[AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO.] De civitate Dei. (with) De Trinitate.

[Basel, Johann Amerbach, 1490.]


Folio, 2 works in 1. 108 unnumbered ll., a10 b-p8 q6 r-x6/8 y6 A-K8/6 L-O6/8 + 86 unnumbered ll., a-f8 g-k6/8 l-m6. Gothic letter, two to four columns. 3/4-page woodcut to verso of first t-p, of St Augustine at his desk and view of City of God and Earthly City with a fight between angels and demons. 9-line (first) and 6-line (second) initials at head of chapters supplied in red with blue penwork, both works with capital letters supplied in alternating red and blue, titles and chapter headings heightened in red. T-ps and verso of last leaves dusty, upper edge a bit trimmed, occasionally just touching running title, few finger marks, 1) marginalia a bit smudged on first G6, a few lines crossed over on first I7, 2) light waterstaining to upper margin, a little heavier on last three gatherings, smallish stain to last dozen ll. Very good copies, on thick paper, in C17 Netherlandish sprinkled sheep, rebacked, with original spine onlaid, raised bands, spine in seven compartments, large gilt fleuron and cornerpieces to each, gilt-lettered morocco label, some loss to outer edges, corners and head and foot of spine repaired. C16 inscription ‘Martinus Tuleman. AGSMW In Deo Volu[n]tas Mea’ and C17 inscriptions ‘Bibliothecae ord. Erem. S. Augustini Trajecti ad mosam’ and ‘Ex lib. P. de lochin Augustin. Trajectius’ to first t-p, verse from Virgili’s Bucolics and Aeneid in a C16 hand to verso of last, extensive contemporary and C16 Latin annotations, cropped in places.

‘De civitate Dei contra paganos’ is one of the milestones of Western thought, composed by St Augustine of Hippo in the fifth century. The work criticised the idea that Christians were to be held responsible for the decline and fall of Rome, upholding instead that this was due to the Romans’ reliance on pagan gods; he also presented Providential history as a constant fight between the City of God and the Earthly City, as immortalised by the handsome initial woodcut in this copy showing a fight between angels and demons. ‘De Trinitate’ examined the concept of the divinity and co-equality of the persons of the Trinity against critics of the Nicaean Council. This edition of ‘De civitate Dei’ was accompanied by a commentary by the C13 English theologians Thomas Waleys and Nicholas Trevet. Their approach and methodology towards Roman history and pagan antiquity resonated with early Renaissance thought. They had ‘none of the dogmatic tone or moralising exegesis of contemporary classicising biblical commentaries and preaching aids’ and were ‘pre-dominantly literal in their exposition’; they also showed ‘a sensitivity to historical difference and the periodisation of Roman history’ and took ‘an even-handed approach to Christian and pagan authors’ (Thorn, ‘Nicholas Trevet’).

In this copy, the C16 annotator’s marginalia focus on the commentary rather than the Augustinian text, lingering on the commentators’ expanded accounts of the theologian’s concise references to classical deities and events like the fall of Troy. In particular, the earliest annotator concentrated on the first part, wholly concerned with the criticism of pagan gods and Roman history. He noted passages on the stories of Aeneas, Cybele, Pallas, Apollo, on the poetic ‘fables’ of antiquity, the sybils, as well as the Goths’ invasions of Rome, Anthony and Cleopatra, and exotic subjects like the Cynocaephali, prodigies and portents, and the Antipodes. Some of these he listed with page numbers in the index, when they were not included. Below the initial woodcut he noted that ‘the Elysian fields are close to Hell’s gates’. On the verso of the final leaf, he copied lines from the ‘Bucolics’ and the ‘Aeneid’. He glossed the famous passage on Aeneas’s tears for the death of Dido with an amusing note: ‘It is reported that St Augustine, whenever he read these sweet passages, could not refrain from bursting into tears’—a reference to the ‘Confessions’, where Augustine castigates himself for this weakness.

This volume was in the possession of Martinus Tuleman, ‘claustrarius’ at the monastery of St Servatius in Maastricht in 1532-58 (‘Verzameling’, 195; 202, 203). He owned several incunabula, some of which he received as a bequest from Petrus Tuleman, perhaps a relative, ‘canonicus’ at St Servatius (‘Bibliotheek’, 43; ‘Annales’, 185-86). The early annotations were probably made by Tuleman himself or by a previous owner acquainted with theology and ‘literae humaniores’. St Servatius had indeed become the centre for humanism in Maastricht and one of the leading cultural hubs in northern Europe, with a prestigious Latin school (‘Encyclopaedia’, 934). Matthaus Herbenus (1451-1538), an early Flemish humanist with ten years in Italy under his belt, was at St Servatius between 1482 and c.1506. A poet and musicologist, he was also rector of the school. In the early C17, the copy was in the library of the Augustinian monastery of Maastricht. It belonged to the friar Pierre(?) de Lonchin, from a local, armigerous family in the province of Limbourg. The later annotations ignore the commentary and focus on the Augustinian text. Among the glosses is one highlighting the ‘fascination with the nonsense of foolish idols’ and, most interestingly, a crossing out of Augustine’s exposition of the theory of free will, criticised by Reformers. A direct reference to the Reformation is present in a gloss in ‘De Trinitate’, on theological mistakes, associating with Reformers ‘those who want to know what they don’t know…boldly affirm the presumption of their opinions’.

Very good copies of these theological milestones, with fascinating history and annotations.

1) BMC XV, p. 752; Hain 2066*; GW 2888.2) BMC XV, p. 753; Hain 2039*; GW 2928.A. Oosthoek, Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit te Utrecht (Utrecht, 1922); Encyclopaedia of Monasticism (Oxford, 2000); E.M. Thorn, ‘Nicholas Trevet’s and Thomas Waleys’s Commentaries on Augustine’s De civitate Dei’ (unpublished PhD diss., Bristol, 2013); Verzameling van charters…van St. Servaas, in Soc. Hist. et Arch. de Limbourg (1930, 1933).

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