St Augustine sermons discovered
April 4, 2008
From The Tablet, 5 April 2008:
Six previously unknown sermons of St Augustine of Hippo have been discovered at Erfurt University in central Germany, a find that the head of the university’s library department, Thomas Bouillon, has hailed as “most significant”.
Three researchers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences discovered and identified the texts in a more than 800-year-old manuscript collection in the Bibliotheca Amploniana at Erfurt. Isabella Schiller, one of the three Viennese researchers, noticed that the small, 270-page, book of sermons by St Augustine (354-430), which she was working on, contained sermons that were not listed in her databank.
Three of the sermons concern almsgiving. St Augustine examines the relationship between giving alms to the bishop and the latter’s duty to support his flock in return. In another sermon about St Cyprian, who was martyred in 258, Augustine criticises the practice of holding drunken orgies on martyrs’ feast days. And one sermon is on the reality of the resurrection of the dead and on believing in the truth of biblical prophecies.
St Augustine’s preaching in the cathedral at Hippo Regius — the Algerian port of Bone today — attracted people from many parts of northern Africa. Large crowds from the then flourishing city of Carthage came, some of whom brought their scribes with them. The scribes took the sermons down and St Augustine would correct their copies afterwards. Some collections of his sermons reached England via Italy by the year 1000, according to the Dutch St Augustine specialist Professor Hans van Oort. It is thought that the newly discovered sermons are part of one such collection and were copied in England. Structural and handwriting similarities to English manuscripts point to the likelihood that they reached the continent via England.
The Bibliotheca Amploniana at Erfurt University is the largest complete book collection of any one medieval scholar in the world. Its 600 volumes were left to the university by the Westphalian theologian and doctor of medicine Amplonius Rating de Berka (1363-1435).
The newly discovered sermons will be published in a Viennese journal on philology and patristics, Vienna Studies: Journal for Classical Philology and Patristics, and on 15 April the three researchers — Ms Schiller, along with Dorothea Weber and Clemens Weidmann, will give a lecture on their discovery at Erfurt University. The Austrian Academy of Sciences is the world’s leading institute for research on St Augustine.