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Gennadius and Jerome: Discontinuity in the De viris illustribus Tradition

Christopher Blunda

University of California, Berkeley

Since at least the sixth century, Gennadius of Marseilles' continuation of Jerome's De viris illustribus was transmitted with its literary predecessor (Feder, 1933). Sharing a common format and lacking an authorial preface of its own, Gennadius' catalog of Christian authors (c. 468) has generally been read as a simple extension of Jerome's (392/3) rather than a work in its own right. This paper examines Gennadius' portrayal of Jerome in De viris illustribus by interrogating instances where he is mentioned either directly by name or indirectly by allusion. It argues that Gennadius purposefully minimized his own visibility in the text in order to assume more fully the Hieronymian authorial mantle, which in turn enabled him to undermine Jerome's reputation safely through the use of figured speech (Ahl, 1984). Gennadius was driven not by personal animus but instead by a desire to rehabilitate Origen's theological legacy, which Jerome had been instrumental in having condemned at the turn of the fifth century.

Early studies have investigated the relationship between Gennadius and Jerome chiefly from the perspective of the manuscript tradition (Bernoulli, 1895; Richardson, 1896; Feder, 1933) but also through Quellenforschung (Czapla, 1898). Only in the 1970s was it observed that Gennadius had organized the chapters of his text differently than had Jerome (Pricoco, 1979). Since that time, classical scholarship has investigated ancient historians' efforts to assert and to maintain their authority through engagement with the traditions of their predecessors (Marincola, 1997) but discussions of Gennadius' portrayal of Jerome have remained limited in scope, although they have noted important points of tension (Mathisen, 2009; Denecker 2017). Using insights from scholarship devoted to ancient historiography, this paper reevaluates Gennadius' portrayal of Jerome in his continuation of De viris illustribus in order to provide an interpretation that is consistent both historically and textually.

First I consider Jerome's epistolary preface to De viris illustribus and Gennadius' reasons for not composing one of his own. Jerome's explanation that De viris illustribus was comprehensive and impartial and that its author spoke for a united church equally suited Gennadius almost eight decades later. A new preface was neither necessary nor desirable: the success of Jerome's work as a reference catalog of important ecclesiastical writers and their texts (Whiting, 2015) combined with Gennadius' view toward the theological legacy of Origen allowed him to disseminate his message effectively while remaining hidden in plain sight.

Next I turn to Gennadius' portrayal of Jerome. Whereas Jerome had concluded his work with a lengthy, self-aggrandizing autobiographical chapter written in the first person, Gennadius began his with a subtle criticism of Jerome's linguistic competence written in the third person (De viris illustribus 1), which attempted to shape how readers would interpret subsequent chapters. The chapter devoted to Rufinus of Aquileia (De viris illustribus, 17), Jerome's erstwhile friend and then rival in the Origenist Controversy, provides the focal point for the paper. There Gennadius lavishly praised Rufinus' translations from Greek into Latin — an area in which Jerome had sought to establish his own preeminence — and even contended that Rufinus had made available to the Latin church the greater part of Greek literature. As part of this discussion, Gennadius identified Jerome as a translator of Origen's texts, which demonstrated inconsistency between Jerome's positions regarding Origen and thus the superficiality of his criticisms. Gennadius further advanced this point when he recalled that Rufinus, inspired by God and writing for the benefit of the church, had been forced to defend himself in two books against an obtrectator inspired by aemulatio, a reference to the Apologia contra Hieronymum, which was written at the height of the Origenist Controversy. Placed beside his cautiously positive view of Origen elsewhere in the text (De viris illustribus 19, 31), Gennadius' effort to undermine Jerome should therefore be understood in relation to the aftermath of the Origenist Controversy.

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Late Antique Textualities

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