The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Threads Intertwining

When I was a boy, I read everything I could get my hands on. I explored my parents' home looking for more to read, and dipped into everything from trashy novels to my father's engineering books. But a handful of things I spend real time with. One of them was my mother's old copy (given to her by my grandparents when she was a girl) of The Lives of the Saints (The "Concise Edition"), by Alban Butler. I remember spending hours over it as a child. When it popped up in my recommendations on Amazon, I became curious about it.

Oh, not Mom's copy--abridgments have been anathema to me since I discovered my childhood copy of The Three Musketeers was missing over 300 pages. (I was a child, and had no words for the occasion. Years of working in and around the criminal courts cured that deficiency.) But, I asked, what was it a "Concise Edition" of?

The Google (or is it Teh Google?) answered:
Butler's great work, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints ("Butler's Lives"), the result of thirty years study, was first published in four volumes in London, 1756–1759. It is a popular and compendious reproduction of the Acta Sanctorum, exhibiting great industry and research, and is in all respects the best compendium of Acta in English. Butler's magnum opus has passed many editions and translations.

The first edition (1756–1759)
This edition was printed initially in 4 octavo volumes, with no stated publisher or author's name. However they were so thick that they were usually bound in more volumes. There were actually 6 title pages since Vol. 3 and Vol. 4 both have a "part II" issued thus: vol. I, vol. II, vol. III, vol. III part II, vol. IV, and vol. IV part II. Each "volume" contained three months of the liturgical calendar's Saints' lives. Vol. I also had a copperplate engraving with figures of the Roman devices of torture used, and a 2-page explanation of their use.

Charles Butler's assertion that "all the notes" were left out of the first edition at the suggestion of Bishop Challoner is exaggerated. There are many useful, and even extended notes in the first edition, but not to the extent that they appear in the second, and succeeding editions. According to Charles Knight, the edition published in twelve volumes in 1847 is considered the best and most complete
The Acta Sanctorum rang a bell--a distinct one, in fact--from that old Mage of Canada, Roberston Davies, one of my favorite Twentieth Century authors. In what is perhaps his best novel, Fifth Business (1970), Davies's protagonist, Dunstan Ramsey, becomes a hagiographer of some renown, who has "arrived" when an article of his is selected for publication in the Analecta Bollandiana, published by the Société des Bollandistes. The Analecta are described by the Bollandists themselves: "Since the very beginning, the journal was conceived as a continuous updating of the prestigious Acta Sanctorum series, as well as an entirely new instrument devoted to hagiographical research. Every issue contains both critical editions of hagiographical texts (Greek, Latin, Oriental...), and fundamental studies about hagiography. . . . Such contents make the Analecta Bollandiana indispensable in any department of medieval, Byzantine, Slavonic or Christian oriental studies, as well as of Church history, comparative religions, ethnology and folklore." The fictional Ramsey acquires over time a complete set, of course.

So this book I used to browse was the short version of the magisterial work that so inspired one of my favorite authors. Curious now, I looked it up on abebooks (Why shop anywhere else online?), and there was the complete text, in a gorgeous 1926 edition--four larger volumes not 12.

So I bought myself a slightly late ordination present.

When so many streams combine into one, don't turn away.

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