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Four New Scriptors for the Vatican Library *

by Cesare Pasini

On June 24, four new scriptores of the Vatican Library were appointed: Antonio Manfredi and Claudia Montuschi as scriptores latini; Timothy Janz as scriptor graecus; and Delio Vania Proverbio as scriptor orientalis. They join five other colleagues who already held this position: the scriptores latini Ambrogio Piazzoni (Vice Prefect), Paolo Vian (Head of the Manuscript Department), Adalbert Roth (Head of the Printed Books Department) and Marco Buonocore (Head Archivist); and the scriptor graecus Sever Voicu.

The scriptores, according to the Statutes of the Library, «are specialists in the disciplines of paleography, philology and history; their task is to carry out that scientific research and cultural activity which distinguishes the Library. Their main function is to prepare catalogs, inventories, and bibliographical tools for the study of the manuscripts; and to prepare scientific works which illustrate the Library's collections and document its history.» Indeed, the research of the scriptores is naturally devoted primarily to the investigation of the Library's rich manuscript collections, and is therefore specifically directed to the preparation of research tools intended to aid the Library's readers. On the other hand, the Statutes also mention that the scriptores are to «assist readers in their scientific research,» by giving them direct assistance, in addition to the indirect help provided by their publications.

In tracing the history of the Vatican Library through the centuries, one encounters the many scriptores who have enriched the institution with their work and their research. We first find them in the sixteenth century; but already in the mid-fifteenth century, when the library began to grow, one can identify the precursors of the scriptores, namely those staff members who received the task of transcribing texts. The term scriptor, indeed, immediately evokes the work of those who copy texts, transcribing them for others to use; but already in Renaissance times, this title came to designate not only a mere scribe who participated, together with a binder, in the creation of a new book, but rather a secretary, the trusted copyist of a humanist scholar, one who knew how to properly execute transcripts and copies with a specifically philological expertise.

It is in this sense that the figure of the scriptor came to assume, particularly in the long history of the Vatican Library, an ever larger role, involving first and foremost the external curation of the manuscripts, that is, their conservation, reproduction and restoration; but also, at the same time, textual curation, involving the philological study of the writings and scholarly research on them. Joining both these aspects, the scriptoresprepared copies and collations of texts, exercising in this way a specific competence which is particularly important for the preparation of printed editions.

This work, with all the knowledge and skills it implies, soon found expression in a precious fruit: the compilation of catalogs. By the mid-sixteenth century, the Spanish scriptor latinus Ferdinando Ruano had produced a splendid bibliographical catalog of the old collection of Latin manuscripts.

The path which was embarked upon at that time eventually led to the inauguration, at the beginning of the twentieth century, of the so-called series maior of catalogs, which is due to the initiative of the Prefect Franz Ehrle. These catalogs are compiled according to a clearly defined, analytical description model; and the scriptores, with their different linguistic specializations (scriptores latini, graeci, hebraici, orientales), soon found themselves primarily occupied with this immense task, which, a century later, still leaves a great deal to be done. To this day, the scriptores continue to serve the Library's readers by preparing catalogs of the series maior, as well as other, more concise instruments, which are sometimes more necessary or simply more practical, aiming always to aid those who wish to explore and study the Library's collections.

In recent decades, finally, the scriptores have come to be entrusted with various other tasks of sometimes considerable responsibility in the management of the Library. This development, on the one hand, places some limits on their ability to conduct research; but on the other hand it also ensures rigor, seriousness and unity of purpose in the institution's daily administration. In fact, it also helps members to concentrate their research within the well-defined field of each one's specialization, and allows the scriptores to acquire the sort of overarching vision which is most useful for managing the Library.

It is in this context that the Vatican Library is happy to see the college of scriptores return nearly to its full dimensions, after it had seen its numbers progressively decline during the last two decades of the last century, before growing again in the last few years and now finally reaching its «normal» level. It is well known that structures are not enough to make an institution function well: it is of fundamental importance that each of the people who occupy positions within it diligently perform the tasks which are theirs. This is another reason for my joy and satisfaction at the return to the full number of the college of scriptores.

To the new scriptores and to those who had been appointed earlier, I wish to address the words which Pope Paul VI used when visiting the Library on 8 June, 1964 and which were recalled by Pope Benedict XVI in his message to Cardinal Raffaele Farina on November 9, 2011, on the occasion of the reopening of the Library: «the Pope highly appreciates their dedication and has a special esteem for their activity; [...] this activity is much admired for the ascetic virtues which it both produces and requires, because one cannot accomplish such a scholarly task, especially at the level required by the Vatican Library, and with absolute professional dedication, if one has not overcome a number of obstacles, including internal ones, such as the desire and aspiration for the sort of career which the modern world dangles before the eyes of those who contemplate it. His Holiness wishes to impress upon his audience that they must consider themselves as monks, that is, persons devoted to scientific thought and to culture; and this is what defines their lives which are dedicated to such a noble mission.»

*(from L'Osservatore Romano, July 8, 2011)

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