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Bernard de Montfaucon

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Montfaucon , BERNARD OR, French scholar, b. in 1655, at the chateau de Soulatge, Department of Aude, arrondissement of Carcassone; d. in Paris, at the Abbey of St-Germain-des-Pres, in 1741. He was the son of Timoleon de Montfaucon and of Flore de Maignan. His family, originally of Gascony, had settled in Languedoc after the Albigensian Crusade of the thirteenth century; its principal seat was the chateau of Roquetaillade (arrondissement of Limoux), where Bernard was reared. He was instructed by Pavilion, Bishop of Aleth, his father’s friend, and in 1672, at the age of thirteen, he entered the Academie des Cadets at Perpignan, to prepare for a military career. After his father’s death, he left home with his relative, the Marquis d’Hautpol, a captain of grenadiers in the Regiment of Languedoc, and served as a volunteer under Turenne (1673). He went through the campaign of Alsace, was at the battle of Marienthal, and fell dangerously ill at Saverne. In pursuance of a vow made to the Blessed Virgin, he then returned to his own country, resolved upon entering religion. On May 13, 1676, he made his profession in the Benedictine monastery of Durade, at Toulouse. Being sent to the Abbey of Soreze, he there learned Greek, making rapid progress. He next spent eight years at the priory of la Grasse (Aude). Claude Martin, assistant superior of the Congregation of St-Maur, noted his zeal and caused him to be sent to the Abbey of Sainte-Croix at Bordeaux. Finally, in 1687, he was transferred to Paris, to the Abbey of St-Germain-des-Pres, which, under the rule of Mabillon, had become one of the chief centers of French erudition. He was then chosen to assist in preparing the edition of the Greek Fathers which the Benedictines had undertaken. To perfect his own training, he also began the study of Hebrew, Chaldean, Syriac, and Coptic, as well as that of numismatics, and in 1694 was appointed curator of the numismatic collection at St-Germain-des-Pres.

In 1690 Montfaucon had published a treatise on “La verite de l’histoire de Judith”. The monumental edition of the works of St. Athanasius, on which he labored with Dom Pouget and Dom Lopin, appeared in 1698 and was well received (3 vols., folio, Paris; reproduced in P.G., XXV-XXVIII). Before undertaking new patristic labors, he resolved to study the manuscripts in the libraries of Italy. Obtaining permission in 1698, he set out with Dom Paul Briois. At Milan he made the acquaintance of Muratori; at Venice he was received very coldly, and was not even allowed to see the manuscripts in the Benedictine monasteries of San Giorgio Maggiore and San Marco. On the other hand, he was welcomed at Mantua, Ravenna, and especially at Rome by Innocent XI. Having been named by his superiors procurator general at Rome of the Order of St. Benedict, certain difficulties with the Jesuits led to his resignation of that office which brought with it so many distractions from his chief work, and in 1701 he secured his recall to France. The scientific results of his journey were embodied in the quarto volume of his “Diarium Italicum” (Paris, 1702). He also collected the notes of his companion, Dom Paul Briois, who had died on the journey (edited by Omont, “Revue des Bibliotheques”, XIV, 1904).

In the full maturity of his powers, at liberty to satisfy his passion for work, with a large experience of life and an immense fund of general information, Montfaucon now took up his abode at the Abbey of St-Germain-des-Pres, where he spent the last forty years of his life. Here a choice body of scholars gathered around him, his avowed disciples, whose affection for their master prompted them to take the name of “Bernardins”. Among these were Claude de Vic and Joseph Vaissette, authors of the “Histoire de Languedoc”, the hellenist Charles de la Rue (his favorite disciple), Dom Lobineau, the historian of Brittany, and even the Abbe Prevost, who was then a collaborator on the “Gallia Christiana“. Montfaucon, moreover, corresponded with scholars all over Europe, and, in spite of the heavy tasks he took upon himself, he succeeded, thanks to his abstemious and regular life, in working almost to his last day. During this, his most productive period, he supplemented the former edition of the Greek Fathers with a “Collectio nova patrum et scriptorum graecorum” (2 vols., folio, Paris, 1706). In 1709 he translated into French the “De vita contemplativa” of Philo Judaeus, and essayed to prove that the Therapeutae there mentioned were Christians. Next appeared the edition of Origen (2 vols., fol., Paris, 1713) and that of St. John Chrysostom (13 vols., folio, Paris, 1718), prepared with the assistance of Francois Faverolles, treasurer of St-Denis, and four Benedictines, who spent thirteen years in collating 300 manuscripts.

The thoroughly scientific bent of Montfaucon’s mind led him to elaborate a new auxiliary science out of the studies he had made for the verification of his Greek texts. As Mabillon had created the science of diplomatics, so Montfaucon was the father of Greek palaeography, the principles of which he established by the rigor of his method in grouping his personalobservations. His great “Palwographia Graeca” (folio, Paris, 1708) inaugurated the scientific study of Greek texts. Another auxiliary science of history, that of bibliography, owes to him a work still of considerable value, the “Bibliotheca bibliothecarum manuscriptorum nova” (2 vols., folio, Paris, 1739), a catalogue of the Greek manuscripts of the chief libraries of Europe. Lastly, Montfaucon intuitively saw what benefit might accrue to history from the study of figured monuments, and, if he was not the creator of archaeology, he was at least the first to show what advantages might be derived from it. Two of his works show him to be an originator. In 1719 he published “L’Antiquite expliquee et representee en figures” (10 vols., folio, Paris), in which he reproduces, methodically grouped, all the ancient monuments that might be of use in the study of the religion, domestic customs, material life, military institutions, and funeral rites of the ancients. Of this work, which contains 1120 plates, the whole edition of 1800 copies was exhausted in two months, in spite of its enormous size. The regent, Philippe d’Orleans, desired that the author should become a member of the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, and he was elected to replace Pere Letellier (1719). Montfaucon then conceived a more daring idea, a work, similar to “l’Antiquite expliquee”, which should embrace the entire history of France. This work, the “Monuments de la monarchic francaise”, dedicated to Louis XV, appeared from 1729 to 1733 (5 vols., folio, Paris). In it Montfaucon studies the history, as it is shown in the monuments, of each successive reign down to that of Henry IV. His reproductions are inexact, and the work remained incomplete. On December 19, 1741, he read before the Academy of Inscriptions a plan for completing this work; two days later he passed away tranquilly, without any premonitory symptoms of illness. An indefatigable scholar, a bold thinker, an originator of scientific methods, he left after him a mighty generation of disciples to form the connecting link between the old Benedictine learning and modern scholarship.


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