Erasmus & Codex Vaticanus
In part 2 of our series, The Erasmian Myths, we will deal with the oft repeated, but never proven claim, that Erasmus didn’t have access to Codex Vaticanus, but if he did he would have used it. But this claim has no foundation in reality. Did he have access to Codex Vaticanus? And what was his opinion of this Codex that is given so much weight in our modern day? We will answer these questions below.
Did Erasmus Have Access to Codex Vaticanus?
Simply put, yes. He had access to it through his correspondence with both Bombasius & Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda. Erasmus was supplied with a transcript of 1 John 4:1–3 and 1 John 5:7–11 from Codex Vaticanus by Bombasius. Through Sepulveda, Erasmus was provided with 365 readings of Codex Vaticanus. In Thomas Horne’s Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament which has been edited by Samuel Tregelles, we find the following on pg xv & xvi
In p. 108. the correspondence between Erasmus and Sepulveda is referred to in connection with the question whether Greek MSS. were ordered by the Florentine Council to be corrected by the Latin. But as, in the collected works of Erasmus, but little of the correspondence between him and Sepulveda is given, some points are left in obscurity.
Since, however, the passage above mentioned was printed, the works of Sepulveda have been added to my study, and there the letters are given which are omitted amongst those of Erasmus. My oversight of these letters till now will not be harshly judged by those who remember that the same had been committed by those who wrote before me on this subject, and who observe that I myself have drawn attention to my former omission.
The first of these letters (vol. iii. p. 77.) is from Sepulveda to Erasmus, dated April 1. 1522, in which he speaks of the annotations of Stunica. To this Erasmus replied (p. 78.), on the morrow of the Assumption of the Virgin in the same year. The third letter in the series is from Sepulveda to Erasmus, dated the Ides of October, also in 1522.
The fourth (p. 81.) is that from Sepulveda to Erasmus, dated Nov. 1. 1534, which is noticed in this volume (p. 108.), as not existing amongst the letters of Erasmus any more than his reply. In it Sepulveda thus mentions the Vatican MS.: “Scito exemplaria Graeca, quae tu secutus es in Novo Testamento, plerisque mendis esse depravata, jam singulis verbis, jam solidis orationibus sublatis, aut vicissim redundantibus. Quod factum esse reor culpa librariorum, quibus errandi occasionem praebuerint scholia qua:dam importune ut saepe solet, a quibusdam studiosis in librorum marginibus ascripta. Itaque id malum, semel per errorem a nonnullis admissum, tam late, ut video, permanavit, ut non solum excusi omnes libri cum eis erratis circumferantur, sed quaedam etiam manuscripta exemplaria ab his mendis non abhorreant. Quo minus debet mirum videri cuipiam, te dum caocos sequeris, ad easdem salebras offendisse. Est enim Greecum exemplar antiquissimum in Bibliotheca Vaticana, in quo diligentissime et accuratissime litteris majusculis conscriptum utrumque Testamentum continetur longe diversum a vulgatis exemplaribus. Mihi enim cum ab Stunica fuissem ndmonitus, rem perspicere, et libros conferre curse fuit. Hoc autem exemplar omnium esse emendatissimum, cum ejus antiquitas declarat, et librarii diligentia, turn quod multum convenit cum vetere nostra translatione, quae dubitari non debet, quin ex emendatissimo quoque exemplari conversa, et tradita nobis sit a majoribus. Cum igitur ad illius exemplaris fidem et quasi normam ceteri libri sint emendandi ac dirigendi, quid opus facto sit, ipse considerabis: sic enim habeto, raro vulgatam Graecorum editionem a veteri translatione nostra discrepare, discrepat autem, ut nosti saepissime, ut a Vaticano illo exemplari non dissentiat. Ac ne teneam, trecentis sexaginta quinque locis scripturae diversitatem adnotavimus.”
1 Joannis Genesii Sepulvedje Cordubensis Opera, cum cdita turn inedita. Accural) tc rcgia Histories Acadcmia. Matriti, 1780. 4 vols. 4to.
The list of the 365 places is not given in the printed letter.
To this letter Erasmus replied by one dated February 17. 1534, in which he says: “Quod scribis de Codice Grasco, quern nactus es in Bibliotheca Pontificia tantopere cum Vulgata editione consentiente, vide ne inanem operam sumas. Constat enim, cum Graeci foedus inirent cum Ecclesia Romana, quemadmodum testatur Bulla, quae dicitur Aurea, hoc quoque fuisse comprehensum in articulis, ut Graecorum codices, praesertim Evangelici, ad Romanam lectionem emendarentur, et in similes codices ipse incideram, cum primum ederem Novum Testamentum. Quare ex isto codice nihil est, quod possis judicare. Sed Graecorum lectio petenda est ex Graecis auctoribus, Athanasio, Basilio, Origene, Chrysostomo, Nazianzeno, Cyrillo.”
It is part of the reply of Sepulveda to this letter which I have given in p. 108.’, in which he shows that the Bulla Aura had contained no such clause, and that no decree of the Florentine Council could apply to an ancient MS. like the Codex Vaticanus.
In Erasmus’s answer to Sepulveda, “V. Non. Jun. 1534,” he says: “Quod adducis Pontificiae Bibliothecae auctoritatem, acciperem; nisi exemplar, quod secutus est Franciscus Ximenius Hispan. Card, missum esset ex Pontificis Bibliotheca tamquam germanum. Atqui hoc fere convenit cum exemplaribus meis. Bullam auream nee ipse vidi. Cutbertus Episcopus Dulmensis vir apprime doctus mihi narravit cui credidi. De correctione codicum non dixit esse in bulla, sed aiebat idem mutationem Graecorum Codicum esse factam. Vidi et ipse codicem Evangeliorum ex Bibliotheca Capnionis [1 Evangeliorum, &c], qui per omnia consentiebat nostras editioni Latinae, verum is erat recentior.”
This information which Erasmus received must have been when he wrote his annotations for his third edition. Thus, then, originated the notion of the Foedus cum Gratis in an incorrect casual remark of Cuthbert Tonstall, Bishop of Durham; and this hint thus thrown out has haunted the domain of criticism like a phantom, so that after three hundred thirty and three years it still seems to possess a vitality which would not have been possible if the correspondence between Sepulveda and Erasmus had been rightly attended to.
It is questioned by the son of antichrist, Cardinal Carlo M. Martini, whether or not Erasmus actually had these 365 readings sent to him. However, we have the following quote from Wikipedia. True Wikipedia is a usually poor resource, but in this instance it is quoting from the work of Screech & Reeve:
We know nothing about these 365 readings except one. Erasmus in his Annotationes on Acts 27:16 wrote that according to the Codex from the Library Pontifici, the name of the island is καυδα (Cauda), not κλαυδα (Clauda) as in his Novum Testamentum (Tamet si quidam admonent in codice Graeco pontificiae bibliothecae scriptum haberi, καυδα, id est, cauda). See: Erasmus Desiderius, Erasmus’ Annotations on the New Testament: Acts – Romans – I and II Corinthians, ed. A. Reeve and M. A. Sceech, (Brill: Leiden 1990), p. 931. Andrew Birch was the first, who identified this note with 365 readings of Sepulveda.
It should be noted, that in Erasmus’ day only Codex Vaticanus was known to have the reading “Kauda” (Cauda).
And Erasmus’ Opinion of Codex Vaticanus?
And what does Erasmus himself say about Vaticanus. For this we turn to the imminent Erasmian scholar H.J. de Jonge:
It should be pointed out here in passing, that certain Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have been corrected in agreement with those of the Latin Christians. This was done at the time of the reunion of the Greeks and the Roman church. This union was confirmed in writing in the so-called Golden Bull. It was thought that this (sc. the adaptation of the Greek biblical manuscripts to the Latin) would contribute to the strengthening of unity. We too once came across a manuscript of this nature, and it is said that such a manuscript is still preserved in the papal library (…) written in majuscule characters.
Erasmian scholar H. J. De Jonge explains the meaning of this quote from Erasmus:
The manuscipt to which Erasmus refers at the end of this passage is the Codex Vaticanus par excellence, now Gr 1209, designated as B. Erasmus regarded the text of this codex as influenced by the Vulgate and therefore inferior. For the same reasons he had earlier, in 1515/6, also excluded Gregory I as an inferior manuscript, from the constitution of the Greek text of his own Novum Instrumentum although this manuscript is now generally regarded as more reliable than the Codices which Erasmus preferred and made use of. Erasmus passed the same verdict on the Codex Rhodiensis (minuscule Wettstein Paul 50 = Apostolos 52) from which Stunica cited readings in his polemic against Erasmus. (Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum)
And from Erasmus’ above response to Sepulveda:
V. Non. Jun. 1534,” he says: “Quod adducis Pontificiae Bibliothecae auctoritatem, acciperem; nisi exemplar, quod secutus est Franciscus Ximenius Hispan. Card, missum esset ex Pontificis Bibliotheca tamquam germanum. Atqui hoc fere convenit cum exemplaribus meis. Bullam auream nee ipse vidi. Cutbertus Episcopus Dulmensis vir apprime doctus mihi narravit cui credidi. De correctione codicum non dixit esse in bulla, sed aiebat idem mutationem Graecorum Codicum esse factam. Vidi et ipse codicem Evangeliorum ex Bibliotheca Capnionis [1 Evangeliorum, &c], qui per omnia consentiebat nostras editioni Latinae, verum is erat recentior.
From Google Translate:
You say that you Graeco from the Code, which you have ever had so much with the Vulgate in the edition of the consent of the Bibliotheca Pontificia, take heed, lest his efforts. For it is certain, since the Greeks, made peace with the Roman Church, as is evidenced by the Bull, which is called the ear, that had also been involved in the articles, such as those Greek manuscripts, especially of the Gospel, the reading corrected to the Roman, and the books he had I fallen in the same, as soon as I was taking the New Testament . There is nothing, therefore, on the basis of the book, that you may be able to judge. But to the Greek reading is to be requested from the Greek authorities, Athanasius, Basil and Gregory, Origen, Chrysostom, of Nazianzen, and Cyril.
And so Erasmus rejected it in part because it did not follow the Scripture citations of the orthodox fathers. However, another reason for his rejection of it was his belief that Vaticanus had been back-translated to conform with the Latin Vulgate.
Again from de Jonge’s Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum we have:
Erasmus’ view, according to which Greek manuscripts had been adapted to Latin, was indeed applicable to the Codex Britannicus, the Comma Johanneum was no more than a retroversion of the Vulgate. But for most other manuscripts, it was no more than an idee fixe. The Bulla aurea of the Council of Ferrara and Florence says nothing at all of any decision to revise Greek biblical manuscripts in accordance with the Vulgate. In 1534 Erasmus admitted that he had not read the bull himself, but only knew its content from hearsay. He maintained, however, that even if the bull did not say anything about the intended latinisation of Greek manuscripts, this latinisation had in fact been carried out in some cases.
Erasmus’ contention is further supported by Sepulveda’s claim that at least one such back-translation was probable. (Letter of Sepulveda in Erasmi Opera, iii. col. 1762.)
In conclusion, we see that not only did Erasmus have access to readings of Vaticanus, but through his correspondence with Bombasius he could have requested readings of any portion of the codex. And we see that Erasmus did not consider Codex Vaticanus equal to the texts with which he worked, but instead considered the codex inferior because he believed it had been back-translated in portions and because it did not follow the Scripture citations of the orthodox church fathers.