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17.12.21, van der Meer, ed., Glosae in regula Sancti Benedicti abbatis ad usum Smaragdi Sancti Michaelis abbatis

17.12.21, van der Meer, ed., Glosae in regula Sancti Benedicti abbatis ad usum Smaragdi Sancti Michaelis abbatis

The adoption of the sixth-century Rule of Benedict as the standard guide to monastic life during the Carolingian reforms of the early ninth century raised many questions for contemporaries. Written three hundred years earlier in the early sixth century for a relatively small community of Italian monks, the RB enshrined useful principles about the cloistered life, but by the reign of Louis the Pious (814-840) it was out of date with many of the developments that have come to characterize Carolingian monasticism. Like one of Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, the author of the RB would have marveled to find ninth-century monasteries that looked like small towns, where hundreds of monks lived together in close proximity to lay servants and received frequent visits from royal and noble patrons. Imagine his surprise to learn that many monks were ordained priests who devoted themselves to protracted liturgical services and prayer for the dead at the expense of the manual labor and sacred reading prescribed in his rule. Consider his amazement that his little book for beginners, written for local use in a time of great social upheaval, became a text whose vocabulary and meaning monastic scholars across northern Europe scrutinized with surgical precision in the relative peace of sprawling empire.

Three of these Carolingian scholars of the RB are well known to us because their inquiries have survived as florilegia, commentaries, and student notes: the Concordia Regularum of Benedict of Aniane (early ninth century), the Expositio in regulam S. Benedicti by Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel (c. 817-827), and the Expositio Regulae of Hildemar of Corbie (c. 845). In the volume under review, Matthieu van der Meer presents us with another, as yet unknown, Carolingian commentary on the RB: the Glosae de diversibus doctoribus collectae in regula sancti Benedicti abbatis (hereafter Glosae). This anonymous text has been preserved in two early ninth-century manuscripts (Valenciennes, Bibliothèque municipal 288, fols. 2v-87v; and Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, nouvelles acquisitions latines 763, fols. 4r-34v and 43r-97v) and a much later fifteenth-century witness (Augsburg, Staats- und Stadtbibliothek quart. cod. 46), which preserves only part of the work. On the basis of the two Carolingian copies of the Glosae, van der Meer not only establishes an edition of the Latin text of this unknown commentary, but also explains the context of its production and its relationship to other Carolingian treatments of the RB in an expansive introduction to his edition.

The Glosae is, in fact, a text in two parts, comprising both a glossary and a florilegium. The glossary explains the meaning of individual words in the RB and may have originally served as a medium for teaching rudimentary Latin to monks on the basis of Benedict's text. Many of these definitions have been borrowed from the late eighth-century Liber Glossarum, an encyclopedic collection of Latin synonyms. As van der Meer observes, the glossary is very thorough for the prologue and first seven chapters of the RB, the spiritual core of the work, but then "gradually turns into an occasionally glossed summary of the Rule" (vii). The second part of the Glosae is a florilegium that pairs passages from the RB with 549 quotations from the Bible, the Church Fathers, and monastic authorities like Basil and Pachomius. The florilegium is incomplete (it stops at the header for ch. 72 and thus leaves out the RB's final chapter), but its goal was clearly to provide extensive historical and spiritual contexts for the text of the rule, perhaps even to "enable a better understanding of theological discussions in monastic communities concerning the Carolingian reform efforts and of the reception and use of the patristic heritage in this context" (viii).

Van der Meer's thorough introduction provides the historical context for the compilation of the Glosae, describes its contents with reference to the history of glossing techniques, and comments on its authorship (anonymous) and date of composition (c. 790-827). After describing the manuscript witnesses of the Glosae and their relationship (with excellent color reproductions of four folios tucked between pp. xxiv and xxv), Van der Meer turns his attention to a lengthy analysis of the relationship between this text and Smaragdus' Expositio in regulam S. Benedicti (xli-liv). Although there is considerable overlap between the contents of the Glosae and the Expositio, Van der Meer rules out the possibility that the Glosae was an abridgment of Smaragdus' work and concludes that Smaragdus "scavenged the Glosae and wove many quotations into his text" (p. xliv; see the summary of his arguments on p. liii). Smaragdus' borrowings were extensive: he redeployed in his own commentary about a quarter of the glosses and almost three quarters of the quotations in the Glosae. Thus, with this edition of the Glosae in hand, we can now "peek over Smaragdus' shoulder, as it were, and analyse his way of interpreting old texts and crafting new ones" (viii), his way of turning a collection of synonyms and quotations intended for oral instruction into a systematic commentary that proved to be immensely popular. Indeed, the Expositio survives in no less than 50 manuscript copies. The remainder of the introduction examines the text of the RB used in the Glosae as well as other sources deployed by the anonymous glossator, including the well-known seventh-century florilegium by Defensor of Ligugé known as the Book of Sparks (Liber Scintillarum) and the lesser known Latin translations of sermons attributed to the fourth-century Greek father John Chrysostom.

The Glosae is not a text that lends itself to reading from start to finish, so it is vital that van der Meer has included extensive indices that aid the reader in finding words and topics relevant to her own research. His volume concludes with indices of scriptural references, an inventory of parallels with the writing of Smaragdus, a long list of patristic and early medieval sources for the glossary and the florilegium, and catalogues of the Latin terms of the RB that have been glossed and their sources; in short, everything that the reader needs to make efficient use of the text. All told, this new edition of the Glosae is a monumental achievement of Benedictine scholarship that will endure for generations. It is sure to advance future research on the reception history of the RB, the modes of instruction by which new monks learned its principles, and the meaning of this fundamental work in the context of the Carolingian reforms of monastic life. Given the importance of the RB in the western tradition, it is shocking that this anonymous commentary has gone unnoticed for long, so we are in debt to van der Meer not only for bringing it to light in this painstaking and valuable contribution to monastic studies but also for reminding us that the future of early medieval scholarship lies in the undiscovered country of the thousands of manuscripts produced in western Europe in the ninth century.