Montfaucon, Bernard De

Montfaucon, Bernard De one of the learned Benedictines of Saint-Maur, noted for his valuable antiquarian labors, was born January 17, 1655, of a high family of Soulage, in Languedoc. He early evinced great facility for acquiring languages, and a remarkable love of study. He was educated at the College of Limoux, but threw aside his books, and in 1672 entered the army, and served in several campaigns under Turenne. After the death of his parents, he joined the Benedictines at Toulouse in 1675. His time was now largely employed in correcting the Latin translations of the Greek Church historians. Dom Claude Martin, to whom he communicated his work, pointed him out to his superiors as a man of great capacity, and particularly fitted to take a part in the publication of the Greek fathers contemplated by the Congregation of St. Maur. He was consequently called to Paris in 1687. The following year he published his Analecta sive varia opuscula Graeca (Paris, 1844, 4to), which contains also some lives of saints. In 1690 he published La verite de l'histoire de Judith (2d ed. Paris, 1692, 12mo), in which, with a great deal of historical talent, he attempts to establish the authenticity of the facts related in that narrative against the opinion of those who consider it as a fable or a parable. But his reputation rests chiefly on the part he took in the publication of the works of the fathers. He first gave Athanasius (Paris, 1698, 3 volumes, folio), revised by means of the MSS. of Paris and of the Vatican, with a new Latin translation; the third volume contains the. doubtful and spurious works. With this is connected the Collectio nova patrum et scriptorum Graecorum (Par. 1707, 2 volumes, fol.). In this work Montfaucon gives, besides an excellent biography of Athanasius, some newly discovered works of that father, those of Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Topographia Christiana of the Egyptian monk Cosmas Indicopleustes. The critical tact and acumen, the extensive learning, and the thorough linguistic knowledge which Montfaucon evinced in these works, led his superiors to intrust him also with the publication of the works of Chrysostom. As the MSS. at Paris were insufficient, he was sent to Rome to consult the codices of that city. Innocent XII showed him the greatest regard, while one of the librarians of the Vatican, out of jealousy, defamed and persecuted him. He refused high offices which were opened to him at Rome, and devoted himself exclusively to his studies. The pope and cardinals were lavish in their attentions and Montfaucon, during the intervals of his ecclesiastical functions, gave frequent and unequivocal proofs of the learning which he possessed and was anxious to augment. It is related that Zacagni, then sublibrarian of the Vatican, feeling his vanity wounded by the praise bestowed on this accomplished foreigner, laid several schemes to lower him in the public estimation. One day while Montfaucon, among a crowd of distinguished persons, happened to be sauntering in the library, Zacagni, with affected politeness, requested the antiquary to favor him with the date of a Greek manuscript which he spread out before him. Montfaucon replied that apparently it was written about 700 years ago. His antagonist, with a triumphant sneer, desired him to observe the name of Basil, the Macedonian, written at the top. The Frenchman asked if it were not Basil Porphyrogenitus, later by 150 years; and as this, upon examination, proved to be the case, Zacagni retired with his manuscript, and thenceforth left the stranger at peace. After his return to Paris Montfaucon published the Hexapla of Origen (1713, 2 volumes, fol.), with variations, notes, and introductory remarks not only on the, work itself, but on the general history of the Greek versions of the Bible. His next publication was an edition of the works of Chrysostom (Par. 1718 sq., 13 volumes, fol.; Venice, 1780,14 volumes, 4to). Montfaucon had consulted the French, Roman, English, and German codices; the text was accompanied by a new Latin translation, a biography of Chrysostom, numerous notes, and an introduction to each separate work. This is universally pronounced one of the chef-d'oeuvres of the Maurines, and the best edition of this Church father. Some time previous to this Montfaucon had published another valuable work, Le Livre de Philon de la Vie Contemplative (Par. 1709, 12mo), with notes, and an attempt to prove that the Therapeutse of whom Philo speaks were Christians; and in 1710 an Epistola on the fact mentioned by Rufinus that St. Athanasius baptized children when himself a child. In 1719 he gave to the world a great work on the history of art, entitled, L'Antiquit expliquee et Representee en Figures; and in 1729 Les Monuments de la Monarchie Francaise. His last but not least important work is his Bibliotheca Bibliothecarum MSS. nova (Par. 1739, 2 volumes, fol.)! He died suddenly at the abbey of Saint- Germain-des-Pres, December 21, 1741. He was chosen a member of the Academy of Inscriptions in 1719, and contributed many papers to this and other learned bodies. Montfaucon was celebrated for the mildness and benignity of his character. Neither the favors which he had received from an emperor, nor the honors with which he was decorated by two successive popes, could at all abate his humility; and strangers who conversed with him returned not more surprised at the amazing extent of his information than at the unpretending simplicity of his manners. Of an author who has left 44 volumes, folio, it may be expected that elegance will not be a characteristic; and, accordingly, Montfaucon's writings are blamed for their cumbrous style and defective arrangement. But his erudition, a quality more befitting such pursuits, has never been called in question; and his works are still looked up to as guides through that obscure and intricate department of knowledge which he devoted his life to study. See Edinburgh Cyclop. s.v.; Tassin, Histoire litteraire de la Congreigation de St. Maur, page 591 sq.; Fabricius, Bibl. Graeca, 13:849; Eloge de Montfaucon, in the Hist. de l'Acad. des Inscriptions, volume 16; Gentleman's Magazine (December 1855), page 572. (J.H.W.)

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