The Louvain Papyrus Fragments from the Asceticon of Abba Isaiah

Recently, I wrote on the blog about some papyrus fragments of a codex which contained the Coptic version of the Asceticon of Abba Isaiah. The fragments were kept in the library of the Catholic University in Louvain, but they were destroyed during the WW2 bombings. Apparently, the Louvain collection owned more than one hundred such fragments, which are, unfortunately, irremediably lost. My identification was based on Louis-Théophile Lefort’s catalogue, published shortly before the fragments disappeared for good.[1]

Accordingly, the lemma “On Repentance (metanoia),” which appeared on one of the papyrus fragments, and the incipit “The elder was asked: ‘What is the repentance (metanoia)?’” indicate that this fragment belonged to Greek Logos 21 (= Syriac Logos 14 – Draguet) of Abba Isaiah’s Asceticon. A few biblical quotations mentioned by Lefort as occurring on other fragments suggest that those damaged papyri represented the poor vestiges of a once complete copy of the Asceticon of Isaiah of Scetis in Coptic. If Lefort’s 6th to 7th century dating of the fragments is correct, it must had been the most ancient Coptic manuscript of this important ascetic corpus.

However, I omitted to say that in 1945, just a few years after his catalogue was printed, Lefort published in Le Muséon an article in which he edited and translated into French some additional fragments.[2] If in the catalogue he found worthy to publish only those fragments which were legible enough, in the 1945 complement Lefort added preliminary transcription of other papyrus pieces. Knowing that these transcriptions may be sometimes faulty (he no longer had the option of collating them against the originals), he justified his decision to publish them through this beautiful example of scholarly credo:

It goes without saying that these copies may not be considered other than provisory, and as such they do not deserve the honor of publication. However, since these copies are the only witnesses of a text whose original is now lost forever, we thought that the respect for the monuments of the past obliges us to deliver them as they are, in order to avoid that these few bits, which by chance escaped destruction, disappear irremediably (my translation from French).

Having these in mind, Lefort published his preliminary transcriptions of seven fragments. The identification of five of them was possible (Greek Logoi 21, 28, 4 = Syriac 14, 22, 11), although it is quite likely that the other two also belong to the Asceticon. Here are some examples which show the parallels between Lefort’s translation into French and René Draguet’s translation of the Syriac version of the Asceticon:

Fragment A

Fragment B

[1] L. T. Lefort, “Coptica Lovaniensia,” Le Muséon 50 (1937) 5-55; 51 (1938) 1-32; 53 (1940) 1-66. Reprinted as L. T. Lefort, Les manuscrits coptes de l’Université de Louvain 1: Textes littéraires (Louvain: Bibliothèque de l’Université, 1940).

[2] L. T. Lefort, “Fragments coptes,” Le Muséon 48 (1945) 97-120, at 108-114 (Coptic text), 118-120 (French translation).


About Alin Suciu

I am a researcher at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities. I write mostly on Coptic literature, Patristics, and apocryphal texts.
This entry was posted in Ascetic Authors, Isaiah of Scetis, Patristics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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