The Rediscovery of the Earliest Latin Commentary on the Gospels and Its Significance

For almost 1500 years, all that was known of Fortunatianus, the mid-fourth-century bishop of Aquileia and his Commentary on the Gospels, was a disparaging comment in Jerome’s ‘On Famous Men’. This changed with the rediscovery of an almost complete text of this commentary by Lukas Dorfbauer in 2012 in an eighth-century manuscript in Cologne Cathedral Library. This remarkable find has resolved a number of long-debated questions about Jerome’s description of the work, and provides a completely new fourth-century source for the history and interpretation of the Gospels. With the expected publication in Autumn 2016 of the first critical text of this commentary, an English translation, and an accompanying volume of related studies, this paper will provide an introduction to the commentary and highlight initial features of importance for scholarship. These will include the structure and layout of the work, its attitude and witness to the biblical text, questions of authenticity and textual integrity, its sources, and its re-use by later writers. Several of Fortunatianus’ strikingly original exegetical images will be presented, such as the walnut as a symbol of the Gospels or the cockerel as a type of Christ. Shedding new light on many aspects of early Latin Christianity, and raising as many questions as it answers, this exciting discovery will prompt the rewriting of standard accounts of the development of biblical exegesis and be the focus of scholarly discussion for many years to come.