Codex Amiatinus

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The most celebrated manuscript of the Latin Vulgate Bible, remarkable as the best witness to the true text of St. Jerome and as a fine specimen of medieval calligraphy, now kept at Florence in the Bibliotheca Laurentiana. The symbol for it is written am or A (Wordsworth). It is preserved in an immense tome, measuring in height and breadth 19 1/4 inches by 13 3/8 inches, and in thickness 7 inches -- so impressive, as Hort says, as to fill the beholder with a feeling akin to awe. Some consider it, with White, as perhaps "the finest book in the world"; still there are several manuscripts which are as beautifully written and have besides, like the Book of Kells or Book of Lindisfarne, those exquisite ornaments of which Amiatinus is devoid. It contains 1029 leaves of strong, smooth vellum, fresh-looking today, despite their great antiquity, arranged in quires of four sheets, or quaternions. It is written in uncial characters, large, clear, regular, and beautiful, two columns to a page, and 43 or 44 lines to a column. A little space is often left between words, but the writing is in general continuous. The text is divided into sections, which in the Gospels correspond closely to the Ammonian Sections. There are no marks of punctuation, but the skilled reader was guided into the sense by stichometric, or verse-like, arrangement into coda and commata, which correspond roughly to the principal and dependent clauses of a sentence. This manner of writing the scribe is believed to have modelled upon the great Bible of Cassiodorus, but it goes back perhaps even to St. Jerome; it may be shown best by an example:











It will be noticed that the section "ET IN" and the coda begin at about the same perpendicular line, the commata begin further in under the third or second letter, and so likewise does the continuation of a colon or comma which runs beyond a single line (see facsimile page). This arrangement, besides aiding the intelligence of the text, gave a spacious, varied, and rather artistic appearance to the page. The initial letter of a section was often written in ink of a different colour, and so also was the first line of a book. Beyond that there was no attempt at decorating the text.

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The codex (or pandect) is usually said to contain the whole Bible; but it should be noted that the Book of Baruch is missing, though the Epistle of Jeremias, usually incorporated with it, is here appended to the Book of Jeremias. Besides the text of the Scriptural books, it contains St. Jerome's "Prologus Galeatus" and his prefaces to individual books; the capitula, or summaries of contents; and, in the first quaternion, certain materials which have been much discussed and have proved of the greatest service in tracing the history of the codex, among them dedicatory verses, a list of the books contained in the codex, a picture of the Tabernacle (formerly thought to be Solomon's Temple), a division of the Biblical books according to Jerome, another according to Hilary and Epiphanius, and a third according to Augustine. Part of Solomon's prayer (1 Kings 8:22-30) in an Old Latin text is reproduced at the end of Ecclesiasticus. A Greek inscription at the beginning of Leviticus, recording that "the Lord Servandus prepared" this codex or part of it, has entered largely into the discussion of its origin.

The recovery of the history of Codex Amiatinus, which has important bearings upon the history of the Vulgate itself and of the text of the Bible, was due to the labours of many scholars and the insight of one man of genius, de Rossi. At the beginning of the pandect, as we have mentioned, there are certain dedicatory verses; they record the gift (of the codex) to the venerable convent of St. Saviour by a certain Peter who was abbot from the extreme territory of the Lombards. The Latin text is as follows:









St. Saviour's is the name of the monastery on Monte Amiata (whence Amiatinus) near Siena; here this codex was kept from the ninth century till the year 1786, when it was brought to Florence after the suppression of the monastery.

Naturally, the codex was supposed to be a gift to this house, but nothing was known of the donor. Bandini, the librarian of the Laurentiana, into whose hands the codex came, noticed that the names of neither the donor nor the recipient belonged to the original dedication. They were written in a different hand over parts of the original inscription, as betrayed by evident signs of erasure. The letters italicized above were by the second hand, while the initial letter C of the first line and the E in the fifth were original. Bandini noticed, also, that cenobium replaced a shorter word and that the last five letters of salvatoris were written on parchment that had not been erased, and so that the ten letters of this word replaced five of the original word. The metre also was entirely at fault. The clue for reconstructing the original lines he found in the expression caput ecclesiæ, which he judged referred to St. Peter. And as in the Middle Ages a favourite title for the Apostolic See was culmen apostolicum, he reconstructed the line in this fashion:


This conjecture produced a correct hexameter verse, retained the original initial C, supplied a word of proper length at the beginning and another at the end, and afforded a sense fitting in perfectly with the probabilities of the case. In the fifth line, instead of Petrus Langobardorum, Bandini suggested Servandus Latii, because of the inscription about Servandus mentioned above. This Servandus was believed to be a friend of St. Benedict, to whom he made a visit at Monte Cassino in 541; he was abbot of a monastery near the extremity of Latium.

These conjectures were accepted by the learned world; Tischendorf, for instance, writing seventy-five years later, said Bandini had so well proved his case that no doubt remained. Accordingly, it was settled that the Codex Amiatinus dated from the middle of the sixth century, was the oldest manuscript of the Vulgate, and was written in Southern Italy. A few protests were raised, however; that, for instance, of Paul de Lagarde. He had edited St. Jerome's translation of the Hebrew Psalter, using freely for that purpose a codex of the ninth century; Amiatinus he judged, with a not unnatural partiality, to be "in all probability" from the hand of the scribe of his ninth-century Psalter, written "at Reichenau on the Lake of Constance". But, to quote Corssen, it was G. B. de Rossi, "that great Roman scholar, whose never-failing perspicacity and learning discovered at once the birthplace of our famous manuscript" (Academy, 7 April, 1888).

De Rossi followed Bandini in his reconstruction of the first verse, but he thought it unlikely that an abbot, presenting a book to the pope at Rome, should speak of "the extreme limits of Latium", really but a short distance from Rome. Anzizni, the librarian of the Laurentiana, pointed out to him that the space erased to make room for Petrus Langobardorum was greater than called for by the conjecture of Bandini. De Rossi was at the time engaged on an inquiry into the ancient history of the Vatican library, and, recalling a passage of Bede, he divined that the lost name was Ceolfridus. The erasures, which were irregular, seeming to follow the letters very closely, corresponded perfectly to this conjecture. He proposed then the verse:


The phrase exactly suited an abbot from the end of the world, as England was then regarded and styled; and the story of Ceolfrid made de Rossi's conjectures acceptable at once, especially to English scholars. Ceolfrid was the disciple of Benedict Biscop, who founded the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow in Northumberland towards the end of the seventh century. England, in those days, was the most devoted daughter of the Roman See, and Abbot Benedict was enthusiastic in his devotion. His monasteries were dependent directly on Rome. Five times during his life he journeyed to Rome, usually bring back with him a library of books presented by the pope. Ceolfrid, who had accompanied him on one of these visits, became his successor in 686 and inherited his taste for books; Bede mentions three pandects of St. Jerome's translation which he had made, one of which he determined in his old age, in 716, to bring to the church of St. Peter at Rome. He died on the way, but his gift was carried to the Holy Father, then Gregory II. This codex de Rossi identified with Amiatinus.

This conjecture was hailed by all as a genuine discovery of great importance. Berger, however, objected to Britonum, suggesting Anglorum. Hort soon placed the matter beyond the possibility of doubt. In an anonymous life of Ceolfrid, the chief source of Bede's information, which, though twice published, had been overlooked by all, Hort found the story of Ceolfrid journeying to Rome and carrying the pandect inscribed with the verses:




etc. Despite the variations, there could be no doubt of their identity with the dedicatory verses of Amiatinus; Corpus was of course the original, not Culmen, and Anglorum, not Britonum; the other differences were perhaps due to a lapse of memory, or this version may represent the original draft of the dedication. De Rossi's chief point was proved right. It established that Amiatinus originated in Northumberland about the beginning of the eighth century, having been made, as Bede states, at Ceolfrid's order. It does not follow, however, that the scribe was an Englishman; the writing and certain peculiarities of orthography have led some to believe him an Italian. We know that these two monasteries had brought over a Roman musician to train the monks in the Roman chant, and they may also, for a similar purpose, have procured from Italy a skilled calligrapher. The handwriting of Amiatinus bears a strong resemblance to some fragments of St. Luke in a Durham manuscript, to New Testament fragments bound up with the Utrecht Psalter, and to the Stonyhurst St. John; these facts, together with Bede's statement that Ceolfrid had three pandects written, indicate that "there was a large and flourishing school of calligraphy at Wearmouth or Jarrow in the seventh and eighth centuries, of which till lately we had no knowledge at all" (White). This conclusion is confirmed by peculiarities in the text and in certain of the summaries.

The contents of the first quaternion of Amiatinus coincide so remarkably with descriptions of the celebrated Codex Grandior of Cassiodorus that it has been supposed that the leaves were transferred from it bodily; the conjecture has been rendered more credible by the fact that this codex was actually seen in England by Bede, perhaps before Amiatinus was carried to Rome. Moreover, the contents of our codex do not correspond exactly to the list prefixed which purports to give the contents. These reasons, however, would only prove that the Codex Grandior served as the model, which seems indubitable; while, on the other hand, weighty reasons have been urged against the other attractive hypothesis (see White and de Rossi).

Despite the lowering of its date by a century and a half, Amiatinus holds the first place for purity of text among the manuscripts of the Vulgate. Its excellence is best explained on the ground that its prototype was an ancient Italian manuscript, perhaps one of those brought from Rome by Benedict Biscop, perhaps one brought by Adrian, abbot of a monastery near Naples, when in 668 he accompanied Benedict and Theodore to England. It is remarkable that Amiatinus and the other Northumbrian codices are nearest in text to Italian manuscripts, especially to Southern Italian, and to manuscripts betraying Italian descent. The group to which it belongs bears the closest relationship to the best-esteemed Greek manuscripts extant, aleph, B. (Cf. MANUSCRIPTS OF THE BIBLE; CRITICISM, BIBLICAL, sub-title Textual.) In the Old Testament, the text is not of equal purity throughout; Berger, e.g., notes the inferiority of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, and Tischendorf of Machabees. The Psalter does not present the Vulgate text, but St. Jerome's translation from the Hebrew (cf. PSALTER; VULGATE). The excellence of the Amiatine text is not a new discovery: it was well known to the Sixtine revisers of the Vulgate, who used it constantly and preferred it, as a rule, to any other. To this is largely due the comparative purity of the official Vulgate text and its freedom from so many of the corruptions found in the received Greek text, which rests, as is well known, on some of the latest and most imperfect Greek manuscripts.

Publication information Written by John Francis Fenlon. Transcribed by Sean Hyland. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

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