Thursday, August 24, 2017

The earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels published

Exciting news out of Birmingham (UK) today. De Gruyter has just published the long-lost fourth century commentary on the Gospels by Fortunatianus of Aquileia. Hugh Houghton explains:
The earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels, lost for more than 1,500 years, has been rediscovered and made available in English for the first time. The extraordinary find, a work written by a bishop in northern Italy, Fortunatianus of Aquileia, dates back to the middle of the fourth century.

The biblical text of the manuscript is of particular significance, as it predates the standard Latin version known as the Vulgate and provides new evidence about the earliest form of the Gospels in Latin.

Despite references to this commentary in other ancient works, no copy was known to survive until Dr Lukas Dorfbauer, a researcher from the University of Salzburg, identified Fortunatianus’ text in an anonymous manuscript copied around the year 800 and held in Cologne Cathedral Library. The manuscripts of Cologne Cathedral Library were made available online in 2002.

Scholars had previously been interested in this ninth-century manuscript as the sole witness to a short letter which claimed to be from the Jewish high priest Annas to the Roman philosopher Seneca. They had dismissed the 100-page anonymous Gospel commentary as one of numerous similar works composed in the court of Charlemagne. But when he visited the library in 2012, Dorfbauer, a specialist in such writings, could see that the commentary was much older than the manuscript itself.

In fact, it was none other than the earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels.
Dr. Houghton has published the (free) English translation of the Latin text edited by Lukas J. Dorfbauer. I do wish these had been published as a diglot rather than separate volumes. But well done to all involved! These kind of discoveries are what make textual criticism and the study of manuscripts so exciting. There is always the chance of new finds.


  1. Thanks, Peter. I did explore the possibility of a diglot, but it wouldn't have been eligible for open access publication - and I was keen for the translation to be as widely available as possible in order to focus interest on the work. The publisher's release of the work in sections, however, means that the Latin text by itself can be purchased online for just €30.

    For a preliminary investigation of the biblical text, there's my Studia Patristica article on John for free, while for the Synoptics I have a chapter in the Fortunatianus Redivivus volume, which discusses Fortunatianus' citation technique more broadly.

    1. Hugh, thanks for clarifying that. I don't know how you manage to do so much open access but it is great. Thank you!

  2. Hugh, thank you for your work on the translation. Dr. Dorfbauer's find is an exciting one indeed! Peter, thank you for making the link available to view the Studia Patristica article on John.

  3. I just so happened to have found and read your translation before this announcement. Good work and thanks for bringing it to a wider audience!