Sacris Erudiri Vol 4 (1952) pp.372-383

Note on the  recently discovered fragments of Tertullian


Dom E Dekkers


Who had been able to suspect that a library as excavated as the Vatican still contained an entirely unknown manuscript of Tertullian 1? But here is a more astonishing thing still: even on the territory of the Netherlands, traditional base of Tertullian studies, one comes to discover fragments of a manuscript of Tertullian, older, so  it appears, than all that we had. We owe this treasure to the enlightened zeal of A. P. van Schilfgaarde and G I Lieftinck: two folios of De Spectaculis, transcribed at the beginning of the IXth century, in the surroundings of Cologne 2.

Mr. Lieftinck knew how to further increase the interest of  his discovery by joining another, not insignificant to it: he located, in the oldest catalogue of the cathedral of Cologne, a manuscript of Tertullian, unperceived in the past owing to the fact that the name of the author does not appear there. But the titles of the works let   no doubt remain. Here is the text of the catalogue of 833, published by A. Decker:

De resurrectione mortuorum. lib. I
& de fide. libri II
Praescriptionibus hereticorum lib. I
de jejuniis adversum phisicos lib. I
de monogamia lib. I
de pudicitia lib. I 3.

"Certainly", continues Mr. Lieftinck, "De Spectaculis is not quoted and the list appears to be drawn up with much care, since other small treatises like De Ieiuniis and De Monogamia are indeed in it, but it is always possible that it was forgotten or that this work lacked a title in the manuscript".

One is astonished that the scientist paleographer of Leiden did not dare to engage further in so good a direction.

It is enough to compare the catalogue of 833 with other lists of the same kind to see that De Spectaculis had to form part of the manuscript of Cologne.

The reader knows that the works of Tertullian were transmitted to us in a half dozen collections, definitely diversified and independent from each other. One usually quotes the Corpus Trecense, dating from Vth century and preserved in a single manuscript of XIIth, which comes from the abbey of Clairvaux and is currently in Troyes; the corpus Agobardinum, that the archbishop of Lyon Agobard had transcribed in IXth century: the Codex Agobardinus is today one of the jewels of the National Library of Paris; the "corpus Masburense", which  Sigismond Ghelen published according to a manuscript currently lost of Malmesbury. But the most significant of these collections is the corpus Cluniacense, which would have been composed at the time of St. Isidore in the scholarly circles of visigothic Spain 4 ; transcribed in Cluny in the XIth century, it knew the broadest diffusion: a score of mss. of Tertullian currently known, almost all derived from these codices Cluniacenses.

The manuscript recently discovered in the Vatican reveals us the existence of a small corpus of four treatises, but which perhaps formed part of a more extended collection, of which we have lost trace 5.

Concurrently to these collections, well-known to scholars, there exists, or rather, there existed a corpus, rather little noticed and that the catalogue of Cologne opportunely has just recalled to the attention of the patrologists. It is attested by a catalogue a little more recent of the abbey of Corbie 6, and by a manuscript, also lost, of which a certain "Johannes Clemens Anglus" communicated the variants to Jacques de Pamele. He employed them in his large edition of Tertullian, which appeared in Antwerp in 1579.

Here are the treatises contained in this collection, which we will call hereafter the collection of Corbie:

Cologne Corbie Joh. Clemens
De resurr. mortuorum De resurr. carnis De resurr. carnis
De Trinitate 7 De Trinitate 7
et de fide libri II De spectaculis De spectaculis
De munere 8
Praescriptionibus her. Praescriptionibus eretic. Praescriptionibus haer.
De ieiuniis adu. phisicos De ieiuniis adu. fisicos De ieiunio
De monogamia De monogamia De monogamia
De pudicita De pudicitia De pudicitia

The first two titles of the list of Cologne call for some remarks.

There is no doubt that De Resurrectione mortuorum indicates De Carnis Resurrectione : in the excellent manuscript of Troyes, this treaty carries the same title exactly.

But what means this enigmatic et de fide libri II?

In this place should be De Spectaculis. We know that this treatise was formerly divided into two books (cfr note 1). Moreover, several chapters of this treatise carry like subtitles some significant word drawn from the first sentence: TITVLIS, APPARATIBVS, LOCO etc 9. However, the first chapter starts: "Qui status fidei etc" It would not be too hazardous to see in DE FIDE the subtitle which the first chapter carried in the ms of Cologne 10. It would be thus a plausible way to explain the lemma of the catalogue: De fide libri II.   However we prefer to stop with another assumption. De fide libri II corresponds to two works in the lists of Corbie and John Clement: the De Trinitate of Novatian and De Spectaculis. However, while the title De Trinitate is traditional 11, it corresponds only imperfectly to the real contents of the work, which is rather a comment of symbol 12. Therefore Jacques de Pamele suggested for it a new title: De Regula ueritatis.

The writer of the catalogue of 831, not finding, in his manuscript any name of author nor any title, attempted, not without success, to characterize the contents of it and called it De Fide, the usual name for this kind of works. At the end of De Trinitate he met the subtitle of the chapter first De Spectaculis : De Fide, and, not able to well distinguish the first three parts of his manuscript, he entitled the whole: " De resurrectione mortuorum liber I et de fide libri II".

Whatever assumption one will want to adopt, one can hold for certain that the manuscript of Cologne contained De Spectaculis. If the fragments of Keppel really come from a scriptorium of the surroundings of Cologne, -- and I am by no means qualified to question the deductions of Mr. Leiftinck - the history of the "collection of Corbie"  provides a reason moreover to admit this assumption and to believe that our fragments formed part of the manuscript catalogued in 833 13.


The history of the various collections of Tertullian is still extremely obscure. Can one at least clarify a little the origins of that which occupies us in this review?

The heading De Carnis Resurrectione invites us to look in the direction of the small collection of Troyes. This would, says one, originate in the Lerins' circles of the Vth century. Admittedly, a collection which includes violent lampoons like De Ieiunio, De Pudicitia, De Monogamia had to be born in a medium of an orthodoxy less aware of nuances than that of Vincent of  Lérins. It surely comes from some circle of rigorist dissidents, who enouraged fasting and abstinence and detested second weddings. We know in addition that, as of the end of the IVth century, De Trinitate circulated under the name of Tertullian: Macedonians of Constantinople inserted it in a collection of letters of St. Cyprian and spread a great number of specimens of it at a cheap price, in order to spread their ideas more easily.   Rufinus himself failed to see the fraud; he ends up suspecting that it did not read like Cyprian, but he believed he recognized "the libellus of Tertullian on the Trinity " 14.   And Jerome gives him a lesson from a great height 15!

It will undoubtedly be necessary to seek the origins of our collection among the last Western representatives of Montanism, perhaps among the Novatianists 16, or in the rare coteries of  Tertullianists which the author of Praedestinatus had still seen at work in Rome 17 and which Augustine will be able to bring back in the bosom of the church 18.

* *

Would this be also the moment to assess the famous manuscript of Malmesbury that Ghelen is known to have received "ex ultima Britannia"?   It is perhaps still too early: too many unknowns remain 19. But here are some details, while waiting for later research.

Let's first discuss the state of the question. In 1545 Martin Mesnart republished in Paris the works of Tertullian. Starting with the basis of the third edition of Rhenanus, he added as new the remaining piece of De Patientia and eleven opuscules, nine of Tertullian 20 and two of Novatian, the De Trinitate and De Cibis Iudaicis, which, following his manuscript, he also allotted to the Carthaginian polemicist. He notes that he drew all this from a "uetustissimus codex" of which he does not say anything more to us.

Five years later, in 1550, appeared in Basle, at Froben, the fifth edition of complete works of Tertullian. Sigismond Ghelen supervised the impression of it. In many places he modified the text of the treatises that Mesnart had published for the first time. Into his foreword he introduced pompously his "codex Masburensis", come from remote England and "containing all that the last edition of Paris had brought as new". In his contents he notes with an asterisk the opuscules that he had published according to this manuscript. Apart from the eleven new treatises of the Parisian edition, this is De Carnis Resurrectione, De Praescriptione Haereticorum and De Monogamia, which Mesnart had simply copied from the edition of Rhenanus.

In a study which did not hold the attention of the specialists in Tertullian, Dom Wilmart showed how Mesnart and Ghelen worked documents in hand 21. We see there our two editors at work on the De Cibis of Novatian. From hearing them in their prolegomenas, they've taken this text also from the uestustissimus codex of Mesnart, and the old Masburensis of Ghelen. Actually here is what happened.

Wilmart found in Paris, in the Sainte-Geneviève Library, under number 1351, a manuscript of the 15th century, containing works of Lucifer of Cagliari and the De Cibis. The comparison with the single old manuscript of De Cibis (Leningrad, Q I v 39, of Corbie, 9th century) and the edition of Mesnart shows from the evidence that we have here the intermediary - and the single intermediary - between the old Petropolitanus and the editio princeps. Mesnart 22 published it in his fashion, using  pell-mell the manuscript and the corrections which a slightly later hand had brought there, combining them with his own conjectures. Ghelen, in his turn, republished the text of Mesnart, correcting it to his liking, without having seen the manuscript.

All this has not done much to inspire to us with much confidence in the assertions of these not too scrupulous editors.  But initially let us try to determine with more precision what Mesnart understands by " ex uetustissimo codice desumpta ".

We have known for a long time that this " very old manuscript " is no other than the celebrated Agobardinus. But how did Mesnart employ it? He did not make of it the base of his edition; but he printed the variants of it rather often in the margin of his text. As for this last, he drew it from another manuscript of which he does not say a word. He acts in the same way with regard to the old Trecensis, as he had it also in hand and from which he notes certain alternatives, but he did not take that for base either. As Mr. Dierkcs has indeed shown 23, it is only for the De Oratione that Mesnart followed the Agobardinus. For all the remainder he undoubtedly preferred more recent manuscripts, but of an easier reading. We know already that for De Cibis he  was satisfied with the manuscript of Sainte-Geneviève. There is no doubt either that he employed a specimen of the collection of Corbie, since he gives De Trinitate, which is in that collection only. From this manuscript he also drew De Pudicitia, De Ieiunio and probably also De Spectaculis 24, but he neglected De Carnis Resurrectione, De Praescriptione and De Monogamia, for which he followed the edition of Rhenanus.  There remain five treatises (De Testimonio Animae, De Animated, De Baptismo, Scorpiace and De Idololatria) and a portion of De Patientia, for which Mesnart constitutes the  editio princeps. Where did he find them? One could suppose that he used an additional collection of Tertullian, absolutely unknown. Or more likely, that he had at his disposal a second specimen, more complete, of the Agobardine collection.   It is there that he could have found the end of De Idololatria, the beginning of De Anima and the fragment of De Patientia which are missing in our Agobardinus. But De Baptismo makes a difficulty. This treatise never formed part of this collection, and yet Mesnart had a complete manuscript, now lost, rather different from the Trecensis 25.   Moreover, if his 'second specimen' of the collection of Agobard contained De Patientia, it  must also have included De Spe Fidelium, De Paradiso and De Carne  et Anima, which precede De Patientia in this collection, unless we admit that the order of the treatises differed in the two specimens, as it differs sometimes in the various specimens of the collection of Cluny. It is not excluded either that Mesnart met these three treatises in his manuscript, but that finding them too difficult to decipher, it left them on one side, just like he did with the Ad Nationes, of which the text, damaged it is true, is to be read still today in the Agobardinus.

At all events, Mesnart had at his disposal, apart from the Agobardinus, the Trecensis, the manuscript of Sainte-Geneviève and a specimen of the collection of Corbie, still at least one or, more probably, several other manuscripts. What he describes by an extremely laconic phrase "ex uetustissimo codire desumpta" was actually quite a complex operation.

And Ghelen? At the most convenient time, precisely when it is a question of competition with the concurrent edition of Paris, he receives from England the invaluable manuscript, coming from the antique monastery of Malmesbury. With emphase he praises the merits of it. However, we saw that he does not make use of it for the edition of Cibis, which however appeared in it, if it is necessary to believe his list of it; for this work he is satisfied to dissociate the edition from his precursor. For De Oratione, he does exactly same thing26.

Moreover, the Masburensis, as Ghelen described it, presents a collection of works of Tertullian and Novatian, which did not leave any other trace 27. As for the manuscript itself, nobody never saw it. A doubt, which is not exclusively methodical, seems legitimate here. Therefore several scholars have refused to even admit the existence of this famous codex.  I do not believe it is necessary to go quite so far.

Ghelen inserts in his Masburensis all that he took from Mesnart, and underlines heavily that its text is much better than that of the Parisian edition 28. And in fact, he does not only bring some more or less happy conjectures, but he fills as several gaps with a happiness that the internal critic alone could not have inspired in him. But it is to be noticed that it is only in three treatises of the collection of Corbie that he really brings something new 29. Would one be far from the truth by supposing that only for these treatises of the collection of Corbie was he served by another manuscript than Mesnart ( the Coloniensis of which he   preserved some variants 30 and which, after use, would have been abandoned to the knife of bookbinder 31 ?) It is that which, in my opinion, should be understood when Ghelen speaks about "many old manuscripts, located in the libraries of France and Germany", which he had used.

For all the remainder, he reprints the editions of its precursors Rhenanus and Mesnart, correcting them according to his preferences. And in this kind of work, one cannot deny him a certain dexterity.

So, what remains of his Masburensis? Another witness of the collection of Corbie, under cover of which Ghelen, to mask his dependence upon the concurrent edition of Paris, lengthened the table of contents appreciably, while inventing a story to give it   some title of nobility: his "codex incorruptissimus" disappears. And these fairy-tales did not fail to impose on  posterity.

ADDENDUM - note 3 of page 375 11 is not entirely exact. There is still a handwritten fragment of De Trinitate : in a patristic anthology of Monte Cassino (cod. 384, ixe-Xe century) can be read indeed, on page 35, under the name of Tertullian, an extract of chap. 18.  The same manuscript also gives, on page 47, a second extract allotted to Tertullian; this one really belongs to him and is drawn from  chap. 12 of De Scorpiace, an opuscule almost as rare as De Trinitate. The text of these extracts was published by Dom Amelli in Miscellanea Geronimiana, Rome, 1920, p. 178; the identification is due to Father D'Alès (Tertullien inédit?, in Rech. de sc. relig., XI, 1921, p. 98)..


De fragmentis Tertullianeis nuper repertis pauca adnotantur, ut plenius elucidetur eorum relatio ad ceteros codices collectionesque operum Tertulliani. Nonnulla quoque animadvertenda videntur de codicibus, quibus usus est Mesnartius ac de « incorruptissimo codice» Masburensi, quem adhibuisse se dicit Gelenius.

1. p.372 n1. The honor of the discovery is due to a Swedish researcher, Mr. G Claesson, cfr J W Ph BORLEFFS, A new manuscript of Tertullian (Vatic. Ottob. lat. 25), in Vigiliae Christianae, V, l951 p. 65-79.

2. p.372 n2. G I LIEFTINCK, A fragment of De Spectaculis of Tertullian coming from a manuscript of the ninth century, in the same review, vol. V, 1951, p. 193-203.

3. p.373 n 1. A. DECKER, Die Hildeboldsche Manuskriptensammlung des Kölner Domes, in Festschrift der 43. Versammlung deutscher Philologen und Schulmänner, Bonn, 1895, p.218-251, no 96, quoted according to G LIEFTINCK, o.c, p. 203.

4. p.373 n 2. St. Isidore however knew several works which are absent from this collection.

5. p.374 n. 1. On this matter, to see the excellent introduction of Miss Chr. MOHRMANN to her Dutch translation of the Apologeticum and some other works of Tertullian (Monumenta Christiana, I, 3, Utrecht-Brussels, 1951, p. XLI ff.).

6. p.374 n. 2. L. DELISLE, Le Cabinet des Manuscrits, vol. II, Paris, 1874, p. 428, no 29.

7. p.374 n. 3. It is about the De Trinitate de Novatian, which circulated under the name of Tertullian, at least since the time of Rufinus (see below, p. 375, n 3).

8. p.374 n. 4. By error, the copyist made De Munere a separate opuscule; actually it is a different thing, merely the second part of De Spectaculis, of which chap. 12 in the Agobardinus has the subtitle De MVNERE, cfr REIFFERSCHEID-WISSOWA, p. 14, apparatus.   Elsewhere still, one finds mentioned the "duo Tertulliani libros de spectaculis " (Cfr OEHLER, p. XVIII) and Rhenanus had waited in vain, for his second edition of Tertullian, for the "Spectaculorum libros", that had been promised to him from Trier. This plural should not however make us think of the De Spectaculis of the Pseudo-Cyprian (Novatian), that the modern editors like to bring closer to the work of Tertullian. That of Novatian reached us by a very different route, see H. von SODEN, Cyprianische Briefsammlung, Leipzig, 1904, p. 211 sv. In the mss they are never together.

9. p.375 n. 1. REIFFERSCHEID - WISSOWA, p. 8 sv., pageantry. Cfr supra, note 9: MVNERE. This approach explains  best the wording of Rhenanus' "Spectaculorum libros ".

10 p.375 n. 2. In the single almost complete ms that we have, Agobardinus, the first five chapters do not have subtitles.

11 p.375 n. 3. To tell the truth, we do not know a great deal of the title under which it was published. There are no mss and the text did not reach us that was in our collection of Tertullian. The first mention of the work is that of S. Jerome in De uiris and the text is ambiguous: " Scripsit autem Nouatianus De pascha, sabbato, circumcisione ... multaque alia et de Trinitate grand  uolumen " (chap. 70 - RICHARDSON, p. 39, 27-29); but eight years later Jerome expressly says - " Cui titulus is De Trinitate " (Contra Rufinum, II, 19 - PL, XXIII, 464 B [ ed. of 1883 ]). In addition, it had to circulate, at least in the East, under a different title: Rufinus tells us that the Macedonians spread it in great numbers (De adulteratione librorum Origenis 41 - PG, XVII. 628 ff.: cfr S. JEROME. Contra Rufinum, l.c.). It was not under the title De Trinitate (or its Greek equivalent) that the pneumatomaces issued it.

12 p.376 n. 1. The word itself is not present anywhere. Moreover, the Holy Spirit is almost not mentioned; from which the success of the work among the pneumatomaques.

13 p.376 n. 2. An objection however, but which could be used at the same time as a response to those who cannot manage to be convinced of the Cologne origin of our fragments -: we know that the ms of Tertullian was in Cologne into 833, but who can say if it were written there or if it were brought there from a different area?

14 p.377 n. 1. Rufinus, De adulteratione libr. Origenis, 41 - PG, XVII, 628 ff.

15 p.377 n. 2. Jerome, Countered Rufinum, II, 19 - Pl, Xxiii, 464 B.

16 p.377 n. 3. It seems likely that they had many of the writings of the relentless moralist, especially De Monogamia, cfr S. AUGUSTIN, De bono uiduitatis, V, 7 - CSEL, XLI, p. 310 ff.

17 p.377 n. 4. Chap. 86 - PL, LIII, 616

18 p.377 n. 5. De Haeresibus, 86 - PL. XII, 46 CD.

19 p.377 n. 6. One would like, in particular, to be better informed about the corpus Ottobonianum, recently discovered, and whose text is, in many places, so near to that of Mesnart and Ghelen. In the same way, we know yet only very little things about the mss. of which Fulvius Ursinus preserved the alternatives, treated too contemptuously apparently by the critics. While waiting for this problem to be drawn into the light, here is the opinion of Dom Wilmart on these variants which werepublished by Jean de Wouwer into 1603 (AD Q S. FI. Tertulliani will opera emendationes epidicticae, Frankfurt, 1603 [ 2nd edit of 1612 ]): " the few readings lessons that Wouwer announced according to Fulvio Orsini could not be explained, in spite of the contrary opinion of the experts (Oehler, Klussmann, Kroymann, Landgraf-Weyman), without a manuscript of ancient tradition" (rev. bénédict., XXXIII, 1921, p. 130 sv.). See also G F DIERCKS, Tertullianus. De oratione, Bussum. 1947. p. xxv, and, in a contrary direction, J BORLEFFS, Q S. Flor. Tertulliani libri De patientia, baptismo, paenitentia, The Hague, 1948, p. 12, n 1.

20 p.378 n. 1. In particular - de Testimonio Animae, de Anima, de Spectaculis, de Baptismo, Scorpiace, de Idololatria, de Pudicitia, de Ieiunio, and de Oratione.

21 p.379 n. 1. Un manuscrit du de Cibis et des oeuvres de Lucifer, in the rev. bénédict., XXXIII, 1921, p. 124-135.

22 p.379 n. 2. About Martin Mesnart we do not know anything. His name is revealed to us by an acrostic on the verso of the page-title of its edition, cfr E KROYMANN, CSEL, XLVII, p. xii. It was believed for a long time that this edition was due to Jean Gaigny whose name is reproduced a little lower on the same page: "... eduntur in lucem beneficio Johannis Gangnei Parisini theologi ". What is really meant by this "beneficio"?   If Gaigny did indeed collaborate in it,  it does not reassure us  much.  R. Peiper and Car. Schenkl clarified the strange way in which he understood the trade of editor and gave us some samples of his creative imagination (R. PEIPER, in Mon. Germ. Hist., auct. antiquiss., vol. VI, 2, p. LXX ff.; C SCHENKL, in the CSEL, vol. XVI, p. 337 ff. and 437 ff.).

23 p.380 n. 1. O.c., p. xiv ff.

24 p.380 n. 2. This treatise is also in the collection of Agobard, but the text of Mesnart is much closer to that of Ghelen, the fragments of Keppel   (and the extracts, of the Vatican, p. ex. De Spect. 30 - CSEL, XX, p, 28, 21-22: A - tot spectans... sistentibus; B [ Mesnart ] Keppel and the Vatican, Ottob. 25: spectans tot ac tantos... ipsis testibus).

25. p.380 n. 3. Cfr J W Ph BORLEFFS. in Vigiliae Christianae, 3 1948, p. 185 ff.

26. p.381 n. 1. Cfr G Diercks. o.c., p. xix ff.

27. p.381 n. 2. Out of fourteen it has in common eleven treatises with the "uetustissimus codex" of Mesnart, but we know what it is necessary to understand by this generic name. In addition, Mesnart also found in his mss. the De Patientia, that Ghelen did not insert in his list.

28. p.382 n 1. It is interesting to compare the noisy advertisement which he makes about his edition (" non uanum esse Gelenium") with his foreword, not less enthusiastic for the edition of the aduersus Nationes of Arnobius, which had appeared four years earlier from the same editor (1546). For this edition also he had no basis except to correct the editio princeps (1543) without having recourse to any manuscript.

29. p.382 n 2. De Monogamia 3, 5, 9, 14, 16 and 17 - OEHLER, p. 763 ff. everywhere where it is marked in note: om ABCa; de Pudicitia 1, éd. CSEL, XX, p. 220, 5; 6, p. 229, 4-5; 14, p. 250, 8-9; de Ieiunio, 7, p. 282, 15 and 26; 9, p. 286, 7; 16, p. 296, 2.

30 p.382 n 3. Cfr G I LIEFTINCK, o.c., p. 197 ff.

31. p.382 n 4. One should not be too astonished. Such was the custom of those times.  Was not the priceless Hersfeldensis, the best ms of Ammianus Marcellinus, subjected to the same fate, after Ghelen had published the text of it, in 1533, again at Froben?

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