Augustine's 'City of God' in the middle ages


Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
The importance of St Augustine's writing to Latin Christianity cannot be overestimated, but how did scholars and theologians of the middle ages access Augustine, and especially, 'City of God'? Were they able to sort out fake texts ascribed to Augustine from real ones? Who actually had copies of 'City of God', given its length? Was it broken up into multiple books that circulated independently of each other? Were there epitomes? Is Kirialax just being lazy in thinking that you don't need to read much of 'City of God' to get most of the message because it's so repetitive?

Kookaburra Jack

Ad Honorem
May 2011
Rural Australia
Augustine, City of God (introduction)
James J. O'Donnell
II. Manuscripts and editions
The first important document of the manuscript tradition of ciu. is the letter to Firmus (now ep. 1A in CSEL 88). The purport of this letter for the manuscript tradition may be summarized thus: (a) the 22 books were first prepared in separate quaterniones; (b) together the quaterniones would be too bulky as a single codex; (c) hence A. recommends that two codices be made, divided to incorporate the first ten books in one manuscript, the last twelve in another. If further division is required, five codices are recommended, to contain books 1-5, 6-10, 11-14, 15-18, and 19-22 respectively. It is also clear that the individual books had come into circulation separately.​
The last line of the letter to Firmus may indicate further important information: 'Quantum autem collegerit viginti duorum librorum conscriptio missus breuiculus indicabit.' Following H.I. Marrou,[[4]] it has become the practice to treat the list of chapter headings that occurs in many manuscripts (and which Eugippius seems to have known in the sixth century when he made his excerpts from this work) as though it were the breviculus here mentioned and to print the list at the head of the work. Though this is an undoubted advance over the earlier practice of inserting the individual headings in the text of the work itself, the headings may be post-Augustinian, and may even have been written by Eugippius himself. In that case, whatever the 'breviculus' may have been, we do not have it.[[5]]
Pending completion of the HUWA catalogue, we know of 394 medieval manuscripts of all or part (or excerpts) of ciu., more even than of the Confessions. The most recent analysis shows six manuscripts (and seven fragments) earlier than the ninth century; thirty-one (plus twelve fragments and three collections of excerpts) survive from the ninth century. More than half the ninth century manuscripts have not been used in any critical edition. The most venerable manuscripts (on which our editions rely most heavily) are: Lyon, Bibliotheque Municipale, 607 (L: North Italy, 6th century, containing books 1-5); Veronensis XXVIII(26) (V: early fifth century [!], North Africa [!], containing books 11-16), and Paris Bibliotheque Nationale lat. 12214 (C: Italy, sixth century, containing books 1-9: to be supplemented with book 10 from the same codex, now held at Leningrad, Publichnaja Biblioteka Q.1.4).[[6]] It will be seen that these MSS offer impressively ancient testimony for the first sixteen books. Nevertheless, it would be dangerous to assert that considerable improvement in the text, or at least confidence in its foundations, could not be derived from a fuller examination of the manuscript tradition than has yet been undertaken. Whether it is useful to think of two different recensions of the work owing to A.'s own hand (see CCL 47.VII), which arises from the differences between the readings of C and L and is further fueled from mention in the letter to Firmus of the copy there transmitted as having been 'relectos,' could well be resolved if we knew the MSS tradition better.[[7]]
The earliest printed edition of ciu. appeared at Subiaco in 1467; there are other incunabula, of which the most important is that of Johannes Amberbach (Basel 1489). In the following century, the edition with ample commentary by the Spanish humanist Ludovicus Vives takes pride of place, but mention must also be made of the edition of A.'s works prepared by the theologi Lovanienses (Antwerp 1576).​
As with other works of A., the contribution of the Maurists is deservedly celebrated. Their edition of ciu. appeared in 1685 and had the advantage of using the important MS C, available to them in Paris. This edition was reprinted in volume 41 of Patrologia Latina and elsewhere. There are two modern critical editions, of which only one has continuing influence. The edition of E. Hoffmann (CSEL 40: Vienna 1899-1900) was not well received,[[8]] leaving the field to the successive revisions of the edition originally prepared by Bernhard Dombart and published by Teubner (Leipzig 1863); Dombart revised his own work twice (1877 and 1905-08), while a fourth version was revised by A. Kalb (1928-29). This edition has been taken over for volumes 47-48 of CCL and provides the text in the BA (volumes 33-37, 1959-60). Other texts have appeared (e.g., J. Welldon, London 1924), but none have independent critical merit, while all earlier annotated editions yield to the BA edition. Nevertheless, there exists no detailed philological commentary on even a single book of the ciu. There are translations in every language, as well as bilingual editions with Latin text and vernacular translation in several. Of unadorned translations, mention deserves to be made of that in the series Fathers of the Church (New York 1950-52), with a lengthy and important introduction by E. Gilson.​

Is Kirialax just being lazy in thinking that you don't need to read much of 'City of God' to get most of the message because it's so repetitive?
I think the (yes, repetitive) message is given in the extended title: On the city of God against the pagans