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Codex Vaticanus

Codex Vaticanus

(CODEX B), a Greek manuscript, the most important of all the manuscripts of Holy Scripture. It is so called because it belongs to the Vatican Library (Codex Vaticanus, 1209).

This codex is a quarto volume written in uncial letters of the fourth century, on folios of fine parchment bound in quinterns. Each page is divided into three columns of forty lines each, with from sixteen to eighteen letters to a line, except in the poetical books, where, owing to the stichometric division of the lines, there are but two columns to a page. There are no capital letters, but at times the first letter of a section extends over the margin. Several hands worked at the manuscript; the first writer inserted neither pauses nor accents, and made use but rarely of a simple punctuation. Unfortunately, the codex is mutilated; at a later date the missing folios were replaced by others. Thus, the first twenty original folios are missing; a part of folio 178, and ten folios after fol. 348; also the final quinterns, whose number it is impossible to establish. There are extant in all 759 original folios.

The Old Testament (Septuagint Version, except Daniel, which is taken from the version of Theodotion) takes up 617 folios. On account of the aforementioned lacunae, the Old Testament text lacks the following passages: Gen., i-xlvi,28; II Kings, ii,5-7,10-13; Pss. cv,27-cxxxvii, 6. The order of the books of the Old Testament is as follows: Genesis to Second Paralipomenon, First and second Esdras, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticle of Canticles, Job, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Esther, Judith, Tobias, the Minor Prophets from Osee to Malachi, Isaias, Jeremias, Baruch, Lamentations and Epistle of Jeremias, Ezechiel, Daniel; the Vatican Codex does not contain the Prayer of Manasses or the Books of Machabees.The New Testament begins at fol. 618. Owing to the loss of the final quinterns, a portion of the Pauline Epistles is missing: Heb., ix,14-xiii,25, the Pastoral Letters, Epistle to Philemon; also the Apocalypse. It is possible that there may also be some extra-canonical writings missing, like the Epistle of Clement. The order of the New Testament books is as follows: Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, Catholic Epistles, St. Paul to the Romans, Corinthians (I-II), Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Thessalonians (I-II), Hebrews.

In the Vatican Codex we find neither the Ammonian Sections nor the Eusebian Canons (q.v.). It is, however, divided into sections, after a manner that is common to it with the Codex Zacynthius (Cod. "Zeta"), an eighth-century Scriptural manuscript of St. Luke. The Acts of the Apostles exhibits a special division into thirty-six chapters. The Catholic Epistles bear traces of a double division, in the first and earlier of which some believe that the Second Epistle of Peter was wanting. The division of the Pauline Epistles is quite peculiar: they are treated as one book, and numbered continuously. It is clear from this enumeration that in the copy of the Scriptures reproduced by the Vatican Codex the Epistle to the Hebrews was placed between the Epistle to the Galatians and the Epistle to the Ephesians.

The Vatican Codex, in spite of the views of Tischendorf, who held for the priority of the Codex Sinaiticus, discovered by him, is rightly considered to be the oldest extant copy of the Bible. Like the Codex Sinaiticus it represents what Westcott and Hort call a "neutral text", i.e. a text that antedates the modifications found in all later manuscripts, not only the modifications found in the less ancient Antiochene recensions, but also those met with in the Eastern and Alexandrine recensions. It may be said that the Vatican Codex, written in the first half of the fourth century, represents the text of one of those recensions of the Bible which were current in the third century, and that it belongs to the family of manuscripts made use of by Origen in the composition of his Hexapla.

The original home of the Vatican Codex is uncertain. Hort thinks it was written at Rome; Rendel Harris, Armitage Robinson, and others attribute it to Asia Minor. A more common opinion maintains that it was written in Egypt. Armitage Robinson believes that both the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus were originally together in some ancient library. His opinion is based on the fact that in the margins of both manuscripts is found the same special system of chapters for the Acts of the Apostles, taken from the division of Euthalius, and found in two other important codices (Amiatinus and Fuldensis) of the Latin Vulgate. Tischendorf believed that three hands had worked at the transcription of the Vatican Codex. He identified (?) the first hand (B1), or transcriber, of the Old Testament with the transcriber of a part of the Old Testament and some folios of the New Testament in the Codex Sinaiticus. This primitive text was revised, shortly after its original transcription, with the aid of a new manuscript, by a corrector (B2 -- For the Old Testament B2 is quoted by Swete as Ba). Six centuries after (according to some), a third hand (B3,Bb) retraced the faded letters, leaving but very little of the original untouched. According to Fabiani, however, this retracing was done early in the fifteenth century by the monk Clemens (qui saeculo XV ineunte floruisse videtur). In modern times (fifteenth-sixteenth century) the missing folios were added to the codex, in order, as Tregelles conjectures, to prepare it for use in the Vatican Library. Old catalogues show that it was there in the fifteenth century. The addition to the New Testament was listed by Scrivener as Cod. 263 (in Gregory, 293) for the Epistle to the Hebrews, and Cod. 91 for the Apocalypse. Napoleon I had the codex brought to Paris (where Hug was enabled to study it), but it was afterwards returned to the Holy See, with some other remnants of Roman booty, and replaced in the Vatican Library. There are various collations, editions, and studies of the Vatican Codex. The collations are:

  • that of Bartolocci (Giulio di S. Anastasia), formerly librarian of the Vatican; it was done in 1669 and is preserved in manuscript -- Gr. Suppl. 53 of the Bibliothèque Natonale -- at Paris (quoted under the sigla: Blc);
  • that of Birch (Bch) published at Copenhagen in 1798 for the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, in 1800 for the Apocalypse, in 1801 for the Gospels;
  • that executed for Bentley (Btly) by the Abbate Mico about 1720 on the margin of a copy of the Greek New Testament which was published at Strasburg, 1524, by Cephalaeus; this copy is among Bentley's books in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge -- the collation itself was published in Ford's appendix to Woide's edition of the Codex Alexandrinus in 1799;
  • a list of the alterations executed by the original copyist or by his correctors, edited at the request of Bentley by the Abbate Rulotta with the aid of the Abbate de Stosch (Rlt); this list was supposed to have perished, but it is extant among the Bentley papers in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, under the sigla: B. 17.20;
  • in 1860 Alford, and in 1862 Cure, examined a select number of the readings of the Vatican Codex, and published the results of their labours in the first volume of Alford's Greek Testament.

Many other scholars have made special collations for their own purposes e.g. Tregelles, Tischendorf, Alford, etc. Among the works written on the Vatican Codex we may indicate: Bourgon, Letters from Rome" (London, 1861). In the second volume of the Catalogue of Vatican Greek manuscripts, executed according to the modern scientific method for the cataloguing of the Vatican Library, there is a description of the Codex Vaticanus.

As to the editions of this codex, the Roman edition of the Septuagint (1587) was based on the Vaticanus. Similarly, the Cambridge edition of Swete follows it regularly and makes use of the Sinaiticus and the Alexandrinus only for the portions that are lacking in the Vaticanus. The first Roman edition appeared in 1858, under the names of Mai and Vercellone, and, under the same names, a second Roman edition in 1859. Both editions were severely criticized by Tischendorf in the edition he brought out at Leipzig in 1867, "Novum Testamentum Vaticanum, post A. Maii aliorumque imperfectos labores ex ipso codice editum", with an appendix (1869). The third Roman edition (Verc.) appeared under the names of Vercellone (died 1869) and Cozza-Luzi (died 1905) in 1868-81; it was accompanied by a photographic reproduction of the text: "Bibliorum SS. Graecorum Cod. Vat. 1209, Cod. B, denou phototypice expressus, jussu et cura praesidum Bibliothecae Vaticanae" (Milan, 1904-6). This edition contains a masterly anonymous introduction (by Giovanni Mercati), in which the writer corrects many inexact statements made by previous writers. Until recently the privilege of consulting this ancient manuscript quite freely and fully was not granted to all who sought it. The material condition of the Vatican Codex is better, generally speaking, than that of its contemporaries; it is foreseen, however, that within a century it will have fallen to pieces unless an efficacious remedy, which is being earnestly sought for, shall be discovered.


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