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Reviewed by:
  • Homilien zum Hexaemeron
  • Nonna Verna Harrison
Basilius von Caesarea. Homilien zum Hexaemeron. Ed. Emmanuel Amand de Mendieta and Stig Y. Rudberg Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte, neue folge 2 Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1997 Pp. xxi + 235. DM 220.

This volume brings to fruition the life work of two superb philologists. Between 1940 and 1945, Amand de Mendieta, using his monastic name David Amand, published a series of articles in the Revue Benedictine critically assessing the previous editions of Basil’s works. Rudberg’s dissertation is a groundbreaking study, Études sur la tradition manuscrite de saint Basile (Lund-Uppsala, 1953). The two scholars met in 1954 and decided to collaborate on a critical edition of the Homilies on the Hexaemeron, to be published in the Berlin Corpus. It is now finally is print.

The editors initially hoped it would appear within a few years and repeated this hope in a series of progress reports between 1961 and 1980. Their patient, detailed labors revealed the manuscript tradition of Basil’s homilies as vast and extraordinarily complicated. The Byzantines treasured the texts of their revered 4th century fathers and copied them over and over with almost the same care they gave to Holy Scripture. Amand de Mendieta and Rudberg found the best edition prior to their own to be that of the Benedictines Julien Garnier and Prudentius Maran (1721–1730). It is reprinted in Migne and appears largely unchanged in Stanislas Giet’s 1968 edition of the Homilies on the Hexaemeron (SC 26bis).

This series of nine homilies on the creation of the world is among Basil’s most important and best known works. He preached them and prepared them for publication near the end of his life, in 378. With his characteristic sobriety and balance he brings the Judaeo-Chriatian exegetical tradition into dialogue with the ideas of Greek philosophers and scientists. He transmits a rich cultural heritage to his audience and derives many theological and moral lessons from his material. A quite literal Latin translation was made by a certain Eustathius about 400. As a first step in editing the Hexaemeron homilies, Amand de Mendieta and Rudberg published a critical edition of this ancient translation (TU 66, Berlin, 1958). Their painstaking analysis of the Greek manuscript tradition, on which the 1997 edition is based, appears as a separate volume, Basile de Césarée: La tradition manuscrite directe des neuf homélies sue l’Hexaéméron, TU 123 (Berlin, 1980). The new edition presupposes their earlier works, which are summarized and cited in the eleven page introduction. Rudberg’s essay in Paul Fedwick’s Basil of Caesarea: Christian, Humanist, Ascetic (Toronto, 1980), 1:49–65, “Manuscripts and Editions of the Works of Basil of Caesarea,” can serve the English-speaking reader as a useful introduction to the new edition.

This edition will clearly replace all previous ones as the standard. In addition to a greatly improved text, it contains useful citations of Basil’s sources and a 64 page index of Greek words. It should prove indispensable in libraries where early Christian texts are studied. Basil’s homilies are very interesting but have been [End Page 323] insufficiently studied, perhaps in part because of the complex textual problems. Amamd de Mendieta and Rudberg have also been preparing an edition of Basil’s moral homilies and homilies on the Psalms for the Berlin Corpus. Their collaborator Édouard Rouillard has also spent many years working on an edition of Basil’s moral homilies for Sources chrétiennes. I hope all these volumes will appear in print soon and stimulate more research.

My review of the work of these editors has reminded me of the enormous debt students of early Christianity owe to the mostly European philologists who devote their lives to analyzing the details, variations and relationships of old manuscripts. Most of us American patristic scholars have not even been introduced to this art but rely on the patient toil of its practitioners. Amand de Mendieta, who died in 1976, summed up their situation in a 1963 report on his progress (SP 7:45): “Ars longa, vita brevis.”

Nonna Verna Harrison
St. Joseph of Arimathea College, Berkeley, California...

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