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Foto Troncoso Hernán Guerrero , A textual critique of the theological and philosophical elements in John Duns Scotus - by Prof. Timothy B. Noone (Catholic University of America): Public lectures held at the Pontifical University “Antonianum", Rome, January 12th-14th 2009, in Antonianum, 84/1 (2009) p. 184-193 .

To commemorate the 700th anniversary of the death of blessed John Duns Scotus (ca. 1266-1308), the Higher School of Medieval and Franciscan Studies (SSSMF) and the Faculty of Philosophy of the Pontifical University Antonianum have promoted several activities, oriented towards the study of the Subtle Doctor’s texts. On May 26th 2006, in order to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’ s Apostolic Letter Alma Parens on John Duns Scotus (July 14th 1966), was presented the critical edition of distinctions 1-17 of Scotus’ Ordinatio III, vol. IX of the Vatican edition. On that occasion, Father Barnabas Hechich illustrated the methodology followed by the Scotistic Commission from its very beginning, as summarized by M. Serafini in his chronicle2. His intervention was followed by the lecture of Prof. Orlando Todisco Liberta e bontà, chiave di lettura del III libro dell’Ordinatio di Duns Scoto3. Then, on March 6th and 7th 2008, Prof. Timothy B. Noone held two public lectures, The Knowability of Substance: From St. Thomas to Duns Scotus, and Scotus’ Place in the Educational System of the Franciscans4. Then, from October to December 2008, Prof. Onorato Grassi, from the LUMSA University held the course Aspetti dell’antropologia scotista: l’immortalità dell’anima.

Continuing these initiatives, from the 12th to the 14th of January 2009, Prof. Timothy B. Noone held further lectures on Scotistic subjects, namely A textual critique of the theological and philosophical elements in John Duns Scotus.

Almost as a conclusion to the itinerary of these two years, Prof. Noone has synthesized his experience working on the critical edition of Scotus’ philosophical texts5, by giving insights on the gathering of the manuscripts, collating them, choosing variants, composing and interpreting the critical text. At the end of the same week, on the 15th and 16th of January took place the International Scotistic Congress Walking towards the truth. Actuality of the thought of John Duns Scotus, with lectures by Prof. Noone, Prof. Michael Gorman, Prof. Antoine Vos, Father Barnabas Hechich, Msgn. Franz Lackner and Prof. Mary Beth Ingham.

By the end of these sessions, it seems that a renewed interest on Scotus’ thought has arisen and new research fields have been opened, by means of working directly on the manuscript sources.


January 12th,

Before the beginning of his lectures, Prof. Noone thanked Father Pietro Messa, president of the Higher School of Medieval and Franciscan Studies, for the opportunity to return to the Antonianum to hold these public lectures, and he also thanked the attending students and praised their courage, considering the technical nature of these lectures and their inherent difficulty.

As a way of introduction, he insisted on the fact that textual edition is not a mechanical activity, but a skill, which as such must be acquired with the assistance of other skills, such as a competent level of Latin, a sufficient acquaintance with Paleography and Codicology, and most remarkably an adequate knowledge of the historical context. The importance of the latter was further emphasized, as Prof. Noone considers it almost as important as the knowledge of the text itself, specially when it comes to produce critical editions of philosophical or theological texts, because of the close relation between medieval authors; a given argument or even a sentence must be understood under the light of its context; otherwise we may end up misunderstanding it completely.

The introduction continued by summarizing the contents of the lectures, which Prof. Noone considered to be a workshop rather than a proper series of lectures. During the course of the lectures the subjects dealt with were transcription, extras, collation and the formation of the stemma. The approach to critical edition that Prof. Noone confessed to follow is a mixture between the Lachmanian model, which had been already criticized in the 1930’s by Father Charles Balic, in the preparatory works of the Scotistic Commission, and a more practical, experience-based one. Experience, and the wise counsel of his mentors, have shown Prof. Noone that we must pay more attention to what the text should say than to what the tradition sometimes says, regardless of how well-thought and well-established the stemma is. Key accidents occur during the text tradition, and sometimes a reading against the manuscript evidence proves to be more satisfactory. In any case, as he remarked more than once during the course of the lecture, emendations must be done with extreme care, and only if a variant against the manuscript can be proved by reasonable arguments, can it be considered as plausible; otherwise, the text must be kept as it is in the manuscript.

Prof. Noone finished his introduction remembering his two mentors, Father Leonard Boyle and Virginia Brown, both professors at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto. They both used to emphasize the importance of practice in textual edition, and the prevalence of the context of the text itself over the stemma. He also remembered Gedeon Gal, the celebrated editor of the Opera theologica et philosophica of William of Ockham, in 17 volumes, whose ability to read through the manuscript, i.e. to rightguess against the manuscript was praised by Prof. Noone.

I. Transcription.

The part of the workshop about transcription began by reading ms. Worcester Cathedral F. 69, which contains Duns Scotus’ Paris reports in the version known to us as Reportatio B. Before actually reading the reproduction and transcription of d. 35, Prof. Noone showed the description made by Thompson6, with further emendations by Prof. Kent Emery, and gave some insights on the Worcester Cathedral library itself, whose collection dates back to medieval times and has remained almost intact. Founded by the Benedictines, it shows how hard they had to work in order to catch up with the Dominicans and Franciscans in the Universities, because they had arrived there later. Since it suffered almost no damages from rallies, burning of books or wars, we may count on the fact that the manuscripts are the same that were used in medieval times. On top of that, in many cases the only manuscript of a given text is preserved at Worcester Cathedral.

A most interesting fact (and a crucial one when editing the text) is that this manuscript was written by two scribes. The first one, identified as John de S. German, wrote Scotus’ lectures on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, books I and IV, and the other one, still unidentified, wrote books II and III. Since books I and IV contain the hardest material and the first term of the academic year was longer than the second, the lecturer began with those books, to then lecture on the other two books on the second term7.

This portion of the manuscript is dated between 1310-1312, making it the oldest one to contain the Reportatio B. But, as resulted from reading the text, it’s not a direct report of Scotus’ words, but a copy of such report, hence on a second level of transmission of the Subtle Doctor’s teachings; this becomes clear by the fact that sometimes the reporter makes remarks on the content of the lecture.

Considering the fact that we’re in front of such a second level text, we must be aware that the errors which irremediably occur in the manuscript may arise either from speech (i. e. the reporter didn’t write well what the master was saying), from copy (i. e., the scribe made a mistake when copying the written report) or from both. And errors, as Prof. Noone clearly stated, will positively occur.

Summarizing the information given up to this point, Prof. Noone referred briefly to the first thing we must ask to any manuscript we’re working on, and that is coherence between the external and the internal evidence.

Errors in our manuscript can be many times explained by reflecting on the circumstances under which the copy was produced, and this also may help us find relations between manuscripts, when there’s more than one containing the same text.

One of the characteristics of the Worcester Cathedral manuscript that Prof. Noone insisted upon was the type of letter in which the text was written, the anglicana handwriting. It was a semi cursive handwriting used exclusively in England during the XIII century, and already around 1360 had gone out of fashion. It was so typical of England, that contemporary scribes in the continent, for instance French or German copyists, were actually unable to read it, and to make things worse, even English scribes of the XV century were not capable of reading it either, thus making it the source of many errors on copies based on manuscripts written in anglicana.

Another source of common errors are numerals. Since in this period there was no rule on how to write the numerals, sometimes they were written modo arabico, sometimes modo romano, and sometimes indifferently, so it all becomes extremely mixed.

Yet another thing to take into account is the patron who commissioned the text. Often scribes, specially if it is a Professional scribe, worry about their patron, and if it is someone who payed for a private copy, they will tend to justify the margins, giving as a result heavy compression of words and many errors. The end of the line is a good source of errors.

Sometimes there are inconsistencies in the text that can be explained by the common practice of scribes to drop the second occurrence of a word, in order to avoid a double lecture.

On reading the text, Prof. Noone also called the attention to the fact that constantly the magister and his socius speak the same language or dialect and write using the same handwriting. It occurred with s. Thomas, Albert the Great, Duns Scotus, etc.

Finishing the first lecture, Prof. Noone remarked that an intervention in the text must be done only if one is capable of justifying his decision with clear and precise reasons. Otherwise, the reading of the manuscript must be left alone.

January 13th,

Continuing with the lecture of our manuscript, Prof. Noone remarked, resuming from the point we had left the day before, that any reading against the manuscript must be done only if what the manuscript says doesn’t have any sense.

When transcribing, Prof. Noone also noted that punctuation is critical to carry the reader throughout the text. A sloppy text shouldn’t be carried over to the readers, but instead the editor, as the person who best understands the text, must render it accessible to others by the means of punctuation.

As one of the students asked, the cursus is also very important, specially in authors like s. Bonaventure, s. Thomas Aquinas, Vital de Four, Matthew of Aquasparta, who are excellent writers. Since the cursus is subconscious, it is never broken by an author, so it becomes also a relevant element to prove the authorship of dubious texts.

Many instances of graphic errors were drawn to the students’ attention by Prof. Noone, attributable to either the act of writing itself (and so, quibus [abbreviated q9] can be confused by quo [abbreviated qo] because of the movement of the scribe’s hand) or the inability of French o German copyists to read the anglicana (and so, they never interpret enim correctly because of the way it is abbreviated [either .e. or , the latter being copied as ȃ, autem], hence resulting the “enim-autem confusion”).

Another matter that proved to be an issue in reading a manuscript was the ink. Brown ink, which was the most common, since it was cheaper to produce, tends to fade in the parchment, and specially in the hair side of it.

Black ink, on the other hand, was possibly more expensive, and because of its caustic nature it burned somewhat the parchment, hence engraving what was written on it.

Reading the text, we arrived to a point in which a very rare case of an objective genitive appears. Such an occurrence is so rare in medieval Latin, that Prof. Noone suspects of a missing section in the text.

By the end of the section on transcription, Prof. Noone made further remarks concerning the anglicana, this time not about the handwriting itself, but the way the page was presented, as a block text, with no paragraph marks. He also noticed that many times Scotus formalizes whole sentences in order to form syllogisms, to show clearly the logic of his arguments8.

II. Extra textual elements or “extras”.

In this section Prof. Noone discussed what he found in the ms. Figeac, M. Champollion, Inv. 03-0919. After a short introduction on how this manuscript came to his knowledge, he referred to the importance of the text it contains, which happens to correspond to the Scotus Abbreviatus mentioned by Father Balic in the general introduction to the Ordinatio10. This manuscript contains a number of invaluable extras, i. e. texts inserted by Scotus while still working on the Ordinatio, in order to replace parts of it to further develop an argument, to present it in a different manner, or simply to cancel a text that didn’t satisfy our doctor. Nevertheless, there is one extra in particular which called immediately the attention of Prof. Noone when studying the manuscript, which referred to lectures by “the master in Naples”. At this point it became clear that these weren’t extras de manu Scoti, but belong to a sub-comment to the abbreviated text of the Ordinatio, which show that this manuscript was used to teach theology ad mentem Scoti in Italy in the fourteenth century.

There are two main hypotheses concerning this manuscript. The first one identifies four stages in the composition of the text: First, the abbreviation of Scotus’ text; second, the text being considered too brief, new text was introduced; third, the sub-commentator adds his own text; fourth, the text is copied. The second hypothesis, which Prof. Noone deems not very likely, adds a prior stage, and considers the abbreviated text as derived from the“alia Ordinatio”.

There are two fates of the extras. One, they are merged in the text (the most usual thing to happen), and sometimes the copyist puts the word “extra” to indicate that this text wasn’t in the original manuscript, but it was attached to it to replace an older text or to add something to it. The other fate is that the extra text is dropped.

The section on the extras finished with a reflection on how difficult it was to erase something once it was in the parchment. The main problem in the Middle Ages, said Prof. Noone, was to get rid of or replace a text. Out of this difficulty came up the extras, being maybe at first simply small pieces of parchment attached to the manuscript (with the consequent danger of them falling out of it without leaving an indication on where to insert them); then, the first generation of copies were like a reproduction of what the scribes saw, with the text and the extras separately. The second generation merges both, the original text and the extras, into one text.

January 14th,

III. Collation.

In the section on collation of manuscripts Prof. Noone addressed the point in which there is an intersection of all the manuscripts of the Reportationes, and that is Reportatio II A. The two crucial manuscripts are the Merton College MS 61 manuscript, written by the German scribe John Reinbold, who copied the whole oeuvre of Scotus, and the Turin K ii 26 manuscript.

Both of them contain unique lectures of the text, thus helping to identify their families. One important thing is that the Worcester Cathedral manuscript is the oldest (dated ca. 1320 for its binding, though parts of it, as we noted above, were written ca. 1310-1312), but as we found out in the seminar, it doesn’t make it the best text; in this case, the Lachmannian dictum is confirmed by evidence, so “recentiores non necessario sunt deteriores”.

As Prof. Noone noted, minor errors such as a confusion between ergo (abbreviated eo) and igitur (abbreviated go) gain relevance by giving us a pattern, so that we can determine the relationship between manuscripts. It’s also important to determine the character of the manuscript, of the testimony, and of the copyist, whether he knows what he is copying or not. So, for instance, we know that the copyist of the Vatican manuscript doesn’t know well the anglicana, and therefore he will commit several mistakes; it also gives us a hint on what he had in front of him. On the other hand, even though we can be certain that the scribe of the Worcester manuscript is copying from ancient material, he is also correcting as he copies; since he knows what he’s doing, he syncopates sentences, changes words by synonyms or alters the word order, either consciously or not.

The way in which a single word is written can tell us a lot from the character of the copyist. For instance, in the Turin manuscript we have patiens (for patiens), indicating that he doesn’t have word recognition, i. e. he’s copying the figures he sees, word for word, not knowing what he is writing; he’s stroke painting. As Prof. Noone noted, these illiterate scribes weren’t unusual in the Middle Ages, frequently being boys who had learned to copy but not to read. This is very important for us, since these copyists can give us a window, a clear view of what they’re seeing. They can’t lie, because they don’t know, neither consciously nor unconsciously, what they’re doing. On the other hand, the scribe scholar can lie, substitute words, word order, put synonyms, etc., as we just saw in the case of the Worcester manuscript.

Then there is a moment, which sooner or later arrives, that Prof. Noone liked to call a “text explosion”, i. e. when every manuscript has a different reading for the same word or sentence. In the case of the Reportatio II A, a Turin reading will be preferred to a Worcester one, because the Turin copyist can’t lie; maybe he doesn’t know Latin at all, and also his readings are graphically similar to the Vatican and Merton manuscripts. In this case it becomes clear that manuscripts are to be seen as windows to what’s in front of the copyist. As Father Boyle said, if a guy knows what he’s doing, there’s problem ahead.

Confessing once again his eclectic approach to text editing, Prof. Noone remarked that he tries to put the safest text (i. e. best possible manuscript) as a basis for the edition, just as Father Balic did for the Ordinatio with the codex 137 of the Assisi Commune Library (codex A)11. In the case of the Reportationes, we must also always remember that there is a speech behind the text, not an autograph, i. e. that their origins are oral, not written, which brings us different kinds of problems (repetitions, errors of hearing, etc.

IV. Formation of stemma.

For the final section of the lectures, Prof. Noone chose Duns Scotus’ Quodlibet as an example of formation of stemma, not only because he had worked on its manuscripts12, but also because it is one of the most important Quodlibeta of the Middle Ages. As a matter of fact, almost immediately after its publication there were writings contra Quodlibetum Scoti, beginning with Thomas of Sutton, Hervaeus Natalis, etc.

On preparing the edition of his Quodlibet, Scotus worked on the report of the quodlibetal dispute, made by a reportator of the University of Paris.

But, since his untimely death prevented him from completing his revision, his autograph ended in the middle of question 21. In this case, the stemma is different from the rest, because it only remained the reported text, not the one that Scotus revised.

There are also different levels in the transmission of the text. In the first place there was Scotus’ quaternion (α), with notes and extras attached to it; then there is the first copy of it (β), in which the extras were inserted in the text.

As a final remark, Prof. Noone noted that the stemma, considered as a quantitative analysis, gives only a direction to the editor, a hint on where to look at; in order to be actually able to reconstruct the text there must be a qualitative analysis, to read through the manuscripts what the original text must have been.

In his closing words, Prof. Noone thanked once again the students for their attendance, to the Antonianum, and encouraged them to devote themselves to the enormous task of text edition.

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