The lives of the apostles after Pentecost are described in the books of the New Testament only in part. Details of their missionary wanderings to the remote corners of the world are found in writings not included in the biblical canon, known as the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. In the early Middle Ages these originally Greek writings were translated and rewritten in Latin and circulated under the title Virtutes apostolorum. These texts became immensely popular. They were copied in numerous manuscripts, both as a comprehensive collection with a chapter for each apostle and as individual texts, echoing the needs of monastic and other religious communities that used these texts to celebrate the apostles as saints.
The First International Summer School on Christian Apocryphal Literature (Strasbourg, 2012) concentrated on the transmission of the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles in the Latin world. This volume also highlights the use of the Bible in the apocryphal Acts, the imagination of the apostles in early Christian art and poetry, and the apocryphal Acts in early medieval print. Other contributions concern the study of Christian apocryphal literature in general and in the context of the Strasbourg Summer School in particular.
Els Rose (Utrecht University) teaches medieval Latin. She studied the transmission of the Virtutes apostolorum between ca. 750 and 1250, preparing an edition for the Corpus Christianorum, Series Apocryphorum. She is the author of ‘Ritual Memory’ (2009), a monograph on the liturgical use of the Virtutes apostolorum, and has published widely on these texts and their manuscript transmission.
The volume opens with a presentation to the Strasbourg Summer School on Christian apocryphal literature and an introduction to the articles published in this volumeRose.
The first article offersa historiographic overview of the study of Christian apocyrphal literature by Rémi Gounelle’s article is a state of the art that builds on the new approaches to apocryphal literature developed by the group of editors linked to the editorial series Corpus Christianorum series apocryphorum. It presents a definition of apocrypha, characterizes the writings that are collected under this umbrella and focuses on the memorial character of these texts as well as their quality of being ‘founding texts’. Gounelle dismisses the idea that the apocrypha were ‘popular texts’ by revealing the multiple layers of meaning by which this literature is often characterized. The article is completed with a discussion of formal features and a classification of the development of Christian apocryphal literature in five phases.
The core of the volume (Rose, Prot, Steinová) deals with the medieval Latin transmission of the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. While Rose gives a general introduction on how and why this Latin transmission took place, Prot and Steinová explore the details of manuscript transmission (Prot) and the origin of individual texts through an analysis of biblical excerpts in these texts (Steinová).
Rose offers an introduction to the Virtutes apostolorum in their manuscript context. An introductory section on the importance of the apostles on the Christian calendar, both as individuals and as a group, is followed by an exploration of how and why the apocryphal Acts of the apostles were rewritten and/or translated into Latin in the early Middle Ages. An assessment of the notion of collection is followed by an analysis of manuscripts in which the VA are found. The observation of marks of liturgical use in almost all manuscripts leads to a presentation of the role the VA played in medieval liturgical prayer and chant.
Prot presents two principles that enable the establishment of a network of manuscripts on the basis of variants. As a point of departure he assumes that variants in the manuscripts are not necessarily incidents and mistakes, but can also be conscious acts of rewriting. In that light, the addition of textual markers that make the text more explicit seems to represent a tendency of innovation. In the presentation of his findings he zooms in on one text in particular, the Virtutes Bartholomaei.
Steinová studies the occurrence of biblical references in the Virtutes Petri and Virtutes Pauli in order to come to a more precise indication of time and place of origin of these texts. Both the quantity of biblical references, the particular Bible translations that are echoed by them and the specific character of the third source through which biblical references entered the Virtutes apostolorum (viz. the pseudo-Clementine Recognitiones) indicate an origin of the texts on Peter and Paul in Italy between the fifth and the ninth century.
Related to the topic of Latin rewritings of the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles but dealing with a different period is Dijkstra’s article on the image of the apostles in early Christian art and poetry. Dijkstra also concentrates on a different object of study : not the handwritten transmission, but works of art and poetry that portray the apostles in the centuries following the closure of the biblical canon. Dijkstra presents innovative forms of both poetry and pictorial art deployed by Christians in the fourth and fifth centuries that focus on the apostles. Both in poetry and in art the apostles are presented as a group, whereas Peter and Paul are often singled out pars pro toto. Apocryphal material is present in poetry but less so in the pictorial arts.
The final part of the collection consists of the contributions of participants in the Summer School, who studied the earliest printed editions of the Virtutes apostolorum in comparison with the medieval manuscripts. This assignment was performed in the Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire de Strasbourg.
The volume is completed with a bibliography compiled by Rémi Gounelle, including editions and translations of as well as studies on Christian apocryphal literature in the broadest sense.