Constant J. Mews

title.none: Abelard, Collationes (Constant J. Mews)

identifier.other: baj9928.0210.015 02.10.15

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Constant J. Mews, Monash University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Abelard, Peter. John Marenbon and Giovanni Orlandi. Collationes. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001. Pp. cxxi, 246. $72.00. ISBN: 0-19-820579-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.10.15

Abelard, Peter. John Marenbon and Giovanni Orlandi. Collationes. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001. Pp. cxxi, 246. $72.00. ISBN: 0-19-820579-1.

Reviewed by:

Constant J. Mews
Monash University

Peter Abelard's Collationes, sometimes known as the Dialogue of a Philosopher with a Jew and a Christian, has long fascinated readers. Some are interested in Abelard's relatively sympathetic presentation of a Jew, who voices frustration with the hardships imposed on his people by a Christian society. Others have debated whether the philosopher who engages with both the Jew and the Christian in the two conferences or Collationes actually represents a Muslim thinker, or whether he is a purely fictional creation. Much ink has been spilled over the date of the Collationes and whether or not the work is incomplete. Was it composed in Abelard's final years, when a monk at Cluny and left incomplete through death (for a long time, the accepted opinion)? While the latter view has now been rejected by most scholars, there is still much uncertainty about exactly when it was written: was it in the second half of the 1120s, when Abelard was either still at the Paraclete or had become abbot of Saint-Gildas in Brittany, or does it come from the first half of the 1130s, when Abelard was re-establishing himself in the Parisian schools? The lack of clear resolution to these questions has not hindered readers from suggesting possible answers.

Until now, scholarly understanding of the Collationes has been impeded by the deficiencies of the critical edition attempted by Rudolf Thomas, and published under the title, Dialogus inter Philosophum, Iudaeum et Christianum (Stuttgart, 1970). Thomas did improve on the original edition, prepared by F. H. Rheinwald in 1835 from a single manuscript (Vienna, √Ėsterreichische Nationalbibliothek, cvp 819, ff. 1-59v), by also taking account of two other medieval manuscripts containing the Collationes (Oxford, Balliol College 296, ff. 161-189v and London, British Library, Royal 11.A.V). He often preferred readings of the Vienna manuscript, however, that did not always make clear sense. There have been two English translations in recent decades, those of P. Payer in 1979 and of P. Spade in 1995, both of whom had to adapt Thomas' text in order to make sense of what Abelard had written. Giovanni Orlandi's contribution to the OMT edition and translation of the Collationes has been to provide a completely new critical text that gives much greater weight to the combined authority of the Balliol and London manuscripts. The new volume, with a clearly laid out text and matching translation, as well as a sizeable introduction, is a pleasure to read. The editors provide a text and translation in which we can have confidence.

The section on the textual transmission of the Collationes, prepared by Giovanni Orlandi, is unfortunately rather brief in its explanation of the principles that have guided his establishment of a critical text. He says simply saying that "the filiation of the medieval MSS of the Collationes has already been discussed in full, and I have nothing substantially new to contribute" (xcv). The reader is left in the dark by his cryptic assertion that "various passages, some of them rather long...have been added by Abelard in a later revision of his work" without any indication of which passages these are, and indeed any justification of the claim that they constitute authorial revision. Reference is simply made to a paper that Orlandi published over twenty years ago, Per una nuova edizione del Dialogus di Abelardo', Rivista critica di storia della filosofia 34 (1979), 474-94 (incorrectly cited as pp. 484-93), with little detail about the conclusions of that study. In the critical apparatus to the OMT edition, there is no clear indication of what passages have been edited. Only by working back to a study by E.-M. Buytaert, 'Abelard's Collationes', Antonianum 44 (1969), 18-39, can the reader identify these passages, absent from the Vienna manuscript and accepted by Buytaert and Orlandi as evidence of a second recension (no easy matter, as the new edition does not provide any indication of folio numbers or pages of previous editions). Four sizeable and potentially significant passages can be identified here, using the Marenbon-Orlandi paragraph divisions, and the footnote reference to the critical apparatus:

7 d-d presertim...facientem.

25 p-p Vnde Salomon...desint.

26 c-c et tanto quisque...palam est.

30 b-b talis uidelicet membri...Ysaac Iacob' etc.

Unfortunately neither Orlandi nor Marenbon discuss the significance of these passages, or indeed whether Buytaert was correct to identify them as authorial additions. Because three of them relate to circumcision and the Law, it is possible that they were added after or while Abelard was commenting on the Epistle to the Romans.

Even a cursory glance at the critical apparatus to the OMT edition gives some idea of the enormous challenges presented to any editor of the Collationes. The close reader of its critical apparatus is not always sure exactly why Orlandi has preferred a Hinc to a Hic (2) or inverted uerum postremum (8) when this is the only reading provided by the manuscripts. In most cases, these emendations seem to be suggested by sense, occasionally by style. While I have no reason to doubt the wisdom of the editorial choices that have been made, I would have appreciated clearer guidance in this volume itself about the textual complexities confronting the editor. Orlandi gives more detail to a less important issue, the variants offered by a seventeenth-century transcription of the Balliol manuscript, probably the work of an early modern editor who also had access to the London manuscript. The brevity of Orlandi's textual discussion contrasts markedly with the extraordinarily detailed textual analysis offered in a new edition of Abelard's Scito teipsum by Rainer Ilgner (Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaeualis 190 [Turnhout, 2001]).

Marenbon's translation of the Collationes is a model of both intelligence and elegant style. While his translation does not differ in substance from that of Spade, it is much more readable. Abelard's argument is not always easy to understand. Marenbon assists the reader not only by the felicities of his translation, but by always helpful annotations that guide the reader without giving unnecessary detail. His extensive introduction, of well over one hundred pages, is itself a treasure. It is not always the case that introductions to texts of this kind provide in-depth analyses of the work in question. Here we have over one hundred pages of thoughtful and authoritative introduction to the argument of the Collationes, its literary genre and its sources. He provides an abstract of the argument of the Collationes as a whole that is itself very helpful for the reader. On the vexed issue of its dating, Marenbon weighs up the various arguments that have been put forward, and concludes that it was written some time between 1123 and c. 1135, perhaps most likely while Abelard was at St Gildas, namely between 1127 and 1132.

There is no doubt that the Collationes marks a significant shift in Abelard's intellectual evolution, away from the theoretical issues of language with which he was still preoccupied during the early 1120s, when he composed the Theologia christiana and his most mature commentaries on Porphyry, Aristotle, and Boethius. In the Collationes Abelard is tackling the ethical question of the relationship between the supreme good and the way we are to reach that good. In the first dialogue, of the philosopher with the Jew, Abelard sets up a debate about the importance of external observance of the Law, as given the Jew, as against the obligations of natural law, followed by the philosopher (presented, as Marenbon notes, as a descendant of Ishmael). In the second dialogue Abelard sets up a discussion about the importance of reason in relation to authority, the nature of the highest good and the greatest evil, and the relationship between virtue in general and the virtues. Marenbon observes the unusually sympathetic presentation of Epicurus by the philosopher in the Collationes, drawn from Seneca, quite different from some briefer, more stereotyped remarks that Abelard makes about Epicurean ideals in the Theologia christiana. Cicero is also another key authority on whom Abelard draws to present the philosopher's analysis of virtue. A question that Marenbon does not explore in depth in his introduction, but must raise itself to any reader of the Collationes concerns what relationship, if any, there may be between the ethical ideas sketched out in this text and Abelard's literary exchange with Heloise in the early 1130s. The Christian's discussion with the philosopher about the relationship between external observance and inner virtue, as also about the virtue and the struggle for a heavenly reward has many echoes in the writing of Heloise, for whom Seneca and Cicero were particularly important authorities. While Abelard completed the Collationes very likely before finishing the Theologia 'Scholarium' and certainly before his Expositio in Hexaemeron, I am inclined to think that it more likely dates from the early 1130s, when Abelard was already composing sermons for the Paraclete, than from the period 1127-29, when Abelard went through a period of crisis after he first moved to Saint-Gildas. In the discussion of the supreme good and the greatest evil, as well as of the virtues, he goes much further than anything he had written about in the Theologia christiana. In many ways, the dialogue of the philosopher with the Jew sets the agenda in the Collationes for ideas that surface in more detail in the commentary on Romans, while the dialogue of the philosopher with the Christian lays a foundation for ideas that he takes much further in his Ethica or Scito teipsum.

The Collationes will always provides opportunity for further discussion and debate. It is an unusually accessible text of Abelard, in that it does not presume familiarity with a complex range of authorities, whether in dialectic or in theology. At the same time, the work provides no shortage of fascinating enigmas, that will always attract attention. The edition, translation and commentary by Orlandi and Marenbon provides an ideal way for students to explore what is still one of the most astonishing texts of the twelfth century.