Skip to content
IUScholarWorks Journals
22.02.23 Guiliano, The Homiliary of Paul the Deacon

22.02.23 Guiliano, The Homiliary of Paul the Deacon

This book is an important and effective contribution to the literature on Carolingian Europe. It joins an expanding range of works that seek to understand the impact of the Carolingian Renaissance on the ground in late eighth- and early ninth-century Western Europe. Rather than a work composed of unsubstantiated assertions and airy generalisations, throughout this book Guiliano is careful to ground his conclusions in a thorough and careful--but also measured and deeply coherent--structured argument. In this way, not only does he succeed in providing an outline of the Homiliary but also engages with the thorny issues of practical use and impact.

Paul the Deacon (c.725 - c.797x800), of course, is only one of the influential “collected scholars” (to use Mary Garrison’s redolent phrase) whose influence and work was part and parcel of the Carolingian thrust to develop and improve the foundations of Christian praxis. In this sense, the Homiliary was designed to provide, as the prefatory letter of Charlemagne (the Epistola Generalis) indicates, “what was best” from the sermons and the sayings of the Catholic fathers, collating these together “into two volumes through the circle of the whole year and fit for each distinct feast” (257). It is clear that the task of Paul the Deacon was a long, arduous and complex one--and this is brought out eloquently by Guiliano in the course of the work. In his own way, this book mirrors that mission in that Guiliano has emulated this complex and challenging Sisyphean task in the construction of his own work, which few if any scholars could surmount or improve.

The book is divided into six chapters together with five appendices. Whilst the work is clearly focussed on one set of works and one “author” (“collator” would not do justice to the task that Paul the Deacon accomplished), the importance of the Homiliary for broader concerns with regard to religious and cultural reform in Carolingian Europe should not be overlooked or understated. Throughout, Guiliano keeps his eye on the broader significance of the Homiliary at the point of presentation to Charlemagne and beyond. However, this book is much more than a forensic examination of the construction of one text. The impression that one rapidly forms from scrutiny of the first introductory chapter alone (Introduction, 19-44) is the deep impact of the Homiliary. The Introduction then situates the Homiliary within scholarship; considers the nature of the Epistola Generalis; and discusses the work within the deeper context of the history of preaching (32-7). Thereafter, Guiliano tackles the fundamentals of the issues at hand. In the first chapter (proper) (“Curae nobis est: The Manuscript Witnesses and Paul’s Text,” 45-66) he considers the manuscript witnesses and the text of the original. Neither of these tasks is either straightforward or simple. One might then anticipate that the prose provided would be tendentious, obtuse and lugubrious--but, and this is another strength of the volume, it is written clearly, concisely and effectively. In this regard, and as Guiliano points out himself, many scholars have “laboured to find its earliest and most reliable manuscripts”--including such giants of historical research as Jean Mabillon and Ernst Ranke. Whilst the names of both Friedrich Wiegand and Reginald Grégoire will be familiar to scholars who have worked in this particular area, and it is undoubtedly true that their studies provided the groundwork for the structure of the Homiliary, Guiliano’s work here supplants what has been offered before. First, he collates the earliest witnesses which have the prefatory material--which amounts in Guiliano’s table to fourteen items, of which, for Guiliano, seven provide an “especially clear picture” (51). He concludes that the preface originally contained four elements (52) (see the appendices). Secondly, Guiliano reconstructs the structure of both the winter volume and the summer volume of the Homiliary, providing comparative tables for both which set out his revised structure against that of Wiegand and Grégoire. In his view, the return to the earliest manuscript witnesses has allowed a “more secure reconstruction” (66) but, importantly for Guiliano, permits a subsequent analysis of Paul’s liturgical year in chapter 2 (“Per totius anni circulum: Paul’s Liturgical Year,” 67-89); and the composition of the Homiliary (“En iutus patris Benedicti: The Composition of the Homiliary,” 91-122). All of these features naturally would be at risk had Guiliano not undertaken the detailed heavy lifting in chapter 1. Chapter 5, which discusses the theology of the collection (“Optima decerpens: The Theology of Paul’s Collection,” 163-98) is particularly interesting. Here Guiliano analyses the links between Carolingian biblical studies, theology and preaching. Trinitarian relations, Christology and eschatology (amongst others) are discussed in a series of thoughtful sections which should nourish much future work.

There is a great deal of interest in these chapters which will occupy the serious reader and researcher. For this reviewer, one of the (perhaps) unintended conclusions has reference to the death date of Paul the Deacon (see 120-2) which in most handbooks is referenced as c.799. Having considered the dating of Paul’s collection carefully and with regard to the wording in the prefatory material, Guiliano advocates for a re-evaulation of Walter Pohl’s carefully calibrated 796x800 dates. Further, Guiliano succeeds in demonstrating the importance of Paul the Deacon’s role at the Carolingian court and within the programme of correctio. As he points out (117), the key to understanding the production of the Homiliary is the role of patronage, but not as a simple connection between “suppliant servant and munificent lord” (117), rather as a network of patronage that linked the king with Paul, and Paul, in turn, with Theudemar and his brethren in Montecassino.

Both chapters 4 (“Per sacra domicilia Christi: The Dissemination of the Homiliary,” 123-62) and 6 (“Tradimus: The Use of Paul’s Homiliary,” 199-244) flow from what has gone before and consider the direct impact and use of the Homiliary. This is where the clear-sighted aims and measured prose of Guiliano are at their best. Judgements are made carefully with a judicious use of evidence and argument that makes this work compelling in all respects. In “Tradimus,” for instance, Guiliano engages with the difficult issue of the use(s) of the Homiliary. Rather than assuming a bland association with preaching, he considers the diverse nature of the extant witnesses that remain, so that one may consider the purposes and responses of those who crafted and directed the creation of patristic collections. Guiliano is fearful that this is a “bloodless topic” (201), but it is clearly one that strikes at the fundamental expression of Christian identity and praxis in the medieval west.

Finally, the work concludes with five appendices. These alone constitute a useful addition to scholarship and once again are emblematic of the high quality of scholarship on offer. Guiliano provides editions of the dedicatory verse, the prefatory letter, the descriptive introduction and also Paul’s laudatory verse with a modern render into English. The last appendix (263-99) is a handlist of witnesses to Paul the Deacon’s Homiliary which sets out extant manuscripts by period of production and then by current location. While Guiliano notes that it is “undoubtedly incomplete” (263), a glance through the list is testament to the importance of this volume--and, one would hope, a call to further research in all aspects of the Homiliary.

Guiliano has then crafted a volume that is multivalent in its value and significance. It will be imperative for those who wish to understand Paul the Deacon as an intellectual--not just as a poet or a historian. And in this sense, it restores a significant part of his activities to the forefront of his life and works. From this it has value for scholars who wish to evaluate the Italian contribution to Charlemagne’s court or to understand the mechanics of the Carolingian renaissance. Finally, all those who wish to understand the development of engagement with patristic texts and the solidification of liturgical practice in the Middle Ages will find much of use here. This is an important work, written to the highest standards of scholarship, which will long have an influence upon the specific importance of the Homiliary but also point the way towards the real day-by-day significance of the reforms and intent behind the aulic programme of Charlemagne. The series editors, the publishers and the author should all be congratulated on the publication of such an important and fine work.