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Hildemar's Commentary on the Rule of Benedict

The Rule of Benedict in the Carolingian Era

The Rule of Benedict (hereafter RB) ranks among the most important monastic texts of western Christianity. The influence of the RB, which was written in sixth-century Italy, expanded significantly in the eighth and ninth centuries thanks to promotion by the Carolingian authorities. Another sign of the growing influence of the RB during the Carolingian period was the production of the first commentaries on the text. Two major commentaries appeared in the ninth century. The first was by Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel (ca. 816) and is readily available in a modern scholarly edition as well as an English translation. The second, written by Hildemar of Corbie around 845, has been much less utilized by scholars owing to the absence of a modern critical edition and the limited availability of older editions.

Hildemar of Corbie/Civate

Relatively little is known about the author of this commentary. Hildemar was a monk active in the mid-ninth century who spent his early monastic life at the monastery of Corbie in northern France. He spent his later career, including the time during which he wrote his commentary was created, at the monastery of Civate near Milan. In addition to the Commentary, there survive two letters, a poem, a commentary on Luke’s Gospel, and two treatises (on vices and sin, respectively) attributed to Hildemar. The letters indicate that he was writing in the 830s and 840s. His name also appears in confraternity books from Pfäfers and Brescia that date to the 840s and 850s. He is presumed to have died in the 850s.

Hildemar's Commentary

Hildemar's commentary on the RB has a complex transmission history and survives in three versions. The longest version, the one translated on this site, is known as the Expositio; its oldest manuscripts are from the eleventh century. A second, abbreviated version, traditionally attributed to Paul the Deacon, dates to the tenth century and appears to have circulated primarily in Italy. A third version, attributed to an otherwise unknown abbot Basil, is not only abbreviated but stops at RB chapter 61. Klaus Zelzer's study of the different versions has led him to conclude that the Basil version and the Paul the Deacon version are not abbreviations of the Expositio, but rather that all three draw on different versions of the text in circulation during the ninth century.

Described by Josef Semmler as a handbook for monastic life, the Expositio is a wide-ranging and digressive text, touching on everything from the rules of Latin grammar to the management of adolescent wet dreams. It provides a chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse commentary on the entire RB. Containing a wealth of information on the details of monastic life and the functioning of monasteries in the ninth century, the Expositio is unmatched in scale by any other contemporary source.

Last update: September 2014

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