JOHN OF DAMASCUS Ekdosis tes orthodoxou pisteos…Editio Orthodoxae Fidei.

Verona, apud Stephanos et Fratres Sabios, 1531


FIRST EDITION. 4to. (viii) 153 (i). Greek letter, in red and black. Red woodcut headpiece. Light age browning, lower outer corners thumbed and soiled in places, mostly marginal water stain at head, occasional ink spot, couple of wax stamps and paper slips to margins not affecting text, two marginal holes not affecting reading (ff. 8, 37), small ink burns with loss of a letter to three ll. (ff. 86, 87, 91). Very good, crisp copy in contemporary Venetian-style morocco, blind-tooled triple fillet panel, roses to cornerpieces and centre, arabesque centrepiece, curly leaves to outer panel, fleurons blind-tooled to spine, lightly scratched and wormed, loss to upper outer corners and foot of spine, joints a bit cracked. Early Greek annotations to t-p verso, extensive to first few gatherings (including marginal diagrams) to last ff. and final eps.; C19 Greek scholarly annotations to front and rear eps. (including ms. alphabetical index), and intermittent marginalia. Ex-libris ‘Georgiou S. Tsourios’ (?) to front pastedown and t-p, ‘Aug 1822’ to fep, ex-libris ‘Antoniou Toulesbiou’ (?) to rear eps. In folding box.

The Venetian-style binding can probably be traced to Dalmatia.

A handsomely bound copy of the first edition of John of Damascus’s ‘Ekdosis’, edited by the Veronese scholar and philologist Bernardino Donato. Born in Syria, then under Muslim rule, John of Damascus (c.675-c.749) had a Christian education imbued with Hellenic influences, and became a monk. The ‘Ekdosis’ is his most influential work; much admired by Thomas Aquinas, it provided the theological and philosophical basis for medieval Scholasticism. It is the third part of ‘The Fount of Knowledge’ (‘P g Gn seos’), which includes a study of Aristotelianism as a philosophical instrument for Christian theology, and a survey of hundreds of heresies. Divided into four books, the ‘Ekdosis’ draws from Greek philosophy and Patristic theology to discuss the individual and Trinitarian nature of God, his visible and invisible creation, his concern for human salvation, the eucharist, baptism, and the veneration of relics and icons. Influential arguments in the ‘Ekdosis’ were those of ‘hyposthasis’ (God as the union of divine and human) and ‘negative theology’ (the ineffability of the mystery of God). The dedication to Clement VII styles the ‘Ekdosis’ as a masterpiece of Christian theology in the Greek tongue, and a ‘very sharp weapon’ against contemporary opponents of the Church: the Lutherans, ‘deserters of the truth’, and the Ottoman ‘barbarous nations’ currently at war with Christianity.

Stefano Nicolini moved with his family from Sabbio (Brescia) to Venice in the 1520s. He showed an immediate interest in the printing of Greek texts, from major literary and theological authors to beginners’ manuals to write, read, and speak the language. Between 1529 and 1532, Nicolini was in Verona where he printed works by the Greek Church Fathers for the bishop Gian Matteo Giberti, including the ‘Ekdosis’. He was assisted by Bernardino Donato, former professor of Greek at Padua and collaborator of Aldus, whose solid Patristic editions had been praised by Erasmus.

The earliest and most copious annotations concentrate in the sections on the understanding and evidence of the nature of God, the Holy Spirit, and the Trinity. The annotator—possibly ‘TM’—glossed them with detailed philosophical notes and illustrated them schematically with diagrams. He added an alphabetic index to the volume and passages from other sources concerning icons and the soul.

Pierpont Morgan, Chicago, Duke, Drew, Emory, USC, Yale copies recorded in the US.Brunet III, 540; BM STC p. 359; Graesse III, 464; USTC 836415. Not in Dibdin or Légrand. P.V. Reid, Readings in Western Religious Thought, New York, 1995.
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