Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/643

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


the authority of manuscripts. More successful was Johann Cono, a Dominican, of Nürnberg, who made use of such ancient copies as he could find. At Amerbach's death the edition was incomplete. It was continued by his two sons in conjunction with Johann Frohen; and at this point Erasmus1 services were called in. In 1016 the work was published, and dedicated by Erasmus to Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury. The prefaces to this and to the other editions of patristic texts which Erasmus superintended contain perhaps the most instructive expressions of his attitude as a Christian scholar which can readily be found. Irenaeus, Origen, Athanasius, Basil, Chrysostom among the Greeks, Cyprian, Hilary, Augustine, and Arnobius On the Psalms, among the Latins, all benefited by his critical care. He is the first, perhaps, who had a glimpse of the true greatness of Origen. One page of Origen, he says, is preferable to ten of Augustine: and yet such all-important books as the Commentary upon John and the tract On Prayer were unknown to him. Nothing is more conspicuous in him than the acuteness of his critical sense. In his preface to Hilary he dwells at some length upon the corruptions and interpolations of his manuscript authorities. His conjectural emendations are most noteworthy: one, the substitution of auxesin faciens for awes infaciens in the pseudo-Arnobius, is worthy of a Bentley. His sense of style is wonderfully keen: over and over again he detects and rejects tracts wrongly fathered on one or other of his authors. Not that he is free from error in these matters. He is not sure whether Irenaeus wrote in Greek or Latin: he identifies Arnobius, the author of a Commentary on the Psalms, with Arnobius the Apologist; and he is inclined to repudiate ChrysostonVs Homilies on the Acts, a genuine, though poor work of that Father's. En revanche, he rightly pronounces the Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum to be the production of an Arian; yet this work, by the irony of fate, had during the Middle Ages been far more widely disseminated under ChrysostonVs name among the Latins than anything that Chrysostom really wrote.

In the preface to Hilary is a passage which sums up the position of Erasmus towards the ancient and the scholastic learning far better than we could do it for ourselves. "We have no right to despise the discoveries or improvements which have originated in the minds of our contemporaries; yet it is an unscrupulous intellect that does not pay to antiquity its due reverence, and an ungrateful one that rejects those to whose industry the Christian world owes so much. What would sacred learning be without the labours of Origen, Tertullian, Chrysostom, Jerome, Hilary, and Augustine? I do not hold that even the works of Thomas (Aquinas) or Scotus should be entirely set aside. They wrote for their age, and delivered to us much that they drew from the writings of the ancients and expounded most acutely. On the other hand, I cannot approve the churlishness of those who