Florilegia (Lat. florilegium, an anthology) are systematic collections of excerpts (more or less copious) from the works of the Fathers and other ecclesiastical writers of the early period, compiled with a view to serve dogmatic or ethical purposes. These encyclopedic compilations—Patristic anthologies as they may be fitly styled—are a characteristic product of the later Byzantine theological school, and form a very considerable branch of the extensive literature of the Greek Catenie.
Two classes of Christian florilegia may here be distinguished: the dogmatic and the ascetical, or ethical. The dogmatic florilegia are collections of Patristic citations designed to exhibit the continuous and connected teaching of the Fathers on some specific doctrine. The first impulse to compilations of this nature was given by the Christological controversies that convulsed the Eastern Church during the fifth century, when, both at the gatherings of the great church councils and in private circles, the practical need had made itself definitely felt, of having at hand, for ready reference, a convenient summary of what the Fathers and most approved theologians had held and taught concerning certain controverted doctrines. Such a summary, setting forth the views of Nestorius and the mind of the orthodox Fathers, was first laid before the Council of Ephesus, in 431, by St. Cyril of Alexandria. Summaries of dogmatic utterances were used also at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, and at the Fifth General Council in 533. But it was not until the seventh century that the dogmatic florilegia assumed a fully developed and definite form. At the Sixth General Council, in 680, two of these collections played a very prominent role, one, constructed by Macarius, the Patriarch of Antioch, in favor of the Monothelites, and the other, a counter collection presented by the legates of Pope Agatho. During the Iconoclastic controversy similar collections were produced. Mention is made of one on the cult of relics and images which the Synod of Jerusalem sent to John, Bishop of Gothia, about 760.
The oldest extant, and at the same time most extensive and valuable, of these dogmatic compilations, is the “Antiquorum Patrum doctrina de Verbi incarnatione” (first completely edited from a manuscript in the Vatican Library by F. Diekamp, “Doctrina Patrum de incarnatione verbi. Ein griechisches Florilegium aus der Wende des 7. and 8. Jahrhunderts”, Munster, 1907). It is extraordinarily rich in fragments from writings of the Patristic period which are now lost. Of the 977 citations (mainly of a Christological character) which it contains, 751 alone are from the works of the Fathers, representing 93 ecclesiastical writers. Diekamp ascribes the work to the period between the years 685 and 726, and, though nothing can be said with certainty concerning the author, a slight probability points to Anastasius of Sinai as its compiler. A florilegium somewhat similar to the “Doctrina” is mentioned by Photius in his Bibliotheca (Migne, P.G., CLIII, 1089-92), but not a trace of it survives today. Another compilation of this kind, covering the whole province of theology in five books, is ascribed to the monk Doxopatres, identical perhaps with the eleventh-century John Doxopatres; the first two books, treating of Adam and Christ, are all that remain. A number of other dogmatic florilegia are still extant in manuscript form, but they have never been edited, nor even critically examined. The authors of most of them are unknown.
The ascetical florilegia are collections of moral sentences and excerpts drawn partly from the Scriptures and partly from the Fathers, on such topics as virtues and vices, duties and exercises of a religious life, faith, discipline, etc. They are not so numerous as the dogmatic florilegia, and apparently were all compiled before the tenth century. Their material, as a rule, is gathered indiscriminately from various authorities, though in some instances it is furnished by only a single writer, a distinct preference being then shown for the works of the more illustrious Fathers, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. John Chrysostom. An extensive Christian florilegium of the sixth century, entitled ta iera (Sacred Things), is probably the earliest of these anthologies. The work consisted originally of three books, the first of which treated of God, the second of man, and the third of the virtues and vices. In the course of time it underwent contraction into one book, its material was recast and arranged in alphabetical order under titloi, or sections, its name changed to tai era parallela, “Sacra Parallela” (from the fact that in the third book a virtue and a vice were regularly contrasted or paralleled), and its authorship widely ascribed to St. John Damascene. That the Damascene was really the coinpiler of the “Sacra Parallela”, and that he used as his principal source the “Capita theologica”, a florilegium of Maximus Confessor, has been maintained recently with much learning and skill (against Loofs, Wendland, and Cohn) by K. Roll (“Fragmenta Vornicanischer Kirchenvater aus den Sacra Parallela”, Leipzig, 1899). Though ta iera. is no longer extant in its original form, considerable portions of the first two books have come down to us in manuscript, and parts of the third are preserved in “The Bee” (Melissa) of Antonius, a Greek monk of the eleventh century (Migne, P.G., CXXXVI, 765-1124). Of the “Sacra Parallela” there are several recensions, one of which is given in Migne (P.G., XCV, 1040-1586; XCVI, 9-544). Other extant ascetical florilegia still remain unedited. AS in the case of the dogmatic florilegia, most of them are anonymous.
The character and value of the Christian florilegia cannot be definitely or finally estimated until the various manuscripts that now lie scattered through the libraries of Europe and the East have received a more thorough and critical investigation than has hitherto been accorded to them. Questions as to date, author-ship, sources, structure, relative dependence, etc., have as yet been treated only in a general way. As the characteristic production of an age of theological decadence, these collections of ancient Christian fragments have no high literary value; they are, however, of great importance to us, because they frequently embody the only remains of important Patristic writings. The difficulties connected with their use arise chiefly from the unsatisfactory condition of the text, the uncertainty concerning the names to which the fragments have been ascribed, and the want of sufficient data to determine the dates. Only a small part of the extant material has been printed.