PETER THE CHANTER. Summa quae dicitur Abel, in Latin, DECORATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[England, first half 13th century]
270 x 180mm. ii + 127 leaves: 19(iv a singleton), 26, 310, 4-78, 89(viii a singleton), 99(iv a singleton), 1010, 118(iii, vi singletons), 128, 1310(iv, vii singletons), 14-158, modern pencil foliation 1-129 including endleaves, traces of quiring with letters of the alphabet in centre lower margin on last versos, 40 lines written in brown ink in a small gothic script within 9 verticals and on 40 horizontals ruled in plummet, justification: 161 x 91mm, layout in two principal columns with double bounding lines, a narrow left-hand column of concepts and a wider right-hand column of definitions, each page with an additional narrow column in the outer margin, 18 large initials divided red and blue or in blue flourished red, numerous two-line initials alternately of red or blue, often with ornamental pen-work extensions, text capitals touched red, wavy red ink lines connecting concepts to their divisions, paragraph signs in red or blue with ornamental flourishes, a few distinctions inserted in the margins, some written vertically, occasional contemporary corrections in margins (a few tiny wormholes to first ten leaves, natural flaws to a number of leaves, around ten bifolia reinforced in gutter). Modern blind-tooled pigskin, gilt-lettered spine, vellum doublures, by W.H. Smith & Son to a design by Douglas Cockerell, preserving two endleaves from an earlier binding.
1. Livre de [...] Clermont: 16th-century inscription partially trimmed from f.2
2. Compendium diversarum materiarum: 17th-century title on f.3
3. Early shelfmarks on f.1: '(204)', '4670', '(44)'
3. Robert Steele: signature on f.1
4. C.H. St John Hornby (1867-1946), Ms 49: bookplate and pencilled number on pastedown
5. J.R. Abbey (1894-1969), Ms 3194, purchased 16 September 1946: his initials, number and date on back endleaf; sale, Sotheby's, 18 February 1947, lot 428
De superbia que est arbor diaboli, lacking end f.1v-2v; Peter the Chanter, Summa quae dicitur Abel, incipit: Abel dicitur principium eccelsie propter innocentiam, continuing with headings Abiciuntur, Abiectio, Abissus, etc., and ending with Virginitas, Virtutes, Visio, possibly incomplete at end ff. 3-129v
Peter the Chanter's Summa Abel, so called from its first word, is one of the earliest surviving collections of Biblical distinctiones, a genre which came into being in the schools of Paris at the end of the 12th century, flourished during the 13th, and then fell out of use. Biblical 'distinctions' distinguish the various figurative meanings of words in the Bible and supply for each meaning a text of the Scripture (or other authority) where the word is used with that meaning. Collections of distinctions were compiled as aids for preachers and served some of the functions of a concordance in a period when the concordance to the Scriptures had not yet been created. The distinctions within a collection could be presented in the order of the text of the Bible, covering some or all of its books, or they could be organized alphabetically by concept, which made them quickly accessible. Distinctions could be written continuously or, like the present copy and other early manuscripts, schematically. Peter the Chanter's collection of distinctions covers the entire Scriptures and was the first to be organized alphabetically, a pattern adopted by all major collections after his. Indeed, Peter's text comes closer than any other collection of its time to employing full-word alphabetization.
Peter the Chanter (d.1197), so called because he was cantor of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, was a prominent theologian, churchman and reformer, as well as an influential teacher. His Summa Abel remains largely unedited; F. Stegmüller, Repertorium Biblicum Medii Aevi, iv (Madrid 1954) 6451 lists some 40 manuscripts, not including the present codex. Richard and Mary Rouse have shown that the little-studied genre of distinctions was a dynamic one, in which collections and copies of collections were adapted to the needs of particular users (R.H. and M.A. Rouse, 'Biblical Distinctions in the Thirteenth Century,' Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du Moyen Age, xli, 1974, pp.27-37). Evidence of this process is visible in the present manuscript, both in the additional distinctions written in the margins, and in the variants between this copy and excerpts which have been published from other manuscripts of the text.