Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Rare books 19: Threads to the Past

The theological readings of the ‘Resolute Doctor’ John Baconthorpe (died 1346 on the eve of the Black Death) by Bertholdus Crassous, still awaiting a binder in 2020 (Rome, 1710). Notes: Johannes Anglicus, also known as Johannes de Baconthorpe, was an English Carmelite and important theologian, who entered the order at Snitterley in Norfolk, studied at Oxford and Paris, and was later English Provincial. The most arresting sentence in Benedict Zimmerman’s entry for him in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907-12) reads: “His writings comprised more than one hundred and twenty volumes, but are for the greater part lost.” This is where Crassous becomes vital, as he supplies insight and leads to the thought of Baconthorpe, otherwise not available. This erudite wodge of best cloth paper is very rare indeed. It has suffered damp over time but the pages have not jammed together and still open cleanly. Records online are also rare and my descriptive efforts were the result of visits for information to multiple sites on several continents, all from the comfort of my coronavirus solitude. The work must be retied to keep the signatures in order and, ideally, stored in a customised rare books box. To give an idea of the range of John Baconthorpe’s ‘mens’ I here quote Zimmerman, without further comment: “He possessed a penetrating mind, and wrote on all the subjects belonging to the ordinary course of studies. The most celebrated among them were those on the Gospels, especially St. Matthew, on St. Paul, and the commentary on the "Sentences", which was printed in 1510 at Milan, and for a time became the textbook in the Carmelite Order. Bacon follows Averroes in preference to St. Thomas [Aquinas] with whom he disagrees on many points. He adopted a system of Realism according to which the universals do not follow but precede the act of the intellect. Truth is materially and causally in the external object, formally in the intellect; in the order of generation and perfection the first subject is the individual substance; although the external object is in itself intelligible, the active intellect is required to render it ultimately intelligible; the conformity of the thing thought with the external object constitutes truth. The final cause of all things is God; but although the first object of our knowledge be the Divine essence Bacon does not admit that this knowledge comes to us by the light of our natural reason; it is, in his opinion, a supernatural gift of grace.”

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Rare books 18: Cardinal Mezzofanti

Documents for the canonisation of Romeo of Lucca (d. 1380) and beatification of Aloysius Rabatà (1443-1490), presented by the Carmelite postulator Joseph Maria Palma to the relator, Cardinal Mezzofanti (Rome, 1841-42). Notes: Interest is rivetted here not on the respective prospectives so much as on the Relator. The Relator is defined as “a person appointed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to assemble the historic documentation of the candidate for canonization. This is not the main feather in the cap of Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti (1774-1849), who is one of the most awesome figures of early 19th century Rome. Awesome because he was a hyperpolyglot, one of the most famous, able to speak about thirty languages “with rare excellence” and several more fluently. Trying to explain Mezzofanti is like trying to explain Mozart. Ni hao is my response to reading statements of fact like “he mastered Chinese in four months and … found Chinese to be one of the most difficult languages he ever tried to learn. Such is his fame in linguistic circles that James Joyce puns on his name in Finnegans Wake, that novel composed of every language under the sun, plus some other invented ones. It is not surprising to learn that, as a priest, one of his jobs was confessor to foreigners. The Library holds the biography by Charles William Russell (1858), five hundred pages of stunning claims that still do not explain the mystery of memory. With Cardinal Mezzofanti in the room, who needs Google Translate? His job as Relator seems to be one of those extra-things-to-do in his twilight years.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Rare books 17: Persian Dictionary

The main title page
The separate, ornate dedication title page

A dictionary or, to use a much more impressive synonym, a gazophylacium of the Persian language, with matching terms in Italian, Latin, and French (Amsterdam, 1684). Notes: The Carmelite mission to Persia, initiated in 1604 by Pope Clement VIII with the support of Sigismund III Vasa of Poland, resulted in many cultural exchanges, significant among them linguistic works on a two-way street. Thesauri, grammars, dictionaries, translations into and from Persian, were produced, including the first Persian version of St Thomas Aquinas’ Summa contra Gentiles (ms. Vaticano persiano 59). The Carmelites set up the first printing press in Persia. The Discalced Carmelite Ange de Saint-Joseph (1636-1697) would probably have trained in Rome before travelling East. A found record of a Teheran reprint of 2013 provided me with the name of his collaborator-editor, Muḥammad Ḥusayn Mar’ashi, whose name appears at the head-of-title in his own language. This record also supplied me with the transliterated Persian not to be found on the first record I uncovered, at the Carmelite Library in Boxmeer in the Netherlands. As the pictures show, ‘Gazophylacium linguae Persarum’ is arranged alphabetically in Italian, with cross indexes from the Latin and French. A fascinating short history of the Carmelites in Persia in the 17th century can be read in the Encyclopaedia Iranica here:

Blessing in Italian, Latin, French, and Persian

The Index that leads readers to the Latin equivalents in the main text