. C’est l’épopée des origines du monachisme en Égypte et en Syrie, une des plus grandioses et des plus attachantes qui soient.

p. lxxvii

Rosweyde’s initial researches into hagiography appeared as a much smaller book: Fasti sanctorum quorum Vitae in belgicis bibliothecis manuscriptae (Antwerp, 1607). Both this and the later book were printed at the famous Plantin press in Antwerp. The notable aspects of Rosweyde’s approach are its breadth — his plan was regarded as very ambitious (in particular to Cardinal Robert Bellarmine), and with good reason, since it is still being followed and carried out by his successors now four centuries later — and its close and faithful reliance on complete manuscript sources. He was not working on untilled soil, just ground that had not been most properly worked. As Delehaye says (pp. 14-15; ET pp. 12-13),

Voici comment Rosweyde entende recuellir et préparer les matériaux.

Pour les Vie déja imprimées, par example dans Lippomano et Surius, ne pas se contenter du texte de ces éditions, mais le collationner sur les manuscrits. On sait que dans les recueils précédents les pièces ont été souvent retouchées pour le style. L’autorité du document s’en trouve diminuée et le sens fréquemment altéré. Des prologues, des miracles, des passages obscurs ont été supprimés. It faut rétablir les textes dans leur intégrité.

Les pièces dont on ne trouve pas de manuscrits ne seront admises que si l’on a l’assurance qu’elles n’ont pas été retouchées. Quant aux Vies inédites, elles doivent être cherchées partout et insérées, à leur rang, parmi les autres. Les passages obscurs ne doivent pas être laissés sans explication ; ils seront éclaircis selon le programme des Illustrationes [in Vitas sanctorum].

Finally, while Rosweyde’s work does not yet fully exemplify the critical attitude of the following centuries, it is nevertheless a remarkable step forward from his predecessors, and one that is hardly without value even today.

Les méthodes minutieuses et précises appliquées de nos jours à l’établissement des textes n’étaient point créées à l’époque de Rosweyde, et il ne faut point chercher dans son édition les résultats qui supposent un travail de ce genre. Mais en dehors de cela, il a abordé tous les problèmes ; son intelligence claire les a nettement posés et résolus avec les ressources d’une érudition solide, sobre et élégante. Si l’on tient compte de l’étendue et de la variété des écrits qui forment le recueil, de l’imperfection des instruments de travail d’alors, des difficultés de l’exécution, on n’exagérera guère en qualifiant de chef-d’oeurve le Vitae Patrum de Rosweyde. (Delehaye, pp. 19-20; ET p. 20)

p. 812

Rosweyde laid the groundwork with his plan, his purposeful approach to the texts, and his industry, but his death came before much of the task was realized. His work would continue in the hands of Jean Bollandus, from whom, of course, the society takes its name.

Note

[1] Yes, I know there is an English translation of Delehaye’s history of the first three centuries of the Bollandists, and that the first edition is available here, but I am too fond of French not to quote it. I have used the second French edition, but the first (1920) is available here. The corresponding pages in the first edition of the English translation are given for those who want or need them. In Latin, cf. also the proemium to Acta Sanctorum, Oct., vol. 7, pt. 1, available here (and, if you’re lucky, in your library: these magnificent volumes deserve to be read and touched directly.) More recent perspectives on Rosweyde and the subsequent work of the Bollandists will be found in R. Godding, B. Joassart, X. Lequeux, and F. De Vriendt, De Rosweyde aux Acta Sanctorum: La recherche hagiographique des Bollandistes à travers quatre siècles. Actes du Colloques international (Bruxelles, 5 octobre 2007) (Brussels, 2009).

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