The earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels, lost for 1500 years, has been rediscovered and made available in an English translation. 

The lost work by Fortunatianus, Bishop of of Aquileia in the middle of the fourth century, was rediscovered in 2012 by an Austrian researcher at the Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (University of Salzburg), Dr Lukas J. Dorfbauer, in a manuscript from the early ninth century held in in Cologne Cathedral. Dr Dorfbauer recognised a number of features in this anonymous commentary which corresponded to the description of the work given by St Jerome at the end of the fourth century, as well as three extracts from the work which were identified in the early twentieth century from later manuscript compilations. The rediscovery enabled Dr Dorfbauer to identify additional witnesses to parts of the commentary, including several extracts which had previously been assigned to writers such as Chromatius of Aquileia or Hilary of Poitiers.


The first page of the commentary in the manuscript Cologne, Cathedral Library, 17 
(by kind permission of Cologne Cathedral Library: full digitisation on the CEEC website)

During his work on the critical edition of the Latin text, published earlier this year, Dr Dorfbauer collaborated with Dr Hugh Houghton, Reader in New Testament Textual Scholarship at the University of Birmingham and Deputy Director of ITSEE. Dr Houghton was able to apply a methodology for analysing the biblical text of commentaries developed as part of his European Research Council COMPAUL project, which confirmed that the Cologne manuscript preserves a Latin text of the Gospels from fourth-century Italy and has not been subject to contamination from the later 'Vulgate' gospel text produced by Jerome at the end of the century. These studies have been published in Studia Patristica (available in open access) and a collaborative volume on Fortunatianus arising from a conference held in Salzburg in 2015, which also featured a contribution by COMPAUL research fellow DDr Christina Kreinecker. In addition, Dr Dorfbauer attended the Ninth Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament in March 2015 and contributed a chapter to the open-access volume on Commentaries, Catenae and Biblical Tradition (Gorgias Press, 2016)

Dr Houghton has also collaborated with Dr Dorfbauer on an English translation of the commentary, the first ever to be made of this work, based on the critical edition of the Latin text published by Dr Dorfbauer. The translation is published this week by De Gruyter, and is made available as an open access download from the publishers' website thanks to funding from the European Research Council for the COMPAUL project (EU Seventh Framework Programme, grant agreement no. 283302). 


Dr Houghton said:

"Most of the works which survive from the earliest period of Latin Christianity are by later, more famous authors such as St Jerome, St Ambrose or St Augustine and have attained the status of classics. To discover a work which predates these well-known writers is an extraordinary find, for which Dr Dorfbauer deserves the highest congratulations. In addition, he has shared his material in a most open and collegial way while the critical edition took shape, and it has been a great pleasure to work with such a dedicated scholar. By producing an English translation at the same time as the publication of the Latin text of this work, I hope that many more people will be able to have access to this exciting new material for early Latin Christianity."

Dr Houghton has also prepared a Birmingham Brief on the rediscovery of the manuscript. which will be published later this week.