the project « » and the medieval Gloss of the Latin Bible

Printer-friendly version
As of the end of the Patristic era, there grew up in the Latin West the practice of associating the text of the Bible with meaningful passages of its exegetical tradition. Its origins, function and page format are, despite certain external likenesses, very different from those both of the Talmud and of the grammatical glosses inherited from classical Antiquity. From the 7th C onwards, Irish monks were inserting short explanatory phrases above the lines of the Latin Psalter that each day they recited in its entirety. These phrases, gathered from the commentaries of Augustine, of Jerome and of Cassiodorus, helped them recite the Psalms in persona Christi. It was as though, by making their own the feelings and situations expressed by the Psalmist, the monks prolonged the prayer of Christ, in the name and place of all the members of his mystical Body. The feelings and situations became, as it were, those of Christ or of those who belong to him (Phil 2,5). By degrees, this method was enlarged to all the books of the Bible, now no longer directly with the aim of appropriating the text, but more generally with the objective of a faith-filled acceptance of the text under the guidance of the teachers of the Faith: the Fathers and ecclesiastical authors. These “glosses” then took up more and more space and were, on occasions, consigned to the margins on either side of the Biblical text, forming, as it were, “Japanese stepping-stones” guiding the understanding of the biblical journey. It therefore became a matter of walking the paths of Scripture hand in hand with the Fathers in order to learn from them how to make the text one’s own, not so much as isolated individuals but as members of an organic community, the Church, making its way through the ages, and at each generation receiving the message of salvation in the light of the understanding of the faith inherited from the forefathers. We could almost maintain that already the Bible was read “in its traditions”.
Glossed Psalter (Ps 11), copied at Saint-Gall about 850/860
Saint-Gall, Stiftsbibliothek 27, p. 58, ©
From then onwards, the glosses never ceased to flourish alongside the biblical text almost to the point of making it illegible, in the way that a rose-bush can be almost choked by bindweed. With the reform of the clergy in the 11th C and the development of the Schools in the 12th C, an important step forward was made: the Gloss ceased to be simply a help to the prayerful appropriation of the Scriptures in its traditions and became rather a method of faith-filled understanding of the Scriptures in its traditions. The Gloss was then handed down from generation to generation in the form of a “corpus” of several volumes. It was commented upon in the Schools and was capable of handling on that which the West considered from then on to be the basic synthesis of the hermeneutical Tradition of Scripture. This Gloss first appeared at Laon in France about 1090/1100. It became standardised in the middle of the 12th C and served as the fundamental text for the study of Scripture and theology until the end of the Middle Ages. It was at this time that it was named “Ordinary” Gloss. Very early on it became the object of up-dates and of new endeavours, more or less systematic, which were added on to the original ones, in the same way as Russian dolls fit into one another. There was a somewhat mitigated success for Gilbert of Poitiers and his “Middle” Gloss on the Psalms and Saint Paul, produced about 1130. He was attempting to integrate elements of the marginal and interlinear notes into a continuous commentary. After him, Peter Lombard (1150/1160), in his turn, compiled according to the same principles the “Major” Gloss on the Psalms and Saint Paul. This was to be the central element of the fundamental teaching of theology in the 12th C. In comparison with this latter work, the Gloss from Laon was named “Minor” Gloss.
Bible from Paris with its glosses (Gen), first quarter of the 13th C., originates from the Jacobine monastery at Toulouse (Toulouse, Bibl. mun. 21 © CNRS-IRHT)
About 1230/1235, under the direction of Hugh of Saint-Cher, the Dominican school in Paris, distant forerunner of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, completed a truly monumental undertaking. The School edited a corpus of commentaries or inserted notes, classified according to the literal sense and the moral sense. The undertaking was extended to virtually the entirety of the new edition of the Latin Vulgate published in Paris in the context of the University. The inserted notes of Hugh of Saint-Cher took on such a dimension that the full text of the Bible was no longer reproduced. The notes were victims of their own proportions and were little copied.
Once more, a scaling-down was necessary. Another Dominican, Nicholas of Goran, undertook this task with relative success some thirty years later. It was also necessary to bring the task to its completion. Hugh of Saint-Cher represents the ultimate flowering that stemmed from the biblico-pastoral school of Paris in the 12th C. Thomas Aquinas was the forerunner of the second school of exegesis within the Dominican Order. It was through him that the Latin West came to discover fresh Greek Patristic texts that were rarely circulated or were unknown before him. In the same way, he made known the decisions of the first five Ecumenical Councils, overlooked until by theologians. This provided Thomas with the opportunity of putting together his “Catena aurea” (the Golden Chain), a modern name given to a continuous commentary of the four gospels. The Chain is composed as a mosaic of short passages taken from the Patristic commentaries for the relevant verses and then inserted as a follow-up to each of the gospel passages copied in large characters. After Thomas Aquinas, the renewal of the Glosses gradually died out. It is true that the well-known marginal notes of Nicholas of Lyra marked the 14th C. These notes are well known for the completely new and major recourse to the Hebrew, and especially, Talmudic tradition. The manuscripts, however, do not reproduce in its entirety the biblical text. Before the advent of the printing press, the work of Nicholas of Lyra was little circulated or read. The margins of the enormous “in folios” that we have been able to consult in France and Italy are despairingly empty and silent, in marked contrast to the margins of the glossed biblical manuscripts of the 12th C commented in the Schools. Nicholas of Lyra was much criticised, whereas Peter Lombard, deemed to be safer, was preferred to him right up until the 16th C.
These various states of the glossed Bible, that is, the formatting of the page in the light of its traditions were the “best-sellers” of medieval exegesis. The glossed Bible of Peter Lombard in particular runs to almost 1000 well-preserved manuscripts, the Catena aurea of Thomas Aquinas has some 400 manuscripts, whereas for Hugh of Saint-Cher only some forty manuscripts still exist per book or group of books of the Bible. These statistics, however, do not totally convey the real influence exercised by these major works. In reality, they represent a tradition that was in continual re-composition as regards both its form and its content. These works were read and used until the end of the Middle Ages; from the second half of the 14th C and through to the 16th C they seem not to have known further renewal. From the historical point of view, their influence on the tradition of interpretation of the Scriptures through preaching, theology, the texts of debates, and through literature, was far more important than that of biblical commentaries by authors. These commentaries were often badly distributed and, in large majority, remained unedited. They were in fact rarely intended for publication.
These important medieval Glosses are, however, almost impossible to edit according to the criteria of modern philology. There are several reasons for this situation: the sheer number of manuscripts; the length of the texts; the fact that they are open texts by which almost each witness suggests original opinions and even a different distribution of the glosses between the margin and the interlinear. These differences constitute in themselves just so many precious witnesses to the multifarious way in which the Middle Ages received the Bible in its traditions.
The project “” would like to make available to the scientific community, intermediary editions, scientific but not critical. They would be accessible free of charge as electronic publication in XML/TEI format on the website It concerns a French project financed by Grand emprunt pour la recherche et les investissements d’avenir, managed by the national agency for research (ANR), in the context of the Équipement d’excellence Bibliotheca bibliothecarum novissima (Equipex Biblissima) an of the Laboratoire d’excellence “History and anthropology of sciences, techniques and beliefs” (Labex Hastec). On the scientific level, the project brings together international collaborations.
Two study areas are currently on hand: the Ordinary Gloss of the Bible and the Golden Chain of Thomas Aquinas. On the other hand, the entirety of the inserted notes of Hugh of Saint-Cher (postilles d’Hugues de Saint-Cher), is already available in image mode, completed by an index.
1.      Glossa ordinaria electronica aims at putting on line in text mode the entire transcription of the first printed edition of the Ordinary Gloss, together with the text of the Bible. It is one of the oldest printed testimonies to the Paris version of the text of the Bible which was predominant from the 13th C until the Sixto-Clementine version imposed the Council of Trent (Adolf Rusch edition, Strasbourg 1489, 4 vols. 1500 pages in folio). This version has been chosen because it represents the final state of the medieval text of the Ordinary Gloss. As such, it is capable of opening ways to the greater number of glosses evidenced in the manuscripts. There could not, on the other hand, be any question of reproducing the page-format of the incunabula, without a real link to the medieval layout of annotated Bibles. Each series of marginal glosses or interlinear notes is quite simply placed in the follow-up to the verse or fragment of verse with which it is concerned. A system of annotations will then allow for indications as to the source of each sentence of the gloss and of the manuscripts in which it will have been found. The Books of Tobit, Ruth, Jonah are already on line in a temporary version under WORD format. The marginal gloss of the four Gospels, of Acts, of Revelation, as also of certain Pauline Letters has been transcribed and is under revision by a team of about ten people, equally responsible for noting the interlinear gloss. Other books are in due preparation. The entire transcription will run to something over 10.000 pages of A4 format 
2.      Catena aurea electronica aims at putting on line the integral text of the Catena or “continuous commentary on the four gospels” of Thomas Aquinas. For the moment, the Catena is collated on the basis of only two of the best manuscripts. The principal added value of this on-line edition is the way in which it indicates the reference to modern critical editions of the authors of all the fragments used by Thomas. Contrary to the common belief, Thomas Aquinas does not always quote the Father faithfully. Interpolated texts and partial re-writing do indeed lay hidden beneath certain attributions. In accordance with the specialisations of the team members, the work is carried out not in the order of the biblical text but author by author and treatise by treatise. Giuseppe Carmelo Conticello, research member of the CNRS and well-known specialist of Byzantine theology is scientific co-director of the project.
It is clear that every offer of help for one or other of the projects is very welcome. The interest of the electronic format XML/TEI will be that it allows targeted research within the chosen biblical books (Old Testament, New Testament, Gospels, Pauline corpus, prophetic books, Catholic Letters etc) within the corpus of prefaces, by quoted author, by wording of the Gloss or of the Catena, by biblical term annotated (e.g. all the annotations in reference to the word panis), within a collated manuscript etc. The encoding work TEI is carried out under the technical direction of Marjorie Burghart, member of the Board of Directors of Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) consortium.
The top priority of the project is to allow the public access to the texts as and when they appear without having to wait scores of years for an integral edition. This pragmatic approach is possible on the basis of the adaptability and evolving nature of computer technology. This also explains why, while waiting for the definitive adjustment of the XML edition, a temporary edition of certain texts is already available on the website for the public
But parallel to the realisation of the specifically defined project, a challenge still has to be faced: that of giving to our contemporary society access to these texts, all of them in Latin, and to their translation. But let us venture the idea that the fellowship with the project BEST/BIIT will know how to grant due place to the witnesses of the medieval handing down of the hermeneutic traditions of the Bible.
The medieval Glosses of the Bible and “Bible in its Traditions” have their origins basically in the same hermeneutic principle: the profound understanding of Scripture cannot be attained independently of traditions or ecclesial handing-on which have been developed in the course of history. One remark, however, must be made by way of conclusion. The Glossed Bible of the Middle Ages is not to be considered as an absolute model. As of the end of the 11th C, even before the completion of the Gloss of Laon, the monastic community of Lérins made known their reticence as to the page-format of the Psalter. Since it was annotated in the margin and in interlinear, the reader had to move from one part of the page to another, thus detracting from a continuous reading1. Their reaction brings to mind that met today with regard to the fragmentation of data in the fields of relational bases. Gilbert of Poitiers, followed in this by Peter Lombard, made attempts to get round these difficulties. They brought together in a classical continuous commentary the marginal and interlinear annotations of the Psalms and of Saint Paul; their success in the Schools was all the greater. It is not without reason that the 13th C made an attempt to return to the original works of the Fathers. It was a matter of avoiding the risk of a selective breaking up of a tradition, thus reducing it to something of a patchwork. Thomas Aquinas developed the Catena but, in his other works he made use of the treatises quoted in the former but went well beyond the short passages that had been split up for it. The search for a balance between several complementary approaches to the handing down of the Bible may thus be observed at each period of time. If the reading and personal appropriation of the texts (lectio termed divina) represent a short way accessible to everybody, the long way of technical commentaries, the work of historical analysis and the philological development of traditions are indispensable. Between these two ways there stretches a middle path, that of intermediary editions, a path which contemporary research dubs as “enhanced value”. Basically, the medieval glosses of the Bible were nothing more than the selective “enhanced value” reading of the originalia of the Fathers. Thomas and his predecessors had a far wider knowledge of the Fathers than would appear at first sight in their compilations. BEST/BIIT, Catena aurea electronica,… these different projects, complementary and scientifically based, should be considered as pathways of long cross-country hikes, each marked out in function of their difficulties, with the aim of introducing our contemporaries to the reading of the biblical text in its traditions.
It would not be possible for me to end this article without underlining the fact that the two projects here set out are quite simply the outcome of a collective dynamism and of a formation. Without the means made available by the French instances of research, the projects would not have seen the light of day. It would not be possible for me, on a yet deeper level to bring these lines to their end without calling to mind the memory of five Dominican masters of the Faculty of Theology at Fribourg, Switzerland, and of the Commission setup by Pope Leo XIII of the editors of Thomas Aquinas, some of whom are not unknown to the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem: Jean-Dominique Barthélémy, Louis-Jacques Bataillon, Georges-Bertrand Guyot, Servais Pinckaers, Jean-Michel Poffet, and Jean-Pierre Torrell. Their intersecting influence experienced at various degrees and levels, allow me today, as an historian of the Middle Ages, to understand the basic interaction of the Bible and of its handing down. Their influence allows me in my turn, and following their example, to labour so that the Sources may flow.
Martin Morard                                                       
CNRS-Laboratoire d’étude sur les monothéismes UMR 8584,
Directeur scientifique du projet
[1]Martin Morard, « Daniel de Lérins et le Psautier glosé : un regard inédit sur la Glose à à la fin du xie siècle », Revue bénédictine 121 (2011), p. 393-445