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Holcot’s Commentary on Ecclesiastes

Holcot’s commentary on Ecclesiastes has received little (if any) scholarly attention. Beryl Smalley notes that there is a fragmentary commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes that is perhaps by Robert Holcot. The commentary in question is incomplete and terminates with Ecclesiastes 3:20. While attribution to Holcot is far from certain, Smalley observes that the work is preserved in a fourteenth-century English manuscript that contains sections of Holcot’s commentaries on Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus. Further, she notes that the work contains “local allusions” (i.e., English allusions) and “is in Holcot’s classicising style” (English Friars and Antiquity, 142). Unfortunately, there has been almost no work on this incomplete commentary since Beryl Smalley identified it half a century ago. This is perhaps due to Smalley’s judgment that “the script is so rough as to be barely legible in places” (ibid.).

Thankfully, there may be a bit of help (in terms of other manuscripts that may be easier to read).  Leonhard Huntpichler (a 15th-century scholar who died in 1478) copied, in two manuscripts, sections of Holcot’s commentary on Ecclesiastes (in the hopes of writing his own commentary on the book, which he never did). See Isnard W. Frank, “Leonhard Huntpichler O. P. (+ 1478), Theologieprofessor und Ordensreformer in Wien,” in: Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum 36 (1966) 313-388, here 364. He lists:

Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek 4149, fol 97-109 (Nr. 6)
Vienna, Dominikanerbibliothek 14/14, fols. 132-136

It should be noted that if Hutpichler made copies of the commentary in Vienna, there was obviously at least one copy circulating on the continent in the early to mid 15th century. (Thank you to Ueli Zahnd for the information regarding L. Huntpichler’s copies of the commentary on Ecclesiastes).

Robert Holcot’s commentary on Ecclesiasticus: Basel, Universitätsbibliothek B.V.11

Robert Holcot’s commentary on the book of Ecclesiasticus is one of his least studied works. The purpose of the present post is to briefly summarize what we know about the commentary and to offer a brief comparison of the early printed edition (Venice 1509) with Basel, Universitätsbibliothek B.V.11. This is the heart of the present post and the gist of it is presented in table form (Here): comparing the content of Venice 1509 with Basel B.V.11. This provides an initial point of comparison between the edition and the manuscript tradition, however more work has to done on the manuscript tradition.

We begin, as usual, with a brief summary of Smalley’s introduction to the commentary. Holcot’s commentary on Ecclesiasticus is preserved in 19 manuscripts and one early modern printing (see here). Smalley correctly notes that the work is divided into lectiones (lectures) similarly to the commentary on Wisdom (in Venice 1509 there are 88 lectures) (Smalley 1956, 16). While she observes that there are no “anecdotes or allusions” that provide a date for the commentary, Holcot’s use of Nicholas of Lyra places it after the commentaries on Wisdom and the Twelve Prophets (Smalley 1956, 23). Further, the printed edition and several of the manuscripts (e.g., Braunschweig 26 and Royal 3.A.xiv) state in the colophon that Holcot died before he could complete the work. As Smalley notes, if accurate this would place the commentary at the end of Holcot’s life during the last six years in which he lived at Northampton and lectured at the friary school (Smalley 1956, 23). Unfortunately, Smalley did not examine the content of the commentary on Ecclesiasticus in detail. Her attention remained focused on Holcot’s picture method—as developed in the Twelve Prophets, Wisdom and the Moralitates—and his use of sources. Further, I am not aware of a substantive examination of Holcot’s commentary on Ecclesiasticus. This is unfortunate, for as Smalley notes such a study would provide some information about the nature of Dominican education within the Northampton friary in the fourteenth century (and by comparison with the Wisdom commentary, could provide a useful tool to examine the differences between biblical lectures at the friaries and the Universities). The list of 19 manuscripts provides a somewhat distorted picture, as some of these manuscripts contain only small sections of the work. For example, the Basel Universitätsbibliothek preserves three manuscripts that contain sections of the commentary:

1. Basel, Universitätsbibliothek A.II.26, ff. 104r–105v, 107r–119v.
2. Basel, Universitätsbibliothek A.X.40, ff. 78r–80v.
3. Basel, Universitätsbibliothek B.V.11, ff. 1r–102v.

Of these three, only B.V.11 preserves a complete version of the work. I have had a chance to examine the manuscript and to compare B.V.11 to the Venice edition printed in 1509. The Basel manuscript contains 12 quires: [quire 1 (-8v), quire 2 (-16v), quire 3 (-24v), quire 4 (-32v), quire 5 (-40v), quire 6 (-50v), quire 7 (-58v), quire 8 (-66v), quire 9 (-74v), quire 10 (-82v), quire 11 (-90v), and quire 12 (-98v)]. The incipit and explicit are as follows:

Incipit Postilla super librum Ecclesiasticum edita a fratre Roberto Holcoth sacre pagine doctore, ordo praedicatorum (1ra). Omnis sapientia a domino Deo est [Eccl. 1:1]. Magister et dominus Gundisalinus libro suo De ortu scientiarum sic ait.

Explicit lectura, etc (98rb).

Explicit expliceat ludere scriptor eat | vinum scriptori debetur de meliori (98rb).

For those more interested in beautiful pictures, here is the capital on 1r.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 10.38.08 AM

Holcot’s Wisdom Commentary: A Note on Balliol 27 and Basel 1586

As I have noted previously, Beryl Smalley defended the general reliability of the Basel 1586 edition of Holcot’s commentary on Wisdom. Further, she also argued that Balliol 27 was “close to an autograph” copy of the work being corrected against the book of the Master (i.e., Holcot’s personal manuscript copy). Questions remain, however, regarding the reliability of the 1586 edition. As I (and Jeff Witt) continue to work on the text it is clear that there are numerous discrepancies between Balliol 27 and Basel 1586.

Consider lectio 44 (Basel 1586, p. 155; Balliol 27, fol. 72ra). Balliol 27 and Basel 1586 agree about the first paragraph, beginning with “Postquam Spiritus Sanctus probavit adulterinae” and ending with “Secunda pars ibi: immortalis. Tertia pars ibi: cum praesens est.” Thus, in the images below you note that the end of the first paragraph of the Basel text (left) is consistent (basically) what what is highlighted in Balliol 27 (right). However, to find the section of Balliol 27 that corresponds with the beginning of the second paragraph of the Basel text one has to skip about 34 lines of text (in Balliol). The reader will note that the second highlighted section of Balliol 27 reads: “est advertendum, quod ad hoc, quod castitas coniungalis debito modo feruetur, tria requirit, vi-… etc.” This picks up the Basel text (absent Circa primum) with the second paragraph. The upshot: everything between the highlighted sections of Balliol 27 is missing from Basel 1586 (I have yet to find this section of text anywhere in lectio 44).  Perhaps Basel 1586 is not as reliable as Smalley first imagined. [NB: an almost identical omission is found in a French manuscript (Troyes 907, fol. 44va) that preserves the text as found in Basel 1586.]

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 9.37.00 AM    MS027-f072r


The present post does not put forth a new argument about Balliol 27, but makes evident some of the work done by Beryl Smalley about six decades ago (given the recent scans of Balliol 27 now available). That said, it confirms and supports her argument with further evidence.

Beryl Smalley prioritized two manuscripts of Holcot’s commentary on Wisdom: (1) Oxford, Balliol College 27; and (2) Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc. 562. Regarding the former, Smalley writes that in the margins of Balliol 27 there are references to the liber magistri (the book of the master) written in a hand that is contemporary with the text itself. This indicates, it seems, that Balliol 27 was copied or corrected from a manuscript belonging to Holcot (the master). Further, Smalley is correct to observe that the hand (both of the text and of the corrections noted above) belongs to the period before 1350 and “might be rather earlier.” Smalley concludes that Balliol 27 is “quite close to an autograph” (Smalley 1956, 11).

Regarding Bodl. 562 Smalley states that this manuscript originates from Paris during Holcot’s lifetime. The text is found on folios 1ra–188vb and contains two tables: (1) an alphabetical table of subject matter (189ra–193vb); and (2) a second table of quaestiones (193vb–194rb). Finally, regarding Bodl. 562, Smalley notes that the text is good but already begins to introduce errors and is already “on the downward path” because, in Smalley’s judgment, Holcot’s classicism was probably “baffling to his copyists” (Smalley 1956, 11–12).

Here we are concerned with the former manuscript (Balliol 27), which has been recently scanned and made public through the work of Anna Sander. As a result, a few of Smalley’s observations can be easily confirmed (see Smalley 1956, 12). First, Smalley notes that Balliol 27 is incomplete and that a quire is missing between folios 125 and 126 (of the modern foliation). This means that part of lectiones 79 and 82, and all of 80 and 81 are missing. Despite this fact, Balliol 27 is perhaps one of the most accurate and reliable manuscripts of the commentary on Wisdom. The most compelling evidence of this fact are the various marginal notations that mention the book of the master (liber magistri). I will refer to the marginal corrections (written in a different hand) as those of the “editor.” Here are a few images from Balliol 27:

Fol. 178v


Here there is clearly a break or space in the manuscript. Next to the text the editor writes in the margin: Hic erat unum spatium magnum vacuum in libro magistri (Smalley omits vacuum in her transcription).

 Fol. 189v


At the bottom of folio 189v there is large textual addition and it is clear, as Smalley observes, that the editor did not know where to insert the text. The marginal notation attending the addition states: Non erat signum in libro magistri ubi debet intrare, sed erat scriptum in superiori margine supra principium istius lectionis. 

Fol. 236r


On folio 236r the editor notes that Holcot’s discussion (the text reads, Digna facta est ista habitatio per tria) breaks off short. The editor writes in the margin: Non erant ista tria in libro magistri.

Fol. 290r


The final correction listed by Smalley is found on folio 290r. In the text, Holcot writes that there are six benefits that humanity receives from God. However, when it comes time to expound on the six benefits, the editor notes that Holcot’s text (the liber magistri) omits the fourth benefit. The marginal notation of the editor reads: quartum non fuit in libro magistri.

Fol. 119r


In her study of Balliol 27 Smalley omitted a marginal notation from the editor found on folio 119r. This marginal notation reads: Hoc erat scriptum cum plumbo in libro magistri in margine in inferiori in fine istius lectionis. Et idem inseras in divisione sequentis, si vis [NB: the in prior to inferiori is a mistake by dittography]. I think given the other passages in Balliol 27 that use the phrase in libero magistri that it is justified reading the li as libero [though one would prefer to see liº]. It could also be hoc, it seems, meaning libero.

 It is difficult to disagree with Smalley’s conclusion that Balliol 27 should take priority in studies of the Wisdom commentary and that it is close to the autograph. Further, Smalley is certainly correct in her judgement that as one gets further removed from the original autograph, numerous errors and scribal mis-readings become evident in the text.  As Smalley noted, though, the edition published in Basel 1586 (Super Sapientiam Salomonis. In librum Sapientiae regis Salomonis praelectiones. Basel, 1586.) was (thankfully!) produced from a good manuscript. However, one must proceed with caution.  Having read Basel 1586 against Balliol 27 (and Troyes 907) for the first chapter of Wisdom (approximately the first 25 folios) one notes that there are several significant omissions by homoteleuton in Basel 1586. Thus, Basel 1586 should be read in conjunction with Balliol 27.

Thanks here to R. Jim Long and Siegfried Wenzel for comments, suggestions, and corrections to a few of the transcriptions.

Holcot’s Moralitates (notes on the Basel manuscripts)

The Basel University Library houses four manuscripts that contain Holcot’s Moralitates. What follows are a few notes on the texts.

  1. Basel A II 26

Robert Holcot, Moralitates. Folios 138rb–140va. In marg.: Moralizatio ymaginum dearum etc. Incipit: Theodosius de vita Alexandri. Rex sicilie alexandrum ad convivium invitavit.

This manuscript collects 20 of Holcot’s Moralitates. The individual moralizations are numbered in the margin.

  1. Basel A V 33

Robert Holcot, Moralitates. Folios 275r–292v. Incipit: Theodosius de vita Alexandri: Rex cecilie alexandrum… Expliciunt moralitates fratris Roberti holcoch. Deo gracias.

This is a beautiful collection of the Moralitates. The work contains 41 moralizations; the hand is clear and the text is well organized. The moralizations are consistent with those found in the Basel 1586 edition, however the ordering of the work is distinct. A V 33 begins with a list of Holcot’s famous picturae (verbal pictures) and progress to the historia. This is significant because within the text the individual moralizations are listed as pictures (which is distinct from the printed editions). This basic pattern is followed in Basel B VIII 10 (while one cannot make much of such limited information, there is some indication that the manuscript tradition better preserves the nature of the work as a collection of picturae). See, e.g., the following moralizations:

2nd moralization (cf. Bs 1586, Moral. 19): pictura orationis (AV33 275r) 3rd moralization (cf. Bs 1586, Moral. 31): pictura peccati mortalis ((AV33 275v) 4th moralization (cf. Bs 1586, Moral. 38): pictura luxuriae (AV33 276v) 6th moralization (cf. Bs 1586,  Moral. 8): imago amoris (AV33 277r) 7th moralization (cf. Bs 1586, Moral. 9): pictura amoris pro nativitate et passione Christi (AV33 278r) 9th moralization (cf. Bs 1586, Moral. 22): imago poenitentiae (AV33 279r) 10th moralization (cf. Bs 1586, Moral 33): pictura superbiae (AV33 279r) 11th moralization (cf. Bs 1586, Moral. 44): pictura fortunae (AV33 279v)

3. Basel A X 118

This manuscript is unfortunately quite disorganized and difficult to navigate (as well as having an incredibly tight binding that threatens to self destruct). The Moralitates are not preserved in the work (so far as I can tell) as a discrete collection, however a few of the individual moralizations (and pictures) are randomly interspersed with other texts on folios 332–367. Though one should be cautious: on folio 332r begins a collection of exempla the first of which the manuscript catalogue (p. 167 (178)) (incipit: Narrat Ovidius in magno libro…) attributes to Holcot. However, that particular moralization does not seem to be one of Holcot’s moralizations (though several do begin Narrat Ovidius as preserved in other collections). The collection (and the manuscript) seems somewhat random, difficult to read in sections, and highly disorganized. More work would be needed to determine whether there is a significant collection of the moralizations in this manuscript (though with perhaps little reward).

4. Basel B VIII 10

Robert Holcot, Moralitates. Folios 1r–16v. Incipit: Theodosius de vita Alexandri…

This is a great little collection of texts that is similar to the manuscripts described here. The work includes several texts [Holcot, Moralitates (1r–16v); Aenigmata Aristotelis moralizata (16v–18v); Imagines Fulgentii moralizatae (19r–29v); Declamationes senecae moralizatae (29v–39r); and a tabule subsequentis (39r–42va).] The Moralitates collection includes 45 moralizations with a similar organization to A V 33. The manuscript also contains a sermon collection. It is dated to 1347.  The final folio contains the following note (90v): Iste liber est tratrum ordinis praedicatorum conventus Basiliensis et est de libris magistri Petri et fratris Iohannis de lœffen, oretur pro eis.

Lambeth 221 and Basel A II 26: Some Manuscript Notes (Holcot)

Robert Holcot is alleged to have written a work called the Distinctiones Bibliae. As I note here, Sharpe (1475, p. 555) lists the Distinctiones Bibliae as an authentic work of Robert Holcot. Whether or not this work should be attributed to Holcot is far from certain, although at present there is no reason to dismiss the work as spurious.  Sharpe notes that the incipit of the work is Abominabitur autem Deus tales and that it should be distinguished from Eustasius de Portu’s Distinctiones Holcot with an incipit Abicere debemus.

I have recently been working through Lambeth 221. Between folios 55vb and 154rb the manuscript contains three distinct (I think) texts. The first (ff.58vb–145vb) is a distinctiones collection that, following Sharpe et al., should be attributed to Eustasius de Portu (incipit Abicere debemus). Following that text is another work (ff. 146ra–148vb) that seems to be an incomplete text that provides a term/name from the Bible and gives some indication where to find that term (like a biblical index). Finally, the third text (ff. 146ra–148vb) is the work, again following Sharpe and others, that should be attributed to Holcot (incipit Abominabitur autem Deus tales). However, this work seems to be a table keyed to another text, and not an independent collection of distinctiones.  To help clarify the problem, I have now consulted Basel A II 26.  Here are a few notes (related to Holcot) about the content. There are four texts in this fourteenth-century ms. (which originated from the Dominican House in Basel) that are relevant to Holcot’s corpus:

(1) Robert Holcot, Super librum Ecclesiastici (prologue). Folios 104ra–105va.

Header: Principium Holkot in Ecclesiasticum.
Incipit: Omnis sapientia a domino deo est (eccl. 1:1), magister et dominus Gundisalinus libro suo de ortu scientiarum…
Explicit: Principium Holkot in librum Ecclesiasticum.

This work was also printed in Venice (1509) where the corresponding text (the prologue) is designated as lectio 1 (ff. A 2ra–A 3rb).

(2) Robert Holcot, Super librum Ecclesiastici (Eccl. 1:1-38).

IncipitOmnis sapientia… (Eccl. 1:1), Beatus Augustinus 4 De doctrina Christiana, c. 12
ExplicitAttende [in] illis…circa primum est notandum.

As noted above, this work was printed in Venice (1509) and is found there as lectiones II-XIV (ff. A 3rb–B 4vb). The version found in the Basel ms. is incomplete and breaks off midway through what is lectio XIV in Venice 1509.

(3) Robert Holcot, Moralitates. Folios 138rb–140va.

In marg.: Moralizatio ymaginum dearum etc.
Incipit: Theodosius de vita Alexandri. Rex sicilie alexandrum ad convivium invitavit.

This work collects 20 of Holcot’s Moralitates. The individual moralizations are noted in the margin. I have confirmed that the moralizations are consistent with those found in the Basel edition of Holcot’s Moralitates (though I have not checked every instance).

(4) Eustasius de Porto (?), Collationes moralitatum postillae Roberti Holcot per ordinem alphabeti dispositae. Folios 230ra–255vb.

Header: Collationes seu distinctiones moralitatum postille magistri Roberti Holkott abreviate et per ordinem alphabeti abstracte per fratrem Eustasium de portu usque ad litteram.
Incipit: Abicere. Abicere debemus divicias temporales quia repellunt veritatem.

This text, as noted above, is claimed to be by Eustasius de Porto (by Sharpe and others). The collection of distinctiones here is consistent with the collection found in Lambeth 221 discussed above.  The list of terms begins with Abicere and concludes (in Basel A II 26) with the term Gratiarum on folio 255vb. Thus, this work corresponds with the text found in Lambeth 221, folios 58va–90rb. Unlike the Lambeth manuscript, the Basel version of Eustasius’s work is incomplete and does not contain the work (alleged to be by Holcot) with the incipit Abominabitur autem Deus tales. This takes us no further towards understanding the relationship between (or authorship of)  Abicere debemus and Abominabitur autem Deus, but at least we have a few more data points.

A fellow colleague and friend, Marjorie Burghart, shared the list of terms from Lambeth 221.  Here I add to her list the foliation for Basel A II 26 (of course, the majority of the work is hers).  Lambeth 221-Basel A.II.26 (Table of Terms).

Reading Anselm: Context and Criticism

An international conference organised under the aegis of the International Association for Anselm Studies and the Institute for Liberal Arts, Boston College, with sponsorship from Fairfield University, the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Durham University, and the Philosophy and Theology Departments at Boston College.

Boston College, 27-30 July, 2015

Keynote speakers:
William Aird (Edinburgh)
Marcia Colish (Yale)
Burcht Pranger (Amsterdam)
Denys Turner (Yale)
Nicholas Watson (Harvard)

Call For Papers

The International Association for Anselm Studies invites proposals for its upcoming conference, to be held in Boston College, July 27-30, 2015.

The conference takes as its theme the wide variety of responses to Anselm’s life, and work, across many different periods, and in many different fields. At the same time it will ground the reception of Anselm with consideration of the context in which he lived, wrote and acted. Moving between his life and his reception, will allow fresh insight into the mechanisms and measures of his celebrity and influence.

The Association invites submissions in areas including but not limited to literature, history, art history, philosophy, and theology. It would especially welcome papers on Anselm’s sources; Anselm’s pupils; Anselm and church reform; the wider world of religious politics in the 11th and 12th centuries; Anselm in the vernacular; Reformation and Counter-Reformation views on Anselm; and Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox discussions.

The conference will receive an update on the new edition of Anselm’s letter collection under preparation by Dr Samu Niskanen. Papers connected to the letter collections, the Memorials of St. Anselm and historiographical readings of Anselm also are encouraged.


Please send proposed titles, with an abstract of 300 words for a twenty-minute paper together with your contact details (with academic affiliation, address and e-mail) by e-mail attachment to

The deadline for abstracts is March 1, 2015.

For More Information, see: Reading Anselm