Lawrence J. Schoenberg, C'53, WG'56
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Gerson essays
Gerson, Jean, 1363-1429. "De theologia mystica speculativa." "De mystica theologia practica." "De passionibus animae."
Petrus de Alliaco [Pierra d'Ailly], 1350-1420. "De districtione in nocturnis pollutionibus" (a 2-page abridgement).
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The Four-Millionth Volume

The University of Pennsylvania Library acquired an important manuscript as part of its celebration of the acquisition of its four-millionth volume. Presented to the Library on behalf of the Board of Library Overseers by its Chairman, Joseph Glossberg, the manuscript is an early fifteenth-century volume comprising three key texts by the noted French philosopher and theologian, Jean de Gerson (1363-1429). Funding for the gift was generously provided by Overseer member, Lawrence Schoenberg.

Gerson was a major intellectual and religious figure at the turn of the fifteenth century. From his position as Chancellor of the University of Paris, he helped shape and direct those currents of reform and renewal that advocated a more personal, mystical mode of theology than had hitherto been taught in the schools. Eclectic in style, Gerson sought to introduce contemplation and practical piety into the university, not to replace but to supplement the intense rationalism of high scholasticism. Gerson also played a leading role in restoring unity to a Church rent by the Great Schism, which saw the Papacy temporarily in exile in Avignon, France.

The manuscript contains the texts of three of Gerson's most important works: "De theologia mystica speculativa," "De mystica theologia practica," and "De passionibus animae." The first two were probably written in 1407 and issued publicly in 1408. Together, they represent the core of Gerson's intellectual reform and epitomize the new spirituality with which the Chancellor was closely identified. The manuscript is valuable on several counts. Plain and unadorned, written on vellum in a neat Gothic text hand, it may well have been written and circulated for use by students at the university. More importantly, the manuscript was probably executed well within the lifetime of Gerson, making it a roughly contemporaneous copy of the texts. Moreoever, the texts vary substantially in places from printed versions edited in the 1960s. Such variant readings can often lead to new interpretations of works and new views of their authors. Finally, there appear to be no other manuscripts of these texts in American libraries.

This volume fits exceptionally well with Penn's superb collection of late Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, which focus on the traditions of university intellectual life and the Aristotelian legacy that nourished them.

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