1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mabillon, John

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MABILLON, JOHN (1632–1707), Benedictine monk of the Congregation of St Maur (see Maurists), was the son of a peasant near Reims. In 1653 he became a monk in the abbey of St Remi at Reims. In 1664 he was placed at St Germain-des-Prés in Paris, the great literary workshop of the Maurists, where he lived and worked for twenty years, at first under d’Achery, with whom he edited the nine folio volumes of Acta of the Benedictine Saints. In Mabillon’s Prefaces (reprinted separately) these lives were for the first time made to illustrate the ecclesiastical and civil history of the early middle ages. Mabillon’s masterpiece was the De re diplomatica (1681; and a supplement, 1704) in which were first laid down the principles for determining the authenticity and date of medieval charters and manuscripts. It practically created the science of Latin palaeography, and is still the standard work on the subject. In 1685–1686 Mabillon visited the libraries of Italy, to purchase MSS. and books for the King’s Library. On his return to Paris he was called upon to defend against de Rancé, the abbot of La Trappe, the legitimacy for monks of the kind of studies to which the Maurists devoted themselves: this called forth Mabillon’s Traité des études monastiques and his Réflexions sur la réponse de M. l’abbé de la Trappe (1691–1692), works embodying the ideas and programme of the Maurists for ecclesiastical studies. Mabillon produced in all some twenty folio volumes and as many of lesser size, nearly all works of monumental erudition (the chief are named in the article Maurists). A very competent judge declared that, “he knew well the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th centuries, but nothing earlier or later.” Mabillon never allowed his studies to interfere with his life as a monk; he was noted for his regular attendance at the choral recitation of the office and the other duties of the monastic life, and for his deep personal religion, as well as for a special charm of character. He died on the 26th of December 1707, in the midst of the production of the colossal Benedictine Annals.

The chief authority for his life is the Abrégé de la vie de D. J. M. (also in Latin), by his disciple and friend Ruinart (1709). See also, for a full summary of his works, Tassin, Hist. littéraire de la congr. de St Maur (1770), pp. 205-269. Of modern biographies the best are those of de Broglie (2 vols., 1888) and Bäumer (1892)—the former to be especially recommended. A brief sketch by E. C. Butler may be found in the Downside Review (1893).  (E. C. B.)