Father Simeon Daly, OSB - Finding Grace in the Moment: Stories and other Musings of an Aged Monk




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About Fr. Simeon


Medieval Manuscript

The following little bit of whimsy was written in Rome during a sabbatical in 1984. It is a tongue in cheek jab at academia and highlights a librarian’s obsession with lost books.

The Discovery of a Manuscript
Fr. Simeon Daly

Only by chance did I come across the Latin manuscript that has so absorbed my energies in recent years. A semester sabbatical had provided the opportunity for personal study. I was engaged in reviewing the collaborative work of Adelbert deVogue, OSB, and Ambrose Wathen, OSB, on the Rule of the Master and the Rule of Benedict when I happened on a non-titled work, apparently by a librarian, on dealing with delinquent library users. I have gathered here notes published individually elsewhere in small library and literary journals. They are reprinted here as they first appeared except in a few instances where revisions have been made in the light of later conclusions.

Rare Ms. Uncovered
(Cf. Kent State Library Notes v. 72 (1942)

In 1967, pursuing a research project on the Rule of the Master and it relation to the Rule of Benedict, I came across a hitherto unknown and unlisted manuscript. In codex Paris. B.N.L. 12634 I found this fascicle between leaves 150v. and 151r. (Hereafter referred to as Pro Preservatione). Lowe in his monumental work on Latin manuscripts (Lowe, E. A. (Elias Avery), 1879-1969. Palaeographical papers, 1907-1965; edited by Ludwig Bieler, 1972 2v.) seems either to have missed it entirely, or purposely failed any mention of it because it is so obviously an insertion in the Codex. The Codex in which Pro Preservatione is found dates from the 9th century, but our ms. seems to be in a much later hand, from the 14th of 15th century.

The problem of dating a particular manuscript even within a codex is ever a critical concern. All too frequently, all the mss. within a codex are assumed to be of the same date as the first one that has been studied and dated. The folly of this practice was highlighted in 1935 by Jean Destrez La pecia dans les manuscrits universitares du XIIIe et du XIVe siècle. Therein he showed that individual fascicles (pescia) within a codex might be of different hands, from different families, and/or written at different times and places. In any case our manuscript, Pro Preservatione, is not of the 9th century, though all the other manuscripts of BN12634 do date from that period. Lowe may have skipped our ms. out of concern for its dating, etc., or it is just possible that his entry for BN. 12634 depended on the indexing of an earlier source that had ignored it.

Since my original discovery of Pro Preseervatione, I have found two other manuscripts of this work, one in Italian and the other also in Latin. Each was found, unindexed and tipped in. However they were both in codices having other monastic writings. I am convinced that the original was in Latin and that the one in Italian is a translation. This conclusion is based on internal evidence. Just as an example, the phrase movimento duro occurs several times in the Italian in places where it was difficult to make any sense of the Latin passage. Later when I found the second Latin manuscript, I discovered some glosses had been added in English, one of which is “tough s--t”. The Italian translator obviously didn’t understand, but he showed some imagination in his translation. The question remains open, but until more evidence is found, we will presume the original was written in Latin.

About the Author

I will report the conclusions of my study on the author of Pro Preservatione and follow with some data from which my judgment was made.

I say the author is Joannes Trithemius, OSB, known and revered as Abbot Trithemius. (John Trithemius), a famous scholar and Benedictine abbot, born at Trittenheim on the Moselle, 1 February, 1462; died.at Würzburg, 13 December, 1516. He was a monk of Sponheim and, after his retirement, of Wurzburg, a Scottish monastery. Pro Preservatione was probably written in 1514. The English glosses on one Latin manuscript were added by one Eberhard, a librarian of Wurtzburg and living around the same period. There seems to be little purpose in seeking an earlier author since the lending of books and manuscripts was very rare. Richard de Bury, a contemporary of Trithemius, also seems to have had quite a collection of books. He conceivably could have written our essay, but if the scuttlebutt of the English Benedictine communities can be trusted he probably stole many of his books. That being the case he would hardly have expressed these notions even if he had them, though his great distain for library-users is reflected in his Philobiblion where he speaks of sniffling readers.

A study of the unpublished Chronica Wurzburgensis reveals that Trithemius was kind of obsessed by the disappearance of books from his library that was probably one of the most prestigious libraries on the continent at the time. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1904) has this to say about Trithemius.

Although he was the youngest member of the community, and had not yet been ordained, he was elected abbot at the age of twenty-two, during the second year of his life in the order. His election was a great blessing for Sponheim. With youthful vigor and a firm hand he undertook the direction of the much-neglected monastery. He first turned his attention to the material needs of his community, then set himself to the much more difficult task of restoring its discipline. Above all, his own example, not only in the conscientious observance of the rules of the order, but also in the tireless pursuit of scientific studies, brought about the happiest results.

In order to promote effectively scientific research, he procured a rich collection of books which comprised the most important works in all branches of human knowledge; in this way he built up the world-renowned library of Sponheim for the enriching of which he labored unceasingly for twenty-three years till the collection numbered about 2000 volumes. This library, unique in those days, made Sponheim known throughout the entire world of learning. The attractive personality of the abbot also helped to spread the fame of the monastery. Among his friends he numbered, not only the most learned men of his time, such as Conrad Celtes, Johannes Reuchlin, and John of Dalberg, but also many princes -- including the Emperor Maximilian, who held him in great esteem. But the farther his reputation extended in the world the greater became the number of malcontents in the monastery who opposed the abbot's discipline. Finally he resigned as head of his beloved abbey, which he had ruled for twenty-three years, and which he had brought to a most flourishing condition. After his departure the monastery sank into its former insignificance…….

“Trithemius sought the quiet and peace of a more retired life, and this he found as abbot of the Scottish monastery of St. Jacob, at Würzburg (1506). Here he found only three monks, so he had ample opportunity to display the same activity he had shown at Sponheim. He spent the last ten years of his life in the production of many important writings. Only once did he leave his monastery (1508) for a short stay at the imperial Court. He died at fifty-five years of age and was buried in the Scottish church at Würzburg.”

"The great abbot", says one of his biographers, "was equally worthy of respect as

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