“In novissimis temporibus sustinere debent multa scandala et tribulationes et persecutiones”: Evidence for Apocalyptic Catharism in Firenze, Conventi soppressi, MS J II 44

David Zbíral

Department for the Study of Religions, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic, http://www.david-zbiral.cz

International Medieval Congress 2015 (Leeds, UK, 7 July 2015)


This paper presents some results of the research project “Sources for the Study of Dissenting Religious Movements in Medieval Western Christianity with a Special Focus on Catharism”, financed by the Czech Science Foundation (project No. P401/12/0657) and hosted at the Department for the Study of Religions, Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.


  • Manuscript: Firenze, Biblioteca nazionale centrale, Conventi soppressi, ms. J II 44 (also known under the shelf mark I II 44). Important discovery (Antoine Dondaine in the 1930s; scarcity of sources).
  • Main contents:
    1. Liber de duobus principiis (six scholastic exegetical treatises on theodicy and free will);
    2. Florence Ritual (descriptions of two Cathar rites with a selection of biblical readings);
    3. compilation of New Testament quotations on the persecution of Christ and his faithful;
    4. compilation from Old Testament sapiential literature.
  • Studied by eminent philologists and historians (Dondaine, Borst, Thouzellier). Competent editions (Dondaine 1939; Thouzellier 1973; Thouzellier 1977). Well known. So, why look at it again?
  • Research in Florence. Philology in the 1930s-1970s: respectable, but with specific biases: extracting the “big” (authorial, original) texts, and searching for archetypes, purified from changes and additions (cf. Nichols 1991: 48; Chastang 2008: 250). Less interest in the materiality of manuscripts (to be continued) and in minor or less original additions and marginalia. The example of the sapiential compilation (fol. 51v-53r): quotations unidentified and unpublished until recently (Zbíral 2015).
  • My current research: the manuscript’s genesis as a process; reader marks (Catholic/inquisitorial interventions in the manuscript (?) – Borst and Thouzellier); a sociology of the additions and marginalia.
  • A strand in the additions and marginalia coming close to apocalypticism, unnoticed so far (our focus). First: why this strand is interesting?

Cathars and apocalypticism

  • Mainly because the type of Christian dissent we call Catharism is distinctively resistant to apocalypticism. Folk view of medieval heresies: anti-institutional and anti-doctrinal popular movement with a tendency to radicalization voiced in apocalyptic terms. This is definitely not the case of the Cathars.
  • Raymond A. Powell, “The Problem of Cathar Apocalypticism” (2004): why the traits of Cathar doctrine exclude apocalypticism (“counter-apocalyptic Cathar beliefs”: Powell 2004: 104). “The problem of Cathar apocalypticism is, precisely, that none exists” (Powell 2004: 103). The formulation could be more nuanced (and the passages on the Interrogatio Iohannis more persuasive), but Cathar non-apocalypticism holds.
  • This distinctive resistance to apocalypticism makes any hints of apocalyptic tendencies extremely interesting > Florence codex.

Apocalyptic tendencies in the additions to the Florence codex

  • Two additions: De persecutione and two biblical quotations at the lower margin fol. 35v.
  • De persecutione:
    • After the six treatises of the Liber de duobus principiis, four more or less long texts follow: De percutione pastoris (35v), the Florence Ritual (37r-44r), De persecutione prophetarum et Christi et apostoli et aliorum qui secuntur eos (44v-51r), and the sapiential compilation (51v-53r). Hand B.
    • Based on an unwarranted (cf. already Borst 1953: 285) emendation, Dondaine (1939: 11, 15, 143) and Thouzellier (1973: 17, 18, 406) connect De percutione pastoris and De persecutione in one text. × Different topic (theodicy vs. persecutions), other quire, different style and genre. The compilation on persecutions is closer to subsequent additions than to the Liber, and was possibly compiled by scribe B himself. Not part of the Liber, against Thouzellier (1973: 18).
    • De persecutione: Lenghty compilation. In latest times (in novissimis temporibus), the “followers of Christ” have to suffer tribulations, persecutions, pain, and even death just like Christ did (fol. 44v; Thouzellier 1973: 406). No haphazard compiling for the pleasure; serious uncertainty is likely around 1250 (cf. also the cipher at fol. 51r).
    • Apocalyptic tendency. Persecutions necessary, sign of the election, God’s plan; final redemption. But: no liberation by God’s intervention, no victory of God and the defeat of his ennemies. “Soft” version of apocalypticism.
  • Two citations added by a new hand (D) at fol. 35v (interest unnoticed).
    Firenze, Biblioteca nazionale centrale, Conventi soppressi, ms. J II 44, fol. 35v. Reproduction rights restricted; you cannot view the image online.

    Firenze, Biblioteca nazionale centrale, Conventi soppressi, ms. J II 44, fol. 35v.

    Apc 3:9-10: “Ecce dabo de synagoga Sathane qui dicunt se Iudeos esse, et non sunt, sed mentiuntur. Ecce faciam illos ut veniant et adorent ante pedes tuos, quoniam servasti verbum patientie mee.”
    Rm 14:11: “Scriptum est enim: Vivo ego, dicit Dominus, quoniam mihi felctetur [sic] omne genu, omnis lingua confitebitur Domino.”
    Related quotations, powerful images. The final victory of God, all nations will bow down in front of His majesty, including those from the synagogue of Satan who falsely call themselves Jews but they are not: i.e. Catholics who falsely call themselves Christians?


  • No “hard” apocalypticism. But quite surprising and rare instances of apocalyptic tendencies. A few instances in the register of Jacques Fournier, in extreme conditions (cf. Brenon 1986: 18). Also here? A situation of uncertainty is likely.
  • Another strand in the additions and marginalia: sapiential. Two quotes at fol. 35v; a lenghty compilation from OT sapiential books at fol. 51v-53r; a maxim on sin at fol. 51r. Consolation from wisdom, moral maxims: unnoticed face of Cathar reading practices. Any links? Debates about wisdom and apocalyptic in the context of Hellenistic Judaism: opposition reduced (e.g., Gammie 1974; Collins 2004; Nickelsburg 2005; Kim 2011). Situation of uncertainty rather than, necessarily, actual persecution (Smith [1975] 1993: 81, 86). Hellenistic sapiential and apocalyptic literature: a scribal phenomenon (Smith 1993: 85; Nickelsburg 2005: 34), a practice of reading/writing of older texts, and the world. Catalogues, classifications, compilations, applying old texts; patterns and their repetition (Smith 1993: 70-71, 77-78), necessity.
  • Insufficient interest in the additions and marginalia in the 1930s-1970s. Now: use, practices of reading/writing. Two unnoticed and unexpected tendencies within the Cathar theological culture discovered in the Florence codex: apocalyptic and sapiential. Lay scribal literacy in a heterodox mode.

Appendix: A complete table of contents of the Florence manuscript with new identification of scribal hands

Contents Fol. Quire Hand
(Citations from the Disticha Catonis) flyleaf (beginning) verso - G
(Note about lord Alberigo, “mallexardo”) flyleaf (beginning) verso - G
(Test of the pen) flyleaf (beginning) verso - G
(Note on the content of the codex by a fifteenth-century hand) 1r, bottom margin I J
De duobus principiis (De libero arbitrio) 1r-11v I-II A
Oppositio adversariorum (De creatione) 11v-17v II A
Reprobatio: De universalibus signis 17v-20v II A
(Compendium ad instructionem rudium) 21r-29v III B
Oppositio contra Garatenses 29v-33v IV B
(De arbitrio:) De ignorantia multorum; De sententia 33v-35v IV B
De percutione pastoris 35v IV B
(Citation of Prv 23:20 of the Digesta I.3.20-21) 35v IV B
(Citation of Apc 3:9-10 and Rm 14:11) 35v IV D
Secundum Paulum (I Tim 2:5-3:13 and Col 1:9-20) 36r-36v IV C
(Citation of Lc 13:1-5) 36v IV C
(Citation of Ez 28:18-19 and I Cor 13:1-2) 36v IV C
(Rituale) 37r-44r V B
De persecutione prophetarum et Christi et apostoli et aliorum qui secuntur eos 44v-51r V-VI B
(Maxim on sin) 51r VI C
(Record of a consolament in secret script) 51r VI E
(Compilation from sapiential literature – Sirach, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Wisdom) 51v-53r VI B
(Citation of Ps 17:26-27) 53r VI F
(Citations from I Cor 6:15-7:40 and II Cor 12:6-10) 53v-54v VI C
(Citation of I Cor 5:1-2) 53v, left margin VI C
(Citation from a florilegium) 54v, left margin VI H
(Illegible notes by a fifteenth-century hand) 54v, bottom margin VI K
(Citations from the Disticha Catonis) flyleaf (end) recto - G
(Test of the pen) flyleaf (end) recto - G


Borst, Arno, Die Katharer, (Schriften der Monumenta Germaniae historica 12), Stuttgart: Hiersemann 1953.

Brenon, Anne, „Syncrétisme hérétique dans les refuges alpins? Un livre cathare parmi les recueils vaudois de la fin du Moyen Âge: Le manuscrit 269 de Dublin“, Heresis 7, 1986, 5-23.

Chastang, Pierre, „L’archéologie du texte médiéval: Autour de travaux récents sur l’écrit au Moyen Âge“, Annales: Histoire, sciences sociales 63/2, 2008, 245-269.

Collins, John J., „The Eschatologizing of Wisdom in the Dead Sea Scrolls“, in: John J. Collins et al. (eds.), Sapiential Perspectives: Wisdom Literature in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Leiden: Brill 2004, 49-66.

Dondaine, Antoine (ed.), Un traité néo-manichéen du XIIIe siècle: Le Liber de duobus principiis suivi d’un fragment de Rituel cathare, Roma: Istituto storico domenicano S. Sabina 1939.

Gammie, John G., „Spatial and Ethical Dualism in Jewish Wisdom and Apocalyptic Literature“, Journal of Biblical Literature 93/3, 1974, 356-385.

Kim, Daewoong, „Wisdom and Apocalyptic in 2 Baruch“, Henoch 33/2, 2011, 250-274.

Nichols, Stephen, „On the Sociology of Medieval Manuscript Annotation“, in Stephen A. Barney (ed.), Annotation and Its Texts, New York – Oxford: Oxford University Press 1991, 43-73.

Nickelsburg, George W. E., „Wisdom and Apocalypticism in Early Judaism: Some Points for Discussion“, in: Lawrence M. Wills – Benjamin G. Wright (eds.), Conflicted Boundaries in Wisdom and Apocalypticism, Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature 2005, 17-37.

Powell, Raymond A., „The Problem of Cathar Apocalypticism“, Koinonia: The Princeton Theological Seminary Graduate Forum 16, 2004, 101-117.

Smith, Jonathan Z., „Wisdom and Apocalyptic“, in: Jonathan Z. Smith, Map Is Not Territory: Studies in the History of Religions, Chicago – London: University of Chicago Press 21993, 67-87.

Thouzellier, Christine (ed.), Livre des deux principes: Introduction, texte critique, traduction, notes et index, (Sources chrétiennes 198), Paris: Le Cerf 1973.

Thouzellier, Christine (ed.), Rituel cathare: Introduction, texte critique, traduction et notes, (Sources chrétiennes 236), Paris: Le Cerf 1977.

Zbíral, David, „A Compilation from Old Testament Sapiential Books in the Cathar Manuscript of the Liber de duobus principiis: Critical Edition with Commentary“, Graeco-Latina Brunensia 20/1, 2015, 149-173. Also available online at https://digilib.phil.muni.cz/handle/11222.digilib/133972.