The late Susan Keefe, deceased all too soon on August 7, 2012, at age 58, was a remarkable scholar whose cataloguing and editorial work on the manuscript sources of the Carolingian period proves that the history of even well-studied periods with seemingly limited sources benefits from basic research. The work under consideration here, Explanationes symboli aevi carolini, is a companion to Keefe's Catalogue of Works Pertaining to the Explanation of the Creed in Carolingian Manuscripts published in the same year, 2012, in Brepols' series Instrumenta Patristica et Mediaevalia. With these new volumes, Keefe does for the Carolingian study of doctrinal commentary what she did for Carolingian baptismal treatises in her extraordinary Water and the Word: Baptism and the Education of the Clergy in the Carolingian Empire, a ground-breaking study, catalogue and edition of texts published in two volumes in 2002 by the University of Notre Dame Press. In the baptismal volumes, Keefe studied and edited sixty-one treatises, twenty-five of which had not been edited previously. This was fundamental research presenting new sources to scholars, and provided substantial new material for understanding the ecclesiological and educational aims of the Carolingian period. Keefe's new work on creedal commentaries applies a similar approach to an almost-unstudied corpus that will fill out, and complicate, the understanding of the learning that supported and defined the Carolingian period.
Keefe's new work on creedal commentaries consists of critical editions of forty-three commentaries on, or explanations of, creeds preceded by a short introduction, which includes a list of manuscripts, a description of editorial principles, bibliography, and a nine-page appendix of the contents of the edited texts. The editions are provided with a biblical apparatus, an apparatus for sources and parallel texts, and a critical apparatus for variants among the manuscripts and editorial interventions. The selected commentaries take the form of glosses on creeds, explanations of doctrinal points, professions of faith, both personal and conciliar, and formal polemical tracts. Some are short; Textus 6, for instance, is six lines in the edition and considers two questions on belief in the resurrection. Others are more substantial; Textus 7, an incomplete florilegial gloss, runs to 346 lines; and Textus 14, containing excerpts from an exposition on the creed by Fulgentius, is 134 lines. Many of the selected texts are transmitted in single manuscripts, although others are copied in as many as six manuscripts.
In publishing these commentaries, Keefe breaks down boundaries between genres to examine a common cultural purpose while also making an argument about what constitutes a text and how they are to be understood. The texts, in Keefe's words, have "received almost no attention because of their anonymity and because many of them consist largely of excerpts" (vi). The point is, however, that such centonizations, florilegia and excerpted texts demonstrate intention and adaptation to select audiences. Many were also copied more than once, which means that the selections had an impact. Keefe's insight fits contemporary understandings of texts well, but is novel in comparison to earlier studies.
The question remains what historians are to make of such commentaries, derivative and repetitive as they are. They are, however, given further meaning by their context, which Keefe provides in the list of manuscripts in the present volume, in the companion catalogue of 393 creedal commentaries in 505 manuscripts, published separately by Brepols, and in a preliminary article published in Ritual, Text and Law: Studies in Medieval Canon Law and Liturgy Presented to Roger E. Reynolds (Aldershot, 2004), edited by Kathleen G. Cushing and the present reviewer. Keefe's 2012 catalogue provides the evidentiary basis for the present volume, and expands on the manuscript setting of the selected commentaries edited in the present volume. The creeds themselves are familiar sources, as are many of the manuscripts in which they are copied, but earlier editors looked at each creed in isolation and edited them individually, as sources for the patristic centuries in which they were composed. They rarely considered the commentaries with which the creeds were copied, or how the creeds and their commentaries circulated in distinct groups in Carolingian manuscripts. Together with the baptismal tracts Keefe has already published, and other florilegia, for the treatment of which Keefe's work can serve as a blueprint, this new material adds to our understanding of the doctrinal emphasis within Carolingian learning. Moreover, it is an emphasis based on circles of textual transmission, and many individualized compositions, a new perspective on a period once thought to be marked by a push toward unity and conformity.
Keefe's work stands as a tribute to fundamental research. She shows respect for the seriousness of purpose that motivated Carolingian copyists and authors, and makes tractable what has been too easy to dismiss. The sheer number of newly edited items, and how they have been overlooked, reinforces the re-considerations of the period that are ongoing among historians of canon law, liturgy and education. Keefe's edition and catalogue provide much new material for this re-consideration.