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PDF Patristics

Kind reader David reminds us that the Patrologia Graeca and Latina are online in well organized PDFs at Documenta Catholica Omnia. It’s a great resource, and it’s served me well. I’m still dreaming, though, of the day when the Fathers are not in image files, but in clean, searchable text, available to everyone!

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Perpetua Light

Here’s word on an interesting new book (in Italian) on Saints Perpetua and Felicity.

Marco Formisano (ed.), La passione di Perpetua e Felicita. Classici Greci e Latini. Milano: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 2008. Pp. xiii, 133. ISBN 9788817020732. €9.20 (pb).

Reviewed by Vincent Hunink, Radboud University Nijmegen

One of the most fascinating documents of early Christian literature, and arguably of ancient literature as a whole, is the so called Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas. This account shows how a group of young Christians was executed in Carthage in the year 203. It is probably best known on account of sections III-X, which is a diary written in prison by Perpetua herself during her final days. It is not only highly interesting as an almost unique ancient prose text written by a woman, but also allows for various scholarly approaches to its style and content. Accordingly, many studies of the diary and of the whole document have been published in recent years. In 2007, a conference on the Passion of Perpetua was organized at the Humboldt University in Berlin (a volume with papers is in preparation). One of the organizers, Dr. Marco Formisano, has now published a new edition with Italian translation and notes in the convenient pocketbook series of BUR (Bibliotheca Universale Rizzoli).

It is an attractive little volume, which brings up-to-date information about Perpetua and her companions within the reach of all who can read Italian. Even undergraduate students will be able to purchase and use this low-priced book, which is well printed and easy to handle. Some questions, however, may be asked about the target audience of this publication and the general approach taken by the editor.

The volume opens with a short introductory essay (13 pages) by Eva Cantarella, who underscores the importance of Perpetua’s diary. Notably, she points out that the text presents an authentic, feminine voice concerning a woman’s personal life, to be compared only with the poems of Sulpicia. The text also provides many details about Perpetua’s family life, where some elements remain mysterious. For example, Perpetua never mentions her husband, but does have her child with her in prison. Cantarella suggests that Perpetua was formally divorced. This would of course explain the silence about her husband, but not the presence of her baby. For as Cantarella notes, normally a Roman child of divorced parents would be cared for by the man’s family. (One is tempted to think that the husband’s whole family may have been dead.) A third item in Cantarella’s interesting preface is devoted to ‘female executions’, a phenomenon which may be traced back to other Roman texts, such as Martial’s Liber de spectaculis.

The introduction by the editor himself is much longer (67 pages) and hence makes rather less easy reading. First, it tackles the well known problem of the composition of the whole document (which involves at least three different authors: Perpetua, Saturus and an ‘editor’), the authorship of the various sections, notably the Perpetua diary, and the question of whether the Latin or Greek versions of the texts should be considered as the originals. Formisano remains cautious but seems inclined to the common view that we have authentic documents written by Perpetua and Saturus, originally written in Latin and not substantially revised.

A second part of the introduction analyses the Acta Martyrum as a possible literary genre in its own right. It studies various other literary forms in antiquity, such as collections of ‘famous last words’. There is a clear tension in these Christian texts between historical accuracy and literary elements (p.34), but according to Formisano, this tension only adds to the fascination of the Passion of Perpetua. He also compares Perpetua to other heroines–even modern ones–‘who have sacrificed their lives for an idea’.

A third and final section focuses on three themes that allow an even more literary approach: the concepts of writing (‘scrittura’), the body, and death. In the course of this lengthy section, the Passion of Perpetua is compared to modern texts such as the writings of Primo Levi and Jorge Louis Borges, and to the modern genre of ‘prison literature’. There are some interesting ideas here (such as the notion that in the course of the text Perpetua’s body gradually seems to become more masculine), but one wonders if it is all truly relevant to the general reader, for whom the BUR volumes seem intended. The introduction is accompanied by 110 footnotes containing references and further discussion. This shows that the text is well documented, but in the end it is perhaps too much of a good thing.

Personally, I would have preferred a more modest introduction to the most important issues and questions concerning the text, its composition and function. Formisano’s predominantly literary study would seem better placed at the end of the volume as an essay for further reading, or as a separate publication in the form of a paper.

A similar remark may be made about the presentation of the Latin texts and Italian translations. Here too, the reader is presented with sound material and reliable texts, although one may wonder why the critical edition by Van Beek (Nijmegen 1936) has been adopted rather than the more recent critical texts by Bastiaensen (Milano 1982) or Amat (Sources Chrétiennes, 1996). But no fewer than 204 footnotes have been added. These contain all due explanations of difficult points, but also much more which does not serve the reader’s immediate needs. The fact that the numerous footnotes on every page are directly connected to words in the Italian translation constantly invites users to interrupt their reading. Often, there are footnote marks at the end of a number of successive sentences. In the end, this makes undisturbed reading of the original text (surely one of the primary aims of the series) almost impossible.

Having said this, the notes do serve a scholarly readership. They also describe views by other scholars on a variety of issues including psychoanalytical and feminist approaches to Perpetua’s visions; notably Bastiaensen and Bremmer are often referred to. A useful bibliography (10 pages) records all relevant secondary literature that is discussed.

In short, this inexpensive pocketbook seems suitable for academic libraries rather than for the general readership which must have been the intended audience of the publisher. A reader who is unfamiliar with this fascinating text will probably be overwhelmed by the mass of information and literary analysis provided by Formisano, and as a result he or she can hardly come to a personal reading experience. However, for those who already know Perpetua, Severus, Felicitas and the others, this new publication is a welcome addition, if only because it shows that the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas can also be appreciated and studied as a moving piece of literature.

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Patrologia Graeca Update

I thrilled, many years ago, when Logos Software first brought out its Early Church Fathers package. It was a searchable database of the old Edinburgh ANF and NPNF series, and the search engine is outstanding. I was somewhat disappointed, however, when I found the Fathers’ texts to be so poorly proofread that the search engine missed many important passages. I raised this concern when I received notice earlier this week that Logos has compiled the Patrologia Graeca and is considering doing the same for the Patrologia Latina.

I’m glad I asked the question, because the answer is very reassuring: The files for the Logos version of ANF/NPNF were done on a shoestring, financed by an organization called the “Electronic Bible Society” at least 12 years ago. They were scanned, OCR’d and had very little clean-up done to them because the organization couldn’t afford it.

Today Logos’s text-encoding processes are much different. They use digitization firms that guarantee accuracy rates (typically 99.95%). With stuff like Greek, they usually do this by double-keying — typing the text in twice. Sometimes they triple-key. Then these copies are compared to each other and the differences reconciled. After this, a separate quality-assurance team actually puts errors into the text (logs them of course) and then another team corrects the files against the print. The percentage of known (on-purpose) errors found and corrected gives an indicator to the quality of the text. So the texts should be much better in the realm of accuracy than the long-ago ECF files.

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Patrology Ascendant

John Allen yesterday reported on the appointment of Jesuit Fr. Luis Ladaria, a Spaniard, as secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Fr. Ladaria is a patristics scholar, having dissertated at the Gregorian on The Holy Spirit in St. Hillary of Poitiers. He’s also done studies of Clement of Alexandria. Allen commented:

In many ways, serving as secretary of the CDF — traditionally known as La Suprema, or the “supreme” congregation — is one of the most important jobs in the Vatican, especially under a pope who cares passionately about the theological underpinnings of policy choices.

… That background [in patristics] may have recommended Ladaria to Benedict XVI, very much a man of ressourcement, or a return to the sources of the church, especially the Fathers.

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Drink to Me, Drink to My Health

The first bishop of my city was Michael O’Connor, an Irish teetotaler who looked askance at the local German monks who brewed their own beer. When he asked them to stop, the monks protested that they were simply doing what monks have always done.

Mike Sullivan, president of Catholics United for the Faith, passed me the following “Blessing of Beer,” from the old Roman Ritual of Pius V. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the benediction went back to the age of Benedict.

Anyway, here goes, to begin your next libation:

Benedictio Cerevisiae
V. Adiutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.
R. Qui fecit caelum et terram.
V. Dominus vobiscum.
R. Et cum spiritu tuo.
Bene+dic, Domine, creaturam istam cerevisiae, quam ex adipe frumenti producere dignatus es: ut sit remedium salutare humano generi, et praesta per invocationem nominis tui sancti; ut, quicumque ex ea biberint, sanitatem corpus et animae tutelam percipiant. Per Christum Dominum nostrum.
R. Amen.

Et aspergatur aqua benedicta.

English translation
Blessing of Beer
V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.
Let us pray.
Bless, + O Lord, this creature beer, which thou hast deigned to produce from the fat of grain: that it may be a salutary remedy to the human race, and grant through the invocation of thy holy name; that, whoever shall drink it, may gain health in body and peace in soul. Through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.
And it is sprinkled with holy water.

I’m told that the translation first appeared at Hermeneutic of Continuity.

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Lava Mid the Ruins

I get excited about new discoveries in archeology. Surely there are lost works of the Fathers still waiting to be discovered, and I’m eager to learn what they might reveal. (Meantime, though, we do have plenty to work with!) I’m also hoping we’ll eventually be able to draw more out of the material we already have. The recent readings of palimpsests give us cause for hope. Now the guys in the white lab coats are doing MRIs to read charred scrolls found at Herculaneum.

Consider the possibilities: Nero persecuted the Christians in Rome (64 A.D.), which surely drove some believers away from the city, to places like … Pompeii … and Herculaneum? How lovely it would be to find a Christian cache from before the blast (79 A.D.).

It’s a long shot, I know.

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Greek Fire

We raised our cries as one after another Patrologia Graeca site vanished from the Web. The folks at Logos software have heard and answered us.

There’s another clean, safe place to browse the Patrologia Graeca… a newly available electronic format from Logos Bible Software.

Not only is it well-organized and searchable, but it also contains encoded links to Philip Schaff’s Early Church Fathers.

And if there’s enough interest, Logos will do the Patrologia Latina as well.

Thought you might like to know!

Check it out.

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Paul for All

Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J., is a biblical scholar of remarkable depth, but he’s also a preacher and television host who can communicate to ordinary people. In St. Paul: Jubilee Year of the Apostle Paul Edition: A Bible Study for Catholics, has produced something rare indeed: a profound synthesis of St. Paul’s thinking on a variety of subjects, but in a form that’s digestible for parish groups and home Bible studies. His special focus is the Church’s sacraments, but he also touches upon other doctrinal, moral, and disciplinary issues. With this overview, we can recognize our present-day parishes in the congregations of so long ago. The Church is one, not only throughout the world, but through all time. This is the best introductory Bible study to Paul I’ve seen.