Professor Thompson had completed his Presidential Address several months before his death on September 30, 1941. The preparation of the manuscript for printing was done by loyal younger associates. Published American Historical Review 47, no. 2 (January 1942): 225-44.

The Age of Mabillon and Montfaucon

“What is history?” is a question which has puzzled the minds of historians and philosophers and many other kinds of thinkers since before the Greeks. The prophets of Israel converted history into prophecy. Plato extended his argument to the extreme of reason and then reached his ideal climax on the wings of myth.1 St. Augustine made history a revelation of the will of God. In recent years there has been a growing inclination to regard history in the last analysis as idea. The late Hermann Kantorowitz not long ago wrote that “Men possess thoughts but ideas possess men.”2

Historic unity, the unity of history proper, is to be sought only in the history of universals, that is, in ideas. History is not a compilation of facts. The purpose of the serious historian is to trace the advancement of knowledge; not of all knowledge, but so much of it as is causative of human conduct. For the totality of man’s conduct is ultimately determined by the totality of man’s knowledge, and the prime movers of human affairs, I think it may be said, are Law and Government, Religion, Literature, and Art. The degree of culture of any country, of any epoch or period, is conditioned by the amount, the direction, and the diffusion of the knowledge of these elements.

If ideas are the criteria of history, it would seem that the sequence of interpretations of history in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries formed a great series of periods. The seventeenth century was the age of historical scholarship, notably in France; the eighteenth century was the age of rationalism in France and to a less degree in England. In Germany the Aufklärung began with Leibnitz and ended with Immanuel Kant. The Germans may be said to have put philosophy into history. It is, however, with French historical scholarship in the seventeenth century that I would deal in this discourse.

Interesting and informing as the Renaissance was, it was not eminently critical in its historical thought. Modern critical and interpretative historiography had its inception during the Reformation and Counter Reformation. Lutheranism and Calvinism were attacks on the historical foundation of the Roman Church. Historical criticism became a Protestant weapon, and documents were used as missiles. “Criticism was the problem bequeathed succeeding times by the Reformation. … The sixteenth century … had made an appeal to history and invited a scrutiny of the historical antecedents.”3 What the age needed was less knowledge than mental discipline, not so much science as a scientific habit of thought, not mere erudition but better scholarship.

The Roman Church was slow to take alarm over the Protestant appeal to history. It vainly endeavored to confine the dispute to questions of theology. Finally, however, the historical attack became so effective that Rome was compelled to fight history with history, to combat fire with fire. Since the Reformation was an appeal to history, the Counter Reformation was forced to use the same instrument, with incalculable importance to the development of critical historical scholarship.4

The politics and wars of the Reformation era curiously promoted and facilitated this new interest in history by bringing to light thousands of documents and other manuscript materials hitherto inaccessible and unknown. The dissolution of the monasteries in England under Henry VIII, the Peasants’ War and the War of the Schmalkaldic League in Germany, the Huguenot wars in France, which were accompanied by the pillage of monastic and cathedral libraries, threw upon the market vast quantities of manuscripts and other documents which could often be bought for a song. Scholars and book collectors soon awakened to the opportunity and began to salvage these treasures. The libraries of the new Protestant universities in Germany in the sixteenth century were almost wholly formed out of the loot of the monasteries.5 Manuscripts from Corbie and Fleury found their way into the libraries of De Thou, Pithou, Duchesne, and other French scholars of the sixteenth century. This condition was continued into the seventeenth century. Mazarin’s first great collection was scattered when the mob sacked his palace during the Fronde. The civil war in England saw the pillage of many an ecclesiastical library and the collections in the great country houses of royalist nobles. Even Oxford and Cambridge suffered. In Germany during the Thirty Years’ War, Gustavus Adolphus swept libraries into his grasp as a reaper binds the sheaves. Prague was almost stripped of books and manuscripts.6 And who has not heard of Tilly’s seizure of the rich library of Heidelberg University, which was given to the pope?

The result of war and plunder made possible historical study in many centers, but it was France that pioneered in this new historical research. The initiative was taken by Pierre Pithou (1539-96), of a distinguished family of French legists, a friend of the historian De Thou, who with him shared the glory of historical scholarship in the reign of Henry IV. Pithou’s dream of collecting and editing the sources of the history of France in the Middle Ages was later realized by the Benedictines of St. Maur.7

Pithou, however, was not alone in initiating the idea of collecting and editing documents. He shares that honor with André Duchesne (1584-1640), who was an indefatigable collector of manuscripts in a time when the French monasteries, as the English ones earlier, had suffered sack of their treasures and books by the ravages of the Huguenot wars. Part of his enormous collection of manuscripts passed into the possession of Colbert; part of it is preserved as the Collection Duchesne, in fifty-nine huge bound volumes, at the Bibliothèque nationale. Duchesne published a mere tithe of his enormous accumulations. He projected a gigantic work on the history of France in twenty-four folio volumes. The first fourteen volumes were to contain the writings of all the great historians of France from Gregory of Tours to the end of the fifteenth century. Ten additional tomes were to be devoted to the history of the provinces of France. The only part of the first series ever issued was the Historiae Francorum scriptores ad Pipinum usque regem, which was completed in five volumes by his son after his father’s death in a carriage accident in 1640. The only part of the provincial series ever published was the Historiae Normannorum scriptores antiqui (1619), in five volumes, which form Duchesne’s first and greatest historical work. The volumes were published without prolegomena or notes. As texts these have been indispensable to all students of Norman history until the nineteenth century, when new and critical editions of the Norman chroniclers began to supplant them. Duchesne enjoyed the favor of Richelieu, a native of the same province as himself, by whom he was appointed historiographer and geographer to the king. He may be truly called the founder of French historical scholarship.8

In methodology, French scholarship also led the way in Jean Bodin’s Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem (1566), the earliest manual of the kind.9 Chronology at the same time was put upon a scientific basis by J. J. Scaliger (1540-1609), whose Thesaurus temporum (1st ed., 1583) was inspired by his examination and reconstruction of the Eusebian Chronicle. “Scaliger’s great works in historical criticism”, says Mark Pattison,10 “outstripped any power of appreciation which the succeeding age possessed. … Only a scholar of comprehensive knowledge, here and there one … was capable of measuring the stride of Scaliger. … [He was] the founder of historical criticism”. His correspondence was as wide as Protestant Europe. Camden sent him a copy of his Britannia in 1594. In England, which had few Roman inscriptions, Scaliger was chiefly interested in libraries and was disappointed to find so few Greek works. But he was no dry-as-dust pedant. He was struck with the absence in England of seignorial jurisdiction; the literary charm of the border ballads; the beauty of Mary Stuart; the use of coal instead of wood in the north; the laziness of the fellows of Oxford and Cambridge.11

French legists and antiquarians also had their share in promoting the new historical scholarship. The great Cujacius’s Commentaries on Roman Law were published in 1578. Denis Gothofredus or Godefroy l’Ancien (1549-1621) edited an imposing array of works or collections of laws–Roman, feudal, ecclesiastical–a labor which his son, Jacques Godefroy (1580-1652), continued. His magnum opus is his edition of the Codex Theodosianus in six volumes, on which he labored for thirty years. The “paratitla” of his work have commanded the admiration of every student of Roman history from that time to the present. Gibbon, Mommsen, and Dill used it without stint.12

Such is the historical and bibliographical background of this Age of Erudition. It was an honorable heritage.

The intense devotion, the tireless application, the prodigiously productive capacity of the French historical scholars of the seventeenth century baffle the modern student’s understanding, even when it is remembered that there were then no newspapers, no periodicals, no fiction to dissipate the scholar’s time and attention; that the common subjects of education were much less than now; that public lectures and the telephone and radio did not distract the scholar’s mind; that he required only one language, Latin–or Greek in addition if he was a classicist or a theologian–in order to keep abreast of the world’s scholarship. Moreover, this wonderful scholarship was pursued without knowledge of the governments for the most part and entirely independently of governmental direction. The scholar was free from politics and the influence of political control. Even the world of letters and science hardly touched the world of historical research.

A striking fact to observe in this new era of scholarship is the cooperative nature of much of the labor. Group organization of scholarship was widely prevalent. This in itself stamps the age as one widely different from the Renaissance, in which individualism was so dominant a characteristic.13

The earliest example of such co-operative historical scholarship is the association of the Bollandist Fathers, a society of Jesuit scholars.14 In the first period of its history (1540-90) the Society of Jesus had conquered the hearts of men by sentimentalizing and idealizing the religious life. In its second period (1590-1715) it made a magnificent effort to capture a great field of historical scholarship. Until the seventeenth century no attempt had been made to apply the canons of criticism to that vast body of medieval literature known as the Acta sanctorum or Lives of the Saints. Previous workers in this field had been industrious compilers and pious commentators but were devoid of critical spirit or critical method.

In the course of centuries past the lives of the saints had become embellished with legendary matter and encrusted with apocryphal anecdotes and often with silly fables which had provoked the derision of humanists and Protestants. To rescue the lives of the saints from triviality and contempt and to establish their true nature and value as a great body of religious and historical literature were the purposes of the Bollandists. This stupendous project, begun by Roseweyde and Bollandus and continued by Henschen and Papebroche, is still in progress after three hundred years and has reached sixty-five folio volumes to date.

We pass from the Jesuit Bollandists to the Benedictines of St. Maur.

In the first quarter of the seventeenth century a new monastic reform movement was initiated almost everywhere in Europe but most of all in France. The reforms of Bursfeld in Germany, of Valladolid in Spain, of Monte Cassino in Italy, and the Congregation of the Feuillants in France are examples of the new spirit. The movement was most successful in France.

The Congregation of St. Maur, like the Society of Jesus, was a product of the Counter Reformation. It began in the abbey of St. Vannes in Verdun and by 1614 had reached such impressive dimensions that the French clergy in the States-General of that year recommended the application of the same discipline to the monasteries of all France. In that time the Three Bishoprics pertained to France, although ducal Lorraine was still a part of the German empire. This distinction, however, did not prevent many of the French abbeys from voluntarily adopting the reform. It was thought expedient, however, to establish a “congregation” independent of Lorraine, a measure which was approved by royal authority in 1618 and by Pope Gregory V in 1621. The congregation was named in honor of St. Maur, a favorite disciple of St. Benedict who had founded the abbey of Glanfeuil on the Loire, called after him St. Maur-sur-Loire, in the Merovingian age. In and near Paris the Congregation of St. Maur had three houses, the Blancs Manteaux, St. Germain des Prés, and St. Denis. By 1720 the congregation comprised 180 abbeys and priories, grouped in six provinces under the administration of a general who was appointed for life. But only the Paris group was distinguished for scholarship.15

The restoration of Benedictine scholarship, which had been the glory of Benedictinism in the Middle Ages, was the initial purpose of the Maurists and was initiated by Dom Tarisse, who became general in 1630. The movement encountered bitter opposition from the Trappists, who contended that piety, contemplation, prayer, and worship were the whole duty of monastic life. They were a modern offshoot of the Cistercians, who had never been advocates of higher education or scholarship. This attack was answered by Dom Mabillon in his Tractatus de studiis monasticis, a masterly demonstration of the virtue of scholarship.16

In the seventeenth century alone 105 writers may be distinguished amid this devoted circle of scholars. Their new historical research found its sources in the vast collections of documents possessed by the order throughout France. These “new” Benedictines were not mere antiquaries. First and last they were historians, who, with the aid of the auxiliary sciences of paleography, diplomatic, and chronology, published many new documents and re-edited many old works.

The first scholar-monk who attained eminence was Dom Luc d’Achery (1609-85), “the father of Maurist erudition”, who immortalized himself by the Spicilegium (Paris, 1655-67), a collection of thirteen quarto volumes of original and unpublished medieval documents, which he meticulously edited, although his health was so frail that for forty-five years he was unable to leave the infirmary of the abbey. In the latter years of the preparation of these immortal tomes D’Achery was assisted by a young member of the congregation named Jean Mabillon, destined to become not only the shining light of the Maurists, but, it may be said, the greatest historical scholar of the seventeenth century.

Jean Mabillon was born of peasant stock in 1632 in a village in Champagne.17 After studying at the University of Reims for the six-year course he entered the diocesan seminary in 1650; in 1651 he received the tonsure, and in 1652 the university granted him the degree of master of arts. He then entered the Abbey of St. Rémy at Reims, a house of the reformed Maurist Congregation, but did not remain there long due to ill health, which made it necessary that he move to one of the more rural houses of St. Maur. Undoubtedly his mental and emotional interests in the study of the past were stimulated by this early travel and study in the ancient monasteries. Later, the Congregation of St. Maur, the intellectual life of his country, and finally, to some extent, the philosophical ideas of his age exerted an even greater influence on his historical work.

We see indications of the working of the first of these influences, that of the monasteries where he lived, when Mabillon visited at St. Rémy the old church famous for its connection with the consecration of the kings of France and the cemeteries filled with the remains of the first Christians of Gaul. At Nogent, where he was sent in 1656, he studied the tombstones of the church of the monastery, at one time “unpaving almost the entire church in the hope of finding the tomb of Guibert, the most celebrated abbot of Nogent”. After being at Corbie for a time, where he profited by the use of its fine library, he was moved to St. Denis in 1663. Here, in this sanctuary of the French church and by the graves of the French kings, his interest in Christian antiquity and history appeared in full force. At this time Mabillon assisted Dom Claude Chantelon in editing the works of St. Bernard, a labor which was completed by Mabillon at St. Germain des Prés after the death of Dom Chantelon.

At St. Germain Mabillon had the incalculable advantage of having constant contact with the most distinguished historical scholars not only in France but in Europe. Dom Butler in his article on Mabillon has charmingly described the life of these accomplished scholars.

Their tastes and studies were shared by a few members of other religious orders in Paris and by a few secular priests and laymen; and on Sunday afternoons a number of these learned men would attend vespers at the Abbey and then adjourn to a room in the monastery to exchange news and views with the monks on all matters relating to ecclesiastical or mediaeval learning, antiquities, and art. … There used to be seen Du Cange, Baluze, Cotelier, Menestrier, Renaudot, Fleury, Tillemont, Pagi–to name only a few.18

Mabillon’s historical work, marked off rather carefully by the plans of the Maurist order, covered the centuries from St. Benedict through St. Bernard, centuries “during which the Benedictine order was the foremost association in Christendom”. In his writings he made several types of contributions to the science of history; his work included historical accounts, contributions to the field of diplomatics, ecclesiastical, dogmatic and liturgical studies, and archaeological work.

The first work of Mabillon, and one which showed his aptitude for historical research and his ability as a critic, appeared in 1667. It was S. Bernardi Abbatis primi Clarevallensis opera omnia. Prepared in three years, the edition was accepted as the work of a master. The prefaces and commentaries gave evidence of profound knowledge of the history of the twelfth century.

After this work had been published, Mabillon turned to the task for which he had been called to St. Germain des Prés, the arranging and editing of the Acta of the Benedictine saints, which had been collected by D’Achery for a general history of the Benedictine order. The first volume of the Acta sanctorum Ordinis S. Benedicti appeared in 1668; the other eight volumes were published between this time and 1701. They cover the period between the life of St. Benedict and the end of the eleventh century. The prefaces were written by Mabillon. In them he explained the chief events of each century (each tome of the Acta deals with a Benedictine century); he established the correct chronology of the popes and kings; he discussed points of interest about monasticism and the papacy; he cleared up such myths as that of Popess Joan and called attention to changes in religious customs. These prefaces were printed separately in a quarto volume of over six hundred pages in Rouen in 1732. Mabillon’s Acta of the Benedictine saints differed from the plan of the Acta sanctorum of the Bollandists, which arranged the lives according to the saints’ days of the year. The Benedictine Acta sanctorum adhere to chronological order, certainly a method better suited to historical study. The prefaces were a revelation of critical and interpretative insight. Early historians of the order had claimed some eighty Benedictine saints, but Mabillon would allow no more than twenty-five of these to have been Benedictines. Protest was made to the general chapter, and Mabillon was called upon to vindicate his historical method. He replied with a remarkable memoir, saying that he was quite willing not to write history at all but that if he wrote he must tell the truth; that the interests of history and real edification were the same. Never again was he challenged within his own congregation, though he had yet to encounter formidable criticism.

The Annales Ordinis S. Benedicti are entirely a historical account. They are based on the Acta and other documents that Mabillon and his friends had gradually collected in further travels. The first volume was published in 1703 after ten years of preparation. It gives a history of the birth and development of the Benedictine order from the end of the fifth century to the year 700. Volumes II, III, and IV appeared from 1704 to 1707, the year of Mabillon’s death. This unfinished work was carried on through two more volumes by several colleagues and successors. This brought the history of the order down to the middle of the twelfth century. This period was the limit of Mabillon’s knowledge. The words of the Abbé de Longuerue, one of the scholars who used to frequent the Sunday afternoon meetings at St. Germain, are true: “Le Père Mabillon savoit fort bien le 7, le 8, le 9, le 10, et le 11 siècles; mais il ne savoit rien ni en deça, ni au dela.”

In the interval between the Acta and the Annales, Mabillon had prepared his greatest work the De re diplomatica (1681). The work had a curious origin. Papebroche, one of the great Bollandist scholars, had been impressed with the uncertainties in medieval charters and title deeds. In Luxembourg he had discovered an old charter attributed to Dagobert I and become convinced of its spurious nature. On the basis of a study of this and other Merovingian documents, Papebroche then published a famous dissertation in the Bollandist Acta sanctorum which, among other things, attacked the authenticity of the fundamental charters of the great Benedictine abbey of St. Denis. The Benedictine order everywhere, especially the Maurists, were incensed, for they regarded Papebroche’s work as a reflection on their integrity and an attack on their property rights. Mabillon was delegated to frame a reply. He wisely decided not to write the usual “justification” but to keep the defense on a purely scholarly and scientific level. The De re diplomatica libri VI founded the science of diplomatics and Latin paleography and remains to this day a classic of its kind. Papebroche, with touching humility, was among the first to congratulate its author.

Already, even before the De re diplomatica, Mabillon had made several short trips outside of France in search of manuscripts. His great voyages were made in 1683 and in 1685-86, the first to Germany, the second to Italy. The king defrayed the expenses of both journeys, and he was commissioned to buy books and manuscripts for the royal library. These journeys were a sort of “progress”. He was lionized by princes, cardinals, bishops, and abbots. But Mabillon kept his head amid all this pomp. His lifelong friend and biographer, Dom Ruinart, describes his mode of traveling, often on foot with a modest pack on his back. He entered Rome at five o’clock in the morning purposely to avoid the grand meeting which his friends would have staged for him. Wherever possible he lodged in a religious house. The fruits of these two journeys were the Musaeum Germanicum and the Musaeum Italicum. An incident which occurred at Munich in 1683 sheets light on the simple life at St. Germain. When asked if the Bavarian ruler’s palace was as grand as that at Versailles, Mabillon replied that he had never seen Versailles. Later, it may be said, he was introduced to Louis XIV by Bossuet and Le Tellier, the archbishop of Reims.

For all his great abilities Mabillon had his limitations. It is too much, perhaps, to expect of him that interpretative analysis of character with which we are familiar today. But even for his age he had limitations. He accepted without hesitation what he found in an authentic source, the genuineness of which could not easily be rejected on paleographical, chronological, or geographical grounds. He fell short of the modern requirements of internal criticism. He had little conception of the principle of “authority” in use of a source other than the evidence of external criticism. He failed to perceive the importance of the source of a source. Nevertheless, in spite of defects Mabillon, as Lord Acton has written, “belongs to the family of pioneers, and … is one of the best known names in the line of discoverers from Valla … to Morgan … [and] although disciplined and repressed by the strict reform of Saint Maur, he rose above all his brethren to be, as an historians, eminently solid and trustworthy, as a critic the first in the world”.19

Mabillon died in 1707. His successor at St. Germain des Prés was Dom Ruinart, from whom we have a life of Mabillon, an edition of Gregory of Tours, and his most important work, the Acta primorum martyrum sincera et selecta. Ruinart died in 1709. The Congregation of St. Maur was at the height of its scholarship and influential favor in the middle of Louis XIV’s reign. Colbert, Le Tellier, Bossuet, and Fénelon were its patrons and well-wishers.

What Mabillon did for the history of the Latin Church in the Middle Ages, that Montfaucon did for the history of the Greek Church. In his own field of scholarship he was as original and as great as Mabillon. Bernard de Montfaucon was born in the department of the Aube in 1655 and died in 1741.20 He belonged to a noble family of Languedoc; in 1673, at the age of eighteen, he entered the army and served for two years in Germany. Among his papers preserved at the Bibliothèque nationale is a short autobiography, in which Montfaucon vivaciously relates how he came to be a scholar. As a boy in the paternal chateau at Roquetaillade he read all the books on which he could lay his hands, “surtout les historiens que je pus trouver”. Among these was a sixteenth century translation of Plutarch’s Lives by Amyot, “who made Plutarch speak the French language” in a way that had fascinated Montaigne (Essays, Bk. II, 10) a century before it charmed Montfaucon. Another book was a French translation of Osorius’s Navigations and Conquests of the Portuguese in the East Indies. He borrowed all the books he could, and a fortunate accident supplied him with many others. A relative of the family who had lost his fortune came to live at the chateau and brought a chest of books with him, which was stowed away in the garret. One day in rummaging around the curious lad discovered this chest and found that a rat had gnawed a corner of the box and that he could see papers and books within. He pried the lid off and unveiled a rich collection of books, most of them of a historical and geographical nature. “Je lisais”, he relates, “jusqu’à sept ou huit heures par jour les histoires de tous les pays, le livre des états et empires du monde, tous les histoires de France; les autres histoires en toutes langues, en italien et en espagnol.” Disillusioned of the world as a result of his experience in the army, Montfaucon joined the Maurist house in Toulouse in 1675, and in 1687 he was transferred to St. Germain des Prés. There Montfaucon began to edit those magnificent editions of the works of Athanasius (1698), Origen (1713), and St. John Chrysostom (1738), the last in thirteen folio volumes, which cost him twenty-three years of labor and were not superseded until the nineteenth century. Meanwhile during these years Montfaucon–to use his own words–“having finished the edition of St. Athanasius and being taught by experience that there was no possibility of perfecting the Greek fathers without searching the libraries of Italy”, in 1698 went to Italy. He was gone for three years. The fruit of that journey was not only a rich store of new manuscripts but his own precious Diarium Italicum, a classic in the history of European scholarship and coveted object of possession by many bibliophiles.21 The results of this tour were embodied in two volumes of fragments of the Greek fathers in 1707.

The greatest product of this Italian journey, however, was Montfaucon’s Palaeographia Graeca (1708), which did for medieval Greek paleography what Mabillon had done for medieval Latin paleography. In the preparation of this monumental work Montfaucon examined 11,630 manuscripts. His next labor was to compile the catalogue of the library of the Duc de Coislin, the prince-bishop of Metz, the whole of which was bequeathed to St. Germain and is now in the Bibliothèque nationale. His next excursion was into the field of archaeology, into which Mabillon had not hitherto ventured.

Archaeology had been pursued more as a pastime or hobby in the Renaissance, but it did not become a scholarly science until the seventeenth century. In France it began with Nicholas Claude Fabre de Peiresc (1580-1637), the first to study monuments from the historical point of view, who was followed by Jacques Spon (1647-85). La Petite Académie, out of which sprang in 1701 the Académie des Inscriptions, was established in 1663.22

The discovery of the tomb of the Merovingian king Childeric in Belgium in 1635 had stimulated interest in medieval archaeology, and the great French minister Colbert had cherished the plan of having a great work prepared giving an account of all the ancient Roman monuments in France with illustrative plates. Montfaucon more than fulfilled Colbert’s dream. His L’antiquité expliquée, “a vast treasury of classical antiquities”, illustrated with 1,120 large copperplate engravings and containing thousands of smaller illustrations, in fifteen huge volumes, was published by subscription between 1719 and 1724. In this great work Montfaucon “reproduced, methodically grouped, all the ancient monuments that might be of use in the study of religion, domestic customs, material life, military institutions and funeral rites of the ancients”.23 According to Sandys, “within two months the first edition of 1,800 copies, or 18,000 volumes, was sold off, and a new edition of 2,200 printed in the same year. All the fifteen volumes were translated into English. The Russian nobleman, Prince Kourakin, had a complete set, sumptuously bound, and packed in a special case to accompany him on his travels in Italy”.24

In 1739 Montfaucon endeared himself to all librarians and bibliophiles by producing in two folio volumes his Bibliothecabibliothecarum, which included all the catalogues of libraries that he had examined over forty years. In 1731 he was gathering materials for a projected work on French archaeology, the second part of which was to deal with the churches of France. In December of that year he read a paper on the subject before the Academy of Inscriptions; a foreign member who was present asked Montfaucon how old he was; he answered: “In thirteen more years I shall be a hundred.” Two days afterwards the last of the truly great scholars of the Congregation of St. Maur was dead. He was buried in the same abbey-church which contains the ashes of Mabillon.

One of the most winning figures among the inmates of St. Maur, who shares a reputation for charm with D’Achery, was Dom Felibien (1666-1719), who spent his life in the composition of a Histoire de l’abbaye royale de St. Denis (1706). Although Colbert had taken cognizance of these scholar-monks of St. Germain, Louis XIV had not and was hardly expected to do so. But a history of St. Denis interested him, for there were the tombs of his ancestors, and it was out of a dislike at having to look upon this place, the sight of which affected him unpleasantly, from the palace of St. Germain above the Seine, that the king built the palace at Versailles. Accordingly Dom Felibien received a summons to court, whither no other brother had hitherto been save Mabillon.

So much of the labor of the Benedictines of St. Maur was devoted to monastic literature that one might assume that all their labors dealt with the monastic side of ecclesiastical history. This is not the case. For another of their achievements was the Gallia Christiana in provincias distributa (16 vols., Paris, 1715-65).25 It was interrupted by the French Revolution and continued and completed by the Académie des Inscriptions in the nineteenth century. Ughelli’s Italia sacra had set the example for this work. It is the one instance in which Italian scholarship influenced that of France.

These scholars, and others like them, along with Molière and La Fontaine and Boileau and Racine, and Pascal and the Jansenist Port Royalists–how few men of science there were!–made the real glory of the reign of the Grand Monarque, a fact which Voltaire was the first to point out. What consummate scholars they were, and how modest! Compared with these men, how paltry and frivolous the figures of the court seem.

Other scholars there were in France of this time who were not of the fold of St. Germain des Prés, some of whom were as great as they. Port Royal was prevailingly given to philosophy and theology but had one historian of eminence. This was Le Nain de Tillemont (1637-98),26 of whom Gibbon said that “his inimitable accuracy almost assumes the character of genius”. At an early age he began to make those vast accumulations which culminated in his two monumental works: Memoires pour servir à l’histoire ecclésiastique des six premiers siècles, which extends to 513 a.d., in sixteen volumes (1693-1712), and his equally learned Histoire des empereurs et des autres princes qui ont régné durant les six premiers siècles de l’église, in four volumes (1690-1738). From the age of fourteen Tillemont was interested in Roman imperial and early church history. He used to rise at four in the morning and work until nine at night, except for meals and, after he became a priest in 1676, to say the offices. With the exception of a visit to Holland in 1685 he never left France and hardly even his house at Tillemont, where he resided after the dissolution of Port Royal in 1679. It has been written of him theft “he studied for study’s sake and had only the aim of truth”. Gibbon alludes to Tillemont’s History of the Roman Emperors as “so learned and exact a compilation” and to his “surefooted” erudition;27 and when writing of the religious disputes at Constantinople in 514 a.d. (chap. xlvii) he adds in a note: “Here I must take leave forever of that incomparable guide, whose bigotry is overbalanced by the merits of erudition, diligence, veracity and scrupulous minuteness.”28 The late Thomas Hodgkin described the same work as “a perfect digest of all the authorities bearing on every fact in Roman imperial history”.29

A far different sort of scholar was Étienne Baluze (1630-1718), wit, bon vivant, savant.30 He began his career as secretary and librarian to Pierre de Marca, the learned author of a Histoire de Béarn (1640), whom Mazarin made archbishop of Toulouse and who succeeded the notorious Cardinal de Retz as bishop of Paris in 1662, but who died in the same year. After some years as librarian to Le Tellier, Baluze in 1667 became librarian to Colbert, a post which he retained until 1700, seventeen years after the death of the minister. His reputation and mastery of French legal antiquities won him the chair of canon law at the Collège de France in 1670, which he held until 1713. Of his many works the most valuable is the Capitularia regum Francorum (2 vols., folio, Paris, 1677; 2d ed., 1780). The preface is a history of the capitularies which makes a landmark in the history of early medieval law. This manuscript, begun in collaboration with Marca on the basis of a manuscript from the Spanish monastery of Ripoli, was collated by Baluze with others which he found, one in the Vatican, one at St. Gall, another at Mont St. Michel, etc. To these texts he added the Formulae of Marculf, Pithou’s Glossary, and Sirmond’s Notae. His other most important work was a History of the Avignonese Popes.31 Baluze was a friend of almost every historical scholar of the time and a frequent visitor at St. Germain des Prés, where he collaborated with D’Achery and others. He left behind him three historical works of the first order, five collections of documents, eleven lesser books, and the Miscellanea, a manuscript collection of historical notes in seven volumes. He was disliked by pious Catholics for his rationalistic attitude toward legends of the saints, and he was an ardent advocate of Gallicanism and wrote several pamphlets in support of it.

Unlike any of the French scholars so far enumerated, in that first he was a layman and not of the clergy, and secondly that his subject was unique, was Charles Dufresne, seigneur Du Cange (1610-88).32 The sciences of paleography, diplomatic, and medieval Latin philology and linguistics were all born of French scholarship of the seventeenth century. Du Cange was the founder of the last, and, as in the case of Mabillon, there is a modern historical journal named in his honor–the Revue Du Cange.

Du Cange’s early education was received from the Jesuits; later he studied law at Orléans; in 1638 he abandoned the bar for historical research and returned from Paris to Amiens, where he had been born and where his father was royal provost. In the same year he married a daughter of Du Bois, a treasury official, and in 1647 purchased the office from his father-in-law, which gave him an independent income. In 1668 he established himself in Paris, where he died twenty years later. During this time he made friends with every distinguished historian there, notably with Mabillon and Baluze. Du Cange is best known for his glossary of medieval Latin (Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae Latinitatis) in three folio volumes (1678)33 and a corresponding glossary of medieval Greek in two volumes. Like Tillemont, Du Cange habitually worked from twelve to sixteen hours a day, and for the Latin glossary alone he examined upwards of six thousand manuscripts besides printed sources. Léon Gautier used to spur his students by saying: “Remember, gentlemen, that the great Du Cange worked for fourteen hours on his wedding day.” His linguistic ability, his wide and varied knowledge, his critical sense, his accuracy, probably exceeded that of any other scholar of the age. He was far from being merely “the lexicographer of the latest Latinity”.

Du Cange enjoys the singular reputation of having contributed as much to Byzantine studies as to medieval Latin studies. Indeed, it may be said that he almost created Byzantine historical scholarship. He had only one predecessor. It was the peril from the Osmanli Turks which first turned the minds of Western scholars to the serious study of the history of the Byzantine Empire. In the previous century Hieronymous Wolf (1516-80), who had learned Greek from Melanchthon and who was for some years the secretary and librarian of the rich merchant of Augsburg, Johan Jakob Fugger, and later, from 1557 to his death in 1580, rector of the newly founded gymnasium, had edited Suidas (1564) and published four volumes of Byzantine historians.34 Cardinal Mazarin, as regent of France during the minority of Louis XIV, possessor of the finest library in France and not without scholarship, conceived the idea of a French edition of all the Byzantine historians, which was continued through almost the entire reign of Louis XIV.35 In this great series Du Cange edited the texts of Anna Comnena, Zonaras, Cinnamus, and Villehardouin. In 1688, ten years after the appearance of his glossary of medieval Latin, Du Cange gave to the world the afore-mentioned glossary of medieval Greek. His edition of the Chronicon paschale was passing through the press when he died. Baluze published it, prefixed by a eulogy of Du Cange.

The number of Du Cange’s works would be incredible if the originals, all written in his own hand, were not still in evidence. His autograph manuscripts and his extensive and valuable library passed to his eldest son, Philippe Dufresne, who died unmarried four years later. François Dufresne, the second son, and two sisters then received the succession and sold the library, when the greater part of the manuscripts were purchased by the Abbé Du Champs, who handed them over to a bookseller called Mariette, who resold part of them to Baron Hohendorf. The remaining part was acquired by D’Hozier, the genealogist. But the French government, aware of the importance of all the writings of Du Cange, succeeded after much trouble in collecting the greater portion of these manuscripts, which are preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale.

The greatest of the historical scholars of France and the French Catholic Netherlands in the seventeenth century have now been passed in review. Naturally there were many others, but they were less original, less able than the giants of scholarship whom I have mentioned.

The scholars to whose labors I have paid my tribute are unknown names even to many modern historians, and the hundreds of folios on which they spent a lifetime gather dust on the shelves of great libraries. There is on their faded pages no touch of genius, only the evidence of amazing industry, of devotion so unfaltering, and of learning so vast that they humble us in these days of history making and history writing at a tempo of which the érudits never dreamed. They in their age laid the foundation for modern critical historical scholarship; they gave us the documents for a thousand years of history, and without documents there is no history. As one of the most distinguished of my predecessors in this presidency said nearly forty years ago, their work was not

… the mere fruit of laborious industry, purblind or indifferent as to relative values, and as to the higher uses of learning. … that a conscious purpose ran through these gigantic labors of accumulation, is plain from the intelligence and methodical skill with which the sciences auxiliary to history and to the study of the classics were then developed. … few of the mighty folios of that age are by reason of their subjects deemed useless by the modern student.

They “are still the inexhaustible quarry of the historian”.36 Is it not eminently fitting that we of other faiths, in a distant land and a century remote from them, should render our homage to the great names of the Age of Erudition?

James Westfall Thompson (1869–1941) specialized in the history of medieval and early modern Europe. He taught at the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley.



  1. William Temple, Nature, Man, and God (London, 1935), pp. 434-36. []
  2. Max Lerner, Ideas are Weapons (New York, 1939), p. 3. []
  3. Mark Pattison, Essays (2 vols., Oxford, 1889), II, 225. []
  4. G. Monod, “La réforme catholique”, Revue historique, CXXI (1916), 281-315. []
  5. G. A. E. Bogeng, Die grossen Bibliophilen: Geschichte der Büchersammler und ihrer Sammlungen (3 vols., Leipzig, 1922), III, 113-19. []
  6. See O. Walde, Storhetstidens litterära krigsbyten, en kultdturhistorisk-bibliografisk studie (2 vols., Uppsala, 1916-20); R. Ehwald, Zentralblatt für Bibliothekswesen, XVIII (1901), 434-63; C. P. Cooper, An Account of the Most Important Public Records of Great Britain (2 vols., London, 1832, Record Com.), I, 51. Isak Collijn’s katalog der Inkunabeln der Kgl. Universitäts-Bibliothek zu Uppsala (Uppsala, 1907) reveals that almost every book among 500 was part of the “Swedish loot”. []
  7. For a complete list of his works see La grande encyclopédie (Paris, 1886-1902), XXVI, 992. He wrote a great number of legal works, notably his edition of the Leges Visigothorum (1579). In classical literature he was the first who revealed the Fables of Phaedrus to the world (1596); he also edited Juvenal, Persius, and the Pervigilium Veneris (1585). []
  8. The principal works of André Duchesne are Les antiquités et recherches de la grandeur et majesté des rois de France (Paris, 1608), Les antiquités et recherches des villes, chateaux, etc., de toute la France (Paris, 1610), Histoire d’Angleterre, d’Écosse, et d’Irelande (Paris, 1614), Histoire des papes jusqu’à Paul V (Paris, 1619), Histoire des rois, ducs, et comtes de Bourgogne et d’Arles (Paris, 1619-28). Besides these Duchesne published a great number of genealogical histories of illustrious French families, of which the best is said to be that of the house of Montmorency. His Lives of the French Cardinals and of the Saints of France have been published by the Bollandists, Mabillon, and others. He published a translation of the Satires of Juvenal editions of the works of Abélard, Alain Chartier, and Étienne Pasquier. []
  9. Emil Menke-Gluckert, Die Geschichtschreibung der Reformation und Gegenrenformation (Leipzig, 1912), pp. 106-21; Ernst Bernheim, Lehrbuch der historischen Methode (6th ed., Leipzig, 1908), pp. 217-20. []
  10. Essays, I, 132-34. []
  11. Scaliger’s removal to Leyden in 1590 to succeed Lipsius, who had turned Catholic, is a landmark in sixteenth century scholarship. See the Autobiography of Joseph Scaliger, translated into English by G. W. Robinson, with selections from Scaliger’s letters, his testament, and the funeral orations by Daniel Heinsius and Dominicus Baudius (Cambridge, 1927). For further information see Jacob Bernays, Joseph Justus Scaliger (Berlin, 1855), reviewed at length in the Quarterly Review, CVIII (1860), 34-81; Pattison, Essays, Vol. I, Nos. vi-vii, and consult the index of the same author’s Isaac Casaubon, 1559-1614 (2d ed., Oxford, 1892); John Edwin Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship (3 vols., Cambridge, 1903-1908), II, 199-204; and Eug. and Ém. Haag, La France protestante (10 vols., Paris and Geneva, 1846-59), VII, 1-26. []
  12. The Godefroys, father and son, were Huguenots. The former was professor of law in Heidelberg University from 1600 to 1621, when he was driven out by Tilly’s sack of Heidelberg, in which he lost his library. Jacques Godefroy was born at Geneva and spent his life there. His brother, Theodore Godefroy (1580-1649), forsook Protestantism and became a Catholic and resided in France, where he was appointed royal historiographer in 1670 and employed in an ambassadorial capacity on several occasions. He died at Munster in 1649. He was a copious historian. For complete lists of the works of all three Godefroys see La grande encyclopédie, xvIII, 1145-47. []
  13. The best brief accounts are found in Auguste Molinier, Les sources de l’histoire de France (Paris, 1901-1906), V, clix-clxx; Ed. Fueter, Histoire de l’historiographie moderne (Paris, 1914), pp. 381-411, with excellent bibliographies. The best accounts in English arc G. N. Clark, The Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 1929), chap. xvi, and Preserved Smith, History of Modern Culture: The Great Renewal (New York, 1934), chap. vi. The intellectual atmosphere of the new age is analyzed and interpreted in the admirable work by Paul Hazard, La crise de la conscience européenne, 1680-1715 (3 vols., Paris, 1935). See especially J. Franklin Jameson, “The Age of Erudition”, Phi Beta Kappa address at the University of Chicago, June 12, 1905, printed in the University Record, Vol. X, No. i (June 22, 1905). This remarkable essay by the late dean of American historians has not been reprinted and is practically inaccessible. []
  14. The literature on the Bollandists and the Acta sanctorum is very large. See the article by Ch. De Smedt in the Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1913), II, 630-39, with copious bibliography; Peter Guilday, Church Historians (New York, 1926), pp. 190-211, on “Bollandus”, with bibliography; the article on Bollandus in the Biographie nationale de Belgique (Brussels, 1866-1919), I, 630-41; Hippolyte Delehaye, À travers trois siècles: L’oeuvre des Bollandistes, 1615-1915 (Brussels, 1921), trans. into English as The Work of the Bollandists through Three Centuries, 1615-1915 (Princeton, 1922); id., Les légendes hagiographiques (3rd rev. ed., Brussels, 1927), trans. from the 2d ed. by Mrs. V. M. Crawford as The Legends of the Saints: An Introduction to Hagiography (London and New York, 1907); F. Baix, “Le centenaire de la restauration du Bollandisme”, Revue d’histoire ecclesiastique, XXXIV (1938), 270-96; De Smedt’s essay on the founders of the Bollandists in the [Mélanges] À Godefroid Kurth (Liége, 1899), I, 297 ff.; “The Bollandist Acta sanctorum“, Catholic World, XXVII (1878), 756-65, and XXVIII (1878-79), 81-87; Aurelio Palmieri, “The Bollandists”, Catholic Historical Review, New Series, III (1923), 341-67 and 517-29; Robert Lechat, “Les Acta sanctorum des Bollandistes”, ibid., VI (1920-21), 334-42; Sabine Baring-Gould, The Lives of the Saints (new rev. ed., 16 vols., Edinburgh, 1914), Vol. I, introduction; H. Thurston, in The Tablet, Apr. 8, 1922; B. Aubé, “Les travaux des Bollandistes”, Revue des deux mondes, LXXIII (1885), 169-99; Dom Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pitra, Études sur la collection des Actes des Saints par les RR. PP. Jesuites Bollandistes (Paris, 1850); Charles Dejob, De l’influence du Concile de Trente sur la littérature et les beaux-arts chez les peuples catholiques (Paris, 1884), chap. iii; Ernest Renan, Études d’histoire religieuse (7th ed., Paris, 1864), pp. 301-15; Delehaye, La méthode hagiographique (Brussels, 1934): G. F. Stokes, “The Bollandists”, Contemporary Review, XLIII (1883), 69-84; F. C. Burkitt and others, Franciscan Essays, Vol. II (Manchester, 1932). []
  15. Most of the literature pertaining to the Benedictines of St. Maur has to do with Mabillon. The following are general references. Dom Edmond Martène, Histoire de la Congrégation de Saint-Maur, new ed. by Dom G. Charvin (5 vols., Ligugé, 1928-31); Émile Chavin de Malan, Histoire de d. Mabillon et de la Congrégation de Saint-Maur (Paris, 1843), and review of the same in the Dublin Review, XXI (1846), 217-46; Emmanuel de Broglie, Mabillon et la société de l’abbaye de Saint-Germain des Prés (2 vols., Paris, 1888), and a review of the same by Lord Acton in the English Historical Review, III (1888), 585-92, reprinted in his Historical Essays and Studies (London, 1907), pp. 459-71, in which he has written that “the amiable weaknesses of biographers appear . . . in admiration of the monk, not of the scholar. The worth of the book consists in extracts from the archives of the abbey of St. Germain.” See also A. Giry’s notice in Moyen âge, I (1888), 161-71; Gustave Lanson, “L’érudition monastique aux xviie et xviiie siècles”, Hommes et livres (Paris, 1895), pp. 25 ff.; Alphonse Dantier, Rapports sur la correspondance inédite des Bénédictins de Saint-Maur (Paris, 1857), comprising 115 letters of D’Achery, Mabillon, Montfaucon, Durand, Durban, Martène, Massuet, and Bucelin, from 1663 to 1733; Antoine Valery, ed., Correspondance inédite de Mabillon et de Montfaucon avec l’Italie (3 vols., Paris, 1846), and a review of this entitled “The French Benedictines”, in the Edinburgh Review, LXXXIX ( 1849), 1-47; A. Ettinger, “Correspondance des Bénédictins de Saint-Maur avec le Monte Cassin”, a register of 133 letters, from 1671 to 1737, published in Rivista storica benedettina, Jan.-Feb., 1913; Martène, Voyage littéraire de deux religieux Bénédictins de la Congrégation de Saint-Maur (2 vols., Paris, 1717-24), an account of a tour in search of material in France, Germany, Switzerland, and the Low Countries; Ph. Tanizey de Larroque, “Les Bénédictins de Saint-Maur à Saint-Germain des Prés”, Revue des questions historiques, LXI (1897), 536-48; Joseph Urban Bergkamp, Dom Jean Mabillon and the Benedictine Historical School of Saint-Maur (Washington, 1928); Sir James Stephen, Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography (2 vols., London, 1850), I, 387-430. []
  16. This work was originally written in the French language, a fact significant of the popular appeal it was intended to make, and was translated into Latin by Joseph Porta and printed at Venice in three parts, 1729, 1730, 1732. This Latin version was widely circulated in Italy and Germany. The original French edition is a rare work, and the Latin edition is not common. []
  17. The literature on Mabillon is large. In addition to the more general works on the Maurists cited in n. 15 above, see Fueter, pp. 387-89; the sketch by Mabillon’s friend, Dom Thierry Ruinart, Abrégé de la vie de Dom Jean Mabillon (Paris, 1709); Mélanges et documents publiés à l’occasion du 2e centenaire de la mort de Mabillon (Ligugé and Paris, 1908), with articles by leading scholars and a bibliography by H. Stein, pp. xxxv-xlvii; the articles on Mabillon in the Catholic Encyclopedia, IX, 479-81, and La grande encyclopédie, XXII, 853; Sandys, II, 293-98; Richard Rosenmund, Die Fortschritte der Diplomatik seit Mabillon (Munich and Leipzig, 1897), pp. 9-13; Ph. Denis, “Dom Mabillon et sa méthode historique”, Revue Mabillon, VI (1910-11), 1-64; Dom J. M. Besse, “Les correspondants cisterciens de Dom Luc d’Achery et de Dom Mabillon”, ibid., VIII (1912-13), 311-25; and other articles in this journal. There is a long bibliography in Bergkamp, pp. 116-19. []
  18. Downside Review, XII (1893), 119-20. []
  19. Acton, Historical Essays, p. 460. []
  20. De Broglie, La société de l’abbaye de Saint-Germain des Prés au dix-huitième siècle: Bernard de Montfaucon et les Bernardins, 1715-1750 (2 vols., Paris, 1891), a better work than his life of Mabillon. See also the article by Louis Bréhier in the Catholic Encyclopedia, X, 539-40; La grande encyclopédie, XXIV, 236; Sandys, II, 385-89; Edinburgh Rev., LXXXIX, 1-47, and XCIV (1851), 12-13. []
  21. Paris, 1702. An English translation appeared in 1712. The Travels of the Learned Father Montfaucon from Paris through Italy. Containing I. An Account of many Antiquities … II. The Delights of Italy … III. Collections of Rarities … Made English from the Paris edition, with cuts. The book was dedicated to Cosmo III, grand duke of Tuscany, whose kindness to him Montfaucon acknowledged with gratitude. []
  22. For an account of the development of French archaeology in the seventeenth century see an article by the late Salomon Reinach in Revue celtique for April, 1898, and consult Sandys, II, index. []
  23. Brehier, Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. X. []
  24. Sandys, II, 387. Montfaucon’s work supplementary to this work, Les monuments de la monarchie française (5 vols.), appeared between 1729 and 1733, but it is much inferior to his previous work. []
  25. Contents analyzed in Alfred Franklin, Les sources de l’histoire de France (Paris, 1877), 465-85. For a historical account see L.-F. Guérin, Rev. Ques. Hist., XI (1872), 199-212. []
  26. There is an old life of Tillemont by Michel Tronchay, Idée de la vie et de l’esprit de M. L. de Tillemont (Nancy, 1706). The best account of his life and works is to be found in a series of articles in the Journal des savants, 1851, p. 625; 1852, pp. 316 and 386; 1853, pp. 503 and 703; 1854, p. 47. []
  27. History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. by J. B. Bury (London, 1896-1902), III, 48, n. []
  28. Ibid., V, 132, n. []
  29. Italy and her Invaders (2d ed., Oxford, 1892), I, 117. []
  30. On Baluze see La grande encyclopédie, V, 183-85; Charles Godard, De Stephano Baluzio (Paris, 1901), a thesis for the agrégé d’histoire; and Émile Bourgeois and Louis André, Les sources de l’histoire de France, xviie siècle (7 vols., Paris, 1913-34), II, 332-33. []
  31. Vitae paparum Avenionensium; hoc est historia pontificum Romanorum qui in Gallia sederunt ab anno Christi MCCCV usque ad annum MCCCXCIV … notas adjecit (2 vols., Paris, 1693; reprint, 4 vols., Paris, 1914-27). []
  32. Sandys, II, 289-90; article in Nouvelle biographie générale, ed. by Hoefer (46 vols., Paris, 1862-77), XIV, 911-18; Léon Feugère, Étude sur la vie et les ouvrages de Du Cange (Paris, 1852); La grande encyclopédie, XIV, 1175; V. de Nors, “Du Cange et ses biographes”, Rev. Deux Mondes, XIX (1853), 1237-51. []
  33. Revised ed., 6 vols., Paris, 1733-36; latest ed. by Léopold Favre, 10 vols., Niort, 1883-87. []
  34. On Wolf see Sandys, II, 268-69. []
  35. Byzantinae historiae scriptores (39 vols. [or 47, or 27, or 23, according to the arrangement], Paris, 1645-1711). Best edition printed in Holland, 11 vols., 1672-74, with good Latin translations froth the Greek. Contents listed in August Potthast, Bibliotheca historica medii aevi (2d ed., 2 vols., Berlin, 1896), I, xlvi. Many of the texts from this collection were later reprinted in the Abbé Migne’s Patrologia Graeca. Extracts translated into French by Louis Cousin in his Histoire de Constantinople (8 vols., Paris, 1672-74). About the same time, in Germany, Martin Hanke (Hankius) published a dissertation entitled De Byzantinarum rerum scriptoribus graecis liber (Leipzig, 1677). []
  36. Jameson, as cited in n. 13 above. []