BMCR 2021.04.32

The Cambridge Gloss on the Apocalypse

, The Cambridge Gloss on the Apocalypse. Cambridge University Library Dd.X.16. Corpus Christianorum in translation, 36. Turnhout: Brepols, 2020. Pp. 167. ISBN 9782503582405 €35,00.

Those of us who first studied patristic authors and their vast medieval legacy in the 1970s had to labor through the often unreliable and difficult-to-access volumes of the Patrologia Latina, which long before electronic editions could not be checked out of libraries and, at Stanford at least, had to be read in the bowels of cheerless stacks. Since then we have enthusiastically welcomed the comprehensive, dependable, and precise critical editions published by Brepols in Corpus Christianorum Series Latina (CCSL) and Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis (CCCM). A Brepols editor told me some twenty years ago that the Belgian house published more books in medieval studies than all American university presses combined—which is probably even more the case today—but if it only just published the Corpus Christianorum volumes, it would be making a substantial and enduring contribution to the study of the Latin Middle Ages.

Over the past decade, Brepols has augmented its place in medieval studies by publishing translations from its Latin and Greek series in modern European languages as Corpus Christianorum in Translation (CCT). In the Cambridge Gloss on the Apocalypse (CCT 36), Colin McAllister—an assistant professor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs; founder of Through a Glass Darkly, an annual symposium on apocalyptic; and editor of The Cambridge Companion to Apocalyptic Literature (2020)—translates a Hiberno-Latin text copied near Tours in the ninth or tenth century and edited by Roger Gryson in 2013 as CCSL 108G: Incerti auctoris Glossa in Apocalypsin e codice Bibliothecae Vniversitatis Cantabrigiensis DD.X.16. Since Brepols usually publishes Carolingian and later Latin texts in its Continuatio Mediaevalis series, one may wonder why this later text is edited in the Series Latina. It is due to its importance in reconstructing the Apocalypse commentary of the late fourth-century North African Donatist, Tyconius. Gryson accomplished this reconstruction in his ground-breaking edition published in 2011 as CCSL 107A (and translated into French as CCT 10), which he pursued by also editing related Latin Apocalypse commentaries. These include the two-volume Beatus of Liébana, Tractatus de Apocalipsin (CCSL 107B, 107C) published in 2012, indispensable for art historians studying the fascinating illustrated Beatus manuscripts produced from the tenth through the thirteenth centuries. McAllister’s translation, therefore, is not only valuable in its own right as exemplifying the concise verse-by-verse exegesis favored by Irish commentators known as commaticum interpretandi genus, but also for shedding light on the continuing influence of Tyconius.

I have neither the training nor the skills to qualify as an editor or translator, but the several passages of McAllister’s translation that I checked against Gryson’s edition (I confess all are passages related to Antichrist) gives me confidence in its reliability. As he explains in his “Notes to the Translation,” McAllister has elided some of the more “cumbersome” locutions of the original. For example, he tightens the literal opening, “‘Apocalypse’ is Greek: moreover it is interpreted ‘revelation.’ And it is called a revelation for this reason, because it was to be revealed . . . ,” rendering it as “‘Apocalypse’ is Greek; it is interpreted ‘Revelation.’ And therefore it is called a revelation because it was to be revealed . . .” (20). Readers will be grateful for such judicious interventions.

After noting Guy Lobrichon’s discovery of the Cambridge manuscript in the 1990s, the brief introduction discusses the anonymous author’s eighth-century monastic context, the influence of Tyconius and other texts related to and influencing the gloss (such as the “Irish Reference Bible”), and patristic sources such as Jerome, Gregory the Great, and Augustine, as well as Eusebius and Isidore of Seville. Particularly helpful is McAllister’s list of the commentary’s “unusual features” (15) such as the exegete’s propensity to provide multiple interpretations for specific biblical phrases.

Although following Tyconius in its emphasis on present heresy and in “muting speculation about an imminent endtime scenario” (11), as McAllister states, the Cambridge gloss does refer to Antichrist and particularly to his persecutions in the Last Days. The commentary reveals a genuine tension between the principal Tyconian moralized and ecclesiological understandings of Revelation and persistent prophetic and eschatological readings clearly also available to the author. The exegete repeatedly and often quickly moves from one approach to another. For example, the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11:3 are first identified as Elijah and Enoch, a view long established in discussions expecting the prophet and patriarch to preach against Antichrist, and then are immediately allegorized as the Church: “AND I SHALL GRANT MY TWO WITNESSES, that is, Elijah and Enoch, as some say, or the Church, which testifies from the two laws. POWER TO PROPHESY, that is, in the time of the persecution of Antichrist” (100). The end and its violent persecutions of the faithful may not be imminent, but they are certain. Such attempts to accommodate two or three— sometimes radically differing—interpretations of the biblical text are best exemplified by the two contradictory analyses of the number of the Beast (Rev. 13:18). It is first enumerated as “616” (an early textual reading) and explicated as referring to Christ (114) and then as the more customary “666” and explained as designating Antichrist (115-16).

The translation is accompanied by concise textual notes, generally identifying sources but occasionally briefly commenting on an interpretation or citing a scholarly discussion. Bibliographies of primary and secondary sources, an illustration of a manuscript folio (revealing a clear, even beautiful, Carolingian miniscule hand), and four indices—of Scripture, non-scriptural sources, names, and subjects—complete the scholarly apparatus of this handsomely produced and excellent translation.