Early in the ninth century, Abbot Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel (northeastern France) composed his Liber comitis, a collection of exegetical texts intended to explain biblical passages encountered in the liturgy. His preface alerted his readers to the lengthy pedigree of the texts they were about to read. Among the nineteen patres he credited as his sources, he listed Figulus sandwiched between Isidore and Bede. Smaragdus also helpfully acknowledged his sources in his margins where Figulus is represented by a variety of abbreviations, including F, FI, FIG, FR, FRI, and FUL. In some manuscripts of the abbot's preface, the name appears as Frigulus and that version has stuck among the handful of scholars who since the 1950s have pursued this mysterious figure. In 1954, Bernhard Bischoff published his influential catalogue of Hiberno-Latin and Irish-influenced exegesis in which he credited Frigulus with a commentary on Matthew based on the excerpts Smaragdus recorded.  He also proposed that the Matthew commentary, apparently lost save for Smaragdus's fragments, had an Irish background, which encouraged Joseph F. Kelly to buttress the case for the "Irish character" of the commentary and to enroll Frigulus as a Hiberno-Latin commentator on Matthew.  In the meanwhile, the lost commentary was found in a late ninth-century Quedlinburg manuscript now in the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek in Halle (Saale) where it is registered as Qu. Cod. 127. It is this manuscript's text that Anthony J. Forte has published.
Forte's presentation of the Frigulus commentary is problematic. Smaragdus was not the only one who found the commentary useful. Scholars have identified the Liber questionum in evangeliis as a "revised version" of the Frigulus commentary.  Hrabanus Maurus apparently cited it in his Matthew commentary, according to Forte (365). In addition, two continental bifolia from the mid-ninth century that parallel the Frigulus commentary survive.  The editor integrated the texts from these sources into the edition only when they could make up for breaks in the Halle manuscript, which is missing 29 folios. And quite surprisingly, even though Forte praised Lukas Dorfbauer's 2015 article announcing that an early ninth-century Cologne manuscript preserves the beginning of the commentary, Forte ignored this significant discovery. Instead, he began the edition where the Halle manuscript begins it, noting initio textus abest (47), even though the initium can be read in the Cologne manuscript.  While the sixty-nine surviving folios of the Halle manuscript preserve the most significant portion of the Frigulus commentary, it is not the only witness. The alternate readings of other texts, such as the Liber comitis and the Liber questionum in evangeliis, and other manuscript witnesses go unreported in the apparatus which only reports corrections in the Halle codex. What readers will encounter in the edition essentially is a transcription of the Halle text and not a critical edition that brings together all surviving elements of the Matthew commentary.
It is unfortunate that the very short introduction (11-44) to such an important and complex text is often misleading and confusing. The editor used the word "manuscript" when he meant the text that the manuscript bears. For example, a discussion of source marks in the Frigulus commentary, one of its important features, "and their possible use to date our manuscript" led him to think that Dorfbauer contradicted himself when he dated the commentary to ca. 650-ca. 775 in his article and then "insisted" in a private communication to the editor that "the script clearly betrays its 9th century origin" (16 n.1).  Obviously, Dorfbauer referred to the text of the commentary in one place and to the Halle manuscript in the other. Another of the significant features of the Frigulus commentary is its dependence on the mid-fourth century gospel commentary of Bishop Fortunatianus of Aquileia, which Dorfbauer discovered in 2012. To write that "the Fortunatianus manuscript," however, "contains large sections of Frigulus's commentary on Matthew" (12 n.3) is to get the relationship exactly reversed. To compute that the Halle manuscript's 69 surviving folios absent its missing 29 folios represent "about one third of the original text" (13) is to halve the ratio of surviving to missing folios. Another significant trait of the Frigulus commentary is that it shares in "hundreds of passages" common sources with the Matthew Commentary of Sedulius Scottus, a mid-ninth century Irish scholar based in Liege. This is such an important feature of the Frigulus commentary that the editor dedicated six pages of the introduction to it. He also noted in a special apparatus those passages in the Frigulus commentary and in Sedulius's commentary that were inspired by the same unknown sources. (The Hrabanus Maurus commentary also shares unknown sources with the Frigulus commentary, according to Forte.) This is a significant finding that further research will clarify, but one can only wonder what the editor meant by asking "Did Frigulus know and cite Sedulius or had Sedulius read Frigulus?" and declining to "provide a definite response," even though the Frigulus commentary is at least a century older than Sedulius Scottus (19).
All the above topics, plus the edition's editorial conventions, appear in "The Manuscript" (11-26) section of the introduction. The next section on "Spelling, Morphology, Syntax, Style and Vocabulary" (27-33) presents lists of "problems with our manuscript [sic]" (27). Editors usually seize on orthographical and linguistic peculiarities to determine something about an author or an author's milieu. Here, the editor concluded that it was impossible to determine anything about the author since the commentary "was constructed from so many sources" (33). The section titled "Little Greek and Less Hebrew" (34-38) judged that the author knew "some Greek." The question of "Authorship" (38-41) rehearses various attempts to identify who Smaragdus called Figulus and thought significant enough to name in the preface to the Liber comitis. The editor's own view, "We also do not know if Frigulus was the name of our author (most likely not), or whether he had engaged in other literary undertakings" (12, n.1), was already announced earlier in the introduction. Here, the editor found the claims of Irish influence (Bischoff) and, indeed, of Irish heritage (Kelly) "are far from definitive. Their claims about the Irish authorship of Frigulus were the result of uncritical, unsubstantiated and often circular argumentation" (41). He promised in a separate study to re-examine their "assertions" about Frigulus. A final, too brief and too general section on "Frigulus's Biblical Text" (42-44) found that the commentary followed the Vulgate, but occasionally reported Vetus Latina readings.
What is missing from the introduction is a detailed account of the commentary's sources. The few sources discussed under "The Manuscript" cannot stand in place of a systematic analysis of the commentary's debts to earlier traditions. Clearly, the commentary is grounded in Ambrose, Augustine, Fortunatianus, Gregory the Great, Jerome, and the most recent named source in the commentary, Isidore of Seville. The "Auctores et Opera Anonyma" roster (355-365) lists more names and texts, even if only to designate likely comparative ("cf.") passages. There are some surprises. At Matthew 1,19, the commentary includes the sentence, "Vir quippe ducit, mulier nubit," which the apparatus attributes directly to Bede's De orthographia (94,22). If this identification holds up, it would advance the date for the composition of the commentary from the seventh to the eighth century. That this is the only use the commentary would have made of Bede, however, raises doubts. Also, Bede's source was the second-century grammarian Caper's De orthographia, providing at least one other avenue for the aphorism to make its way into the commentary. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite is another surprising author credited as a direct source in the roster, but with a "cf." in the apparatus (283,11), for the phrase "Nouem gradus caeli" at Matthew 18,12. This seems highly unlikely. One would like to learn more about the three lengthy passage credited to the Physiologus Latinus (63,1-6; 119,17-21; 215,1-9).
The Collectio canonum Hibernensis also begs for investigation, especially since it goes to the heart of the discussion of the putative author. In his 2005 review essay on Jean Rittmueller's edition of the Liber questionum in evangeliis, Michael Gorman questioned the Irish origin of that work as well as of Frigulus, the author who stands behind it. Among the many issues he raised, Gorman questioned the validity of three citations from the Collectio canonum Hibernensis attributed to Frigulus in the Liber questionum in evangeliis. Curiously, although he had a copy of Forte's as yet unpublished edition, he chose to cite the Frigulus commentary from the Liber questionum in evangeliis rather than from the edition.  The following comparisons are to passages in the Forte edition. Of the three citations, the first one to Collectio 42.4 e  seems plausible as a source for the commentary. Here, Forte has "cf." appropriately in his apparatus (215). Gorman's second comparison should be to Collectio 42.4 h,  not, as he has it, to 42.4 g. When the proper comparison is made, Collectio 42.4 h is convincing as a source for the Frigulus commentary (156,5-6). The third example compares Collectio 46.7  with the commentary (152,21-153,6). The Frigulus excerpt Gorman cited from the Liber questionum in evangeliis is very short and not convincing, as he suggested. But, when the fuller passage in the commentary is put alongside the chapter of the Collectio, the relationship between the two is wholly convincing. Bottom line: the Frigulus commentator knew and used the Collectio canonum Hibernensis. At the very least, this correlation pushes the terminus post quem for the commentary to the late seventh, early eighth century, the accepted date for the Collectio. But, does it make the commentator an Irishman or a "pseudo-Irish phantom"?
My own view is that the new edition of the Frigulus commentary should prompt a thorough review of all the evidence, including the evidence of all the manuscripts and the textual witnesses to the commentary. Until then, the jury is still out on the question of the commentator's heritage. For those who will pursue the commentator further, it will help to remember that Bischoff advanced his view of the Frigulus commentary as three brief observations in support of an assertion when he enrolled it in his catalog of "Hiberno-Latin and Irish-Influenced Latin Exegetical Literature" (emphasis added). It was Joseph F. Kelly who argued by bringing additional evidence to bear that Frigulus was Irish, or at least that the commentary has an "Irish character." Kelly was especially impressed by the relationship between the Frigulus commentary and a Matthew commentary that Rittmueller would publish twenty-two years later as the Liber questionum in evangeliis.  The two commentaries need to be compared systematically and the origins of the Liber questionum in evangeliis (Irish or continental or both?) need to be determined before anything more can be said with confidence about the Frigulus commentary's author. Three other strands of evidence should also be pursued. Elements of the "Frigulus-LQEtradition" have been detected in the Old English homily known as Blickling III which was composed before the end of the tenth century and in a Latin sermon in a Worcester homilary from the beginning of the twelfth century.  Also, the preface of the Gospels of Máel Brigte, copied in 1138 but reportedly with no evidence of sources later than the eighth century, agrees verbatim with the preface in the Halle manuscript.  How did that come to be? The Halle manuscript itself may hold an important clue to the origin of its commentary's author. It dates from the last third of the ninth century and was likely copied in northern Italy.  The early circulation of Fortunatianus of Aquileia's commentary was limited to this same region. Lukas Dorfbauer has suggested that the Frigulus commentator may have encountered it there and, thus, that the Frigulus commentary also arose in northern Italy or nearby. The manuscript's Irish abbreviations (evident also in the earlier Cologne fragment Dorfbauer discovered) may point in the direction of an Irish foundation (Bobbio?) where indeed an Irish-influenced commentary could have been composed. There may be a hint in the commentary that further supports situating the commentator in northern Italy or nearby. When Christ called the persecuted the salt of the earth in Matthew 5,13, the commentary noted that there are three kinds of salt. After descriptions of each, a fourth was added, a kind found in rock form in the Alps mountains.  This seems like a personal observation made by a reader familiar with the Alps and perhaps made originally as a marginal annotation that later migrated into the text space.
What of the commentary? Few have assessed its merit. The editor left the impression that "this sometimes somber and repetitive commentary" (30) that was "constructed from so many sources" (33) is a plodding work devoid of art or originality. Dorfbauer, however, saw in the commentator not a mere scissors and paste copyist, but rather a skillful organizer of different source materials.  Jean Rittmueller's analysis of the commentary conjured an independent exegete confident enough to modify his sources in subtle and not too subtle ways. He frequently turned equivocations and denials into affirmations and occasionally changed the intent of the language he borrowed from his sources. The minor and major changes he made in his sources distinguished the commentator from a compiler.  One cannot help but be struck by the commentator's overall command of the biblical text and his skill in moving around in Matthew's Gospel as well as in many other biblical books, linking biblical passages characteristically withhaeret. He constantly compared Matthew with Mark and Luke and sometimes even with John, noting where they differed (especially in reconciling the accounts of the generations of Christ's genealogy). He expected his readers to know technical terms such as ordo praeposterus when Matthew 1,1 placed David ahead of Abraham in the genealogy (52,23). He also often pointed out that biblical language had its own customs and practices, consuetudo / mores scripturarum, as when genealogies did not include women (60,14) or when the word "chalice" in Matthew 20,22 really meant death (299,10). At least ten times, he referred to grammatical categories as when Christ's command to the leper in Matthew 8,3, mundare, was explained as a passive imperative (184,10) or that hic in "Dico autem vobis, quia templo major est hic" (Matthew 12,6) is not a pronoun, but an adverb of place (224,20). There are no explicit references to monks or to monastic life, except perhaps obliquely in references to the theorica uita and actualis uita (131,26; 152,1-7; 253,17; also, MS Cologne, Dombibliothek 57, fol. 57r). The only occupation or vocation that seems of interest is that of the mediciwho appear several times as examples (197,4-5; 217,1-3; 221,21; 234,23-25).
The structure of the commentary is built around the question: quaeritur and quaestio occur too often to count (but the Hiberno-Latin response "non est difficile" never occurs). Questions lead to multiple interpretations; aliter is a frequent locution. So is the penchant for enumeration. Enumerated interpretations, explanations, or meanings of biblical terms are ubiquitous and come frequently in triads. Often, the commentator linked one enumeration with a like enumeration, as when the seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer are linked to the six ages of the world plus the seventh age after the Last Judgment (169,13-30) or when the eight Beatitudes recall Christ's eight miracles (uirtutes) (205,9-11) or, yet again, when Matthew 10,1's mention of the 12 disciples prompts a cascade of 20 biblical twelves (208,3-16). The commentator had a keen sense of his audiences. With "ut ante dixi," he frequently reminded them of what he had written earlier. He also pointed out structural shifts in the narrative of the gospel as when he addressed his readers at the point where the genealogy up to Christ at Matthew 1,17 ended and the story of Christ's birth began (89,8-15) and showed in other places with a notandum quod or nota quod how the narrative of the gospel works (264,1-3; 292,28-30). After commenting verse by verse on the meaning of words and phrases in the gospel, the commentator offered further interpretation of the same words and phrases prefaced by the labels moraliter or spiritaliter. Michael Gorman noticed in his reading of the Liber questionum in evangeliis that this next level of interpretation generally followed the Eusebian sections of the gospel.  Organizing the material with allegorical interpretations following literal interpretations Eusebian section by section appears to have structured the commentary as well.
What of Frigulus? Forte concluded that Frigulus is "most likely not" the name of the commentator (12, n.1), but then what led Smaragdus to inscribe Figulus or Frigulus into his list of authentic exegetes? Kelly thought that Frigulus might be the latinized form of Irish Fergil, which was, in turn, the Irish name of Vergilius of Salzburg (c.700-784), but admitted that there is no current evidence to support that hypothesis.  The Halle manuscript has on its front flyleaf the inscription "FRIBOLI IN MATHEUM," which Dorfbauer linked to an authorial remark in the commentary, "fribolas [= frivolas] quorumdam opiniones" (78,26), that might have been picked up by a reader eager to pierce the anonymity of the commentary with a name, a name that in various permutations caught on and was adopted by Smaragdus.  Here is another hypothesis to throw into the speculative hopper. Figulus, the prevalent form in the Liber comitis manuscripts, is a genuine Latin name borne, for example, by the distinguished Publius Nigidius Figulus (c.98-45 BCE). But if the commentator's name was Figulus, it much more likely was inspired by biblical usage where the potter (figulus) appears some twenty times. The potter serves as a powerful metaphor for the Lord who, sitting at his wheel, makes useful things of clay (Eccles 33,13; 38,32-35; Jer 18,6; Wis 15) or for men whose skill produces vessels for both clean and unclean uses (Jer 2,6; Rom 9,21). The potter was well-known to medieval exegetes who were particularly attracted to Eccles 27,6: "The furnace trieth the potter's vessels, and the trial of affliction just men" ("Vasa figuli probat fornax, et homines justos tentatio tribulationis"). While these biblical resonances might have inspired a Christian naming opportunity, that the name appears nowhere else but in Smaragdus's list makes this hypothesis shaky. What does matter, ultimately, is that an accomplished commentator influenced by Hiberno-Latin exegesis, living in northern Italy or a nearby region sometime in the eighth century, composed a work that proved useful to later biblical scholars over a wide geographic area stretching from northern Italy to Saint-Mihiel to Armagh.
1. "Wendepunkte in der Geschichte der lateinischen Exegese im Frühmittelalter," Sacris Erudiri 6 (1954): 247-50 (189-281). The catalogue portion (221-281) is titled "Katalog der hiberno-lateinischen und der irisch beeinflussten lateinischen exegetischen Literatur bis zum Anfang des IX. Jahrhunderts." The version of "Wendepunkte" published in Bischoff's Mittelalterliche Studien: Ausgewählte Aufsätze zur Schriftkunde und Literaturgeschichte, vol. 1 (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1966), 205-273 is unchanged as far as the Frigulus entry (249-252) is concerned.
2. "Frigulus: An Hiberno-Latin Commentator on Matthew," Revue Bénédictine 91 (1981): 363-373.
3. Michael M. Gorman, "Frigulus: Hiberno-Latin Author or Pseudo-Irish Phantom? Comments on the Edition of the Liber Questionum in Evangeliis (CCSL 108F)," Revue d'Histoire Ecclésiastique 100 (2005): 425, 427, 429 (425-456). See also Liber Questionum in Evangeliis, ed. Jean Rittmueller, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 108F (Turnhout: Brepols, 2003).
4. Bengt Löfstedt, "Fragmente eines Matthäus-Kommentars," Sacris Erudiri 37 (1997): 141-161; and, Anthony J. Forte, "Bengt Löfstedt's Fragmente eines Matthäus-Kommentars: Reflections and Addenda," Sacris Erudiri 42 (2003): 327-368.
5. "Fortunatian von Aquileia und der Matthäus-Kommentar des 'Frigulus' (CPL 1121e)," Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch 50 (2015): 88 (59-90). The manuscript is Cologne, Dombibliothek, 57, apparently copied during the first third of the ninth century at Cologne, making it the earliest manuscript witness to the Frigulus commentary.
6. When he claimed on the same page that "Source marks, which seem to have been an invention of Bede, are insufficient indications for dating the manuscript [sic]," he misunderstood the key point Michael Gorman made about Bede's innovative use of source marks. See "Source Marks and Chapter Divisions in Bede's Commentary on Luke," Revue Bénédictine 112 (2002): 260 (246-290).
7. Gorman, "Frigulus: Hiberno-Latin Author or Pseudo-Irish Phantom?," 427, .9, 443-444.
8. Die irische Kanonensammlung, ed. Herrmann Wasserschleben, 2nd ed. (Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1885), 162.
9. Ibid., 163.
10. Ibid., 186-187.
11. When he wrote his 1981 article, Kelly knew the commentary only from the Smaragdus fragments. By the end of the decade he had been able to examine the Halle manuscript in microfilm, which confirmed his view. See "A Catalogue of Early Medieval Hiberno-Latin Biblical Commentaries (II)," Traditio 45 (1989-90): 408-409 (393-434).
12. Robert Getz, "More on the Sources of Blickling Homily III," Notes and Queries 57,3 (2010): 281-290.
13.Martin McNamara, "End of an Era in Early Irish Biblical Exegesis: Caimin Psalter Fragment (11th-12th Century) and Gospels of Máel Brigte (1138 AD)," Proceedings of the Irish Biblical Association 34 (2011): 103, 119-121 (76-121).
14. Bernhard Bischoff, Katalog der festländischen Handschriften des neunten Jahrhunderts (mit Ausnahme der wisigotischen), Teil I: Aachen-Lambach (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1998), 310 (no. 1487): "Wahrscheinlich Oberitalien, IX. Jh., ca. 3. Drittel."
15. "VOS ESTIS SAL TERRAE...Tria genera salis sunt: unum uenenosum, de quo Hieronimus dicit: legimus quasdam urbes ira victorum sale seminatas; alterum sal adsuetum quo cibi hominum salliuntur; tertium quod nimio solis calore dequoquitur et ad terras exercendas fecundandasque deportatur; est et quartum genus salis quod in alpinis montibus in lapidum forma inuenitur." [142,5-12] Adomnán, De locis sanctis, 2,17, was also interested in these salts, although the fourth kind he attributed to mountains in Sicily. See Gorman, "Frigulus: Hiberno-Latin Author or Pseudo-Irish Phantom?," 442.
16. Dorfbauer, 78-79.
17. "Appendix 2: The Commentarius in Matheum by Frigulus and the Liber Questionum in Evangeliis" in The Scriptures and Early Medieval Ireland, ed. Thomas O'Loughlin (Turnhout: Brepols, 1999), 327-330.
18. Gorman, "Frigulus: Hiberno-Latin Author or Pseudo-Irish Phantom?,"438-439.
19. Kelly, "Frigulus: An Hiberno-Latin Commentator," 372-373.
20. Dorfbauer, 86-87.