Codex Vaticanus

The Codex Vaticanus appeared out of obscurity in the second half of the 15th century. While some claim that its existence can be traced as far back as 1475, others think that the furthest back you can find it for certain is 1481. It is regarded as the oldest extant manuscript of a Greek Bible, and is one of the four great uncial codices. Possibly it once belonged to Cardinal Bessarion.

It is currently being held in the Vatican Library with the shelfmark [3].

The Codex Vaticanus, photographed during an exhibition in Warsaw (2015).

Tischendorf believed it was created in the middle of the 4th century [2, p189]. He also believed that the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus shared a common author [2, p189].

While modern scholars believe the codex to have been created in the early 4th century, Eramus believed the Codex Vaticanus was a Greek text fixed upon Latin later sometime around the Council of Florence (c.1453).

No scholar was allowed to study or edit it until the 19th century. Scholars also did not think it valuable. “During a large part of the 19th century, the authorities of the Vatican Library obstructed scholars who wished to study the codex in detail”.

“The Vatican MS. has in the Gospels a division of the text into chapters, which differs from that found in most MSS. from the fifth century onward, and appears, so far as is known, in only one other manuscript, the Codex Zacynthius, of the eighth century.” – Ezra Abbot [2, p190]

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History of the Codex Vaticanus:

1475 – It might be referenced in the Vatican 1475 catalog as “Biblia ex membranis in rubeo” [5, p375].

1481 – It is included in the Vatican 1481 catalog as “Biblia in tribus columnis ex membranis in rubeo” [5, p375].

1521 – Paulus Bombasius consults Erasmus about whether or not the codex contained the Comma Johanneum.

1669 – Giulio Bartolocci collates the codex. This was not published and remained unused until Johann Martin Augustin Scholz used it in 1819.

1720 – Mico collates the codex for Richard Bentley. This is not published until 1799.

1798-1801 – Andrew Birch collates the codex.

1809 – Napoleon brings the MS to Paris where Johann Leonard Hug examined it.

1843 – Tischendorf makes a facsimile of a few verses.

1844 – Eduard de Muralt sees it.

1845 – Tregelles sees it “under such restrictions that it was impossible to do more than examine particular readings.”

“They would not let me open it without searching my pockets, and depriving me of pen, ink, and paper; and at the same time two prelati kept me in constant conversation in Latin, and if I looked at a passage too long, they would snatch the book out of my hand” – Tregelles.

1849 – Henry Alford says, “It has never been published in facsimile (!) nor even thoroughly collated (!!).”

1857 – The first typographical facsimile edition that was prepared by Cardinal Angelo Mai between 1828 and 1838 is published.

1860 – John William Burgon is permitted to examine the codex for an hour and a half.

1867 – Tischendorf publishes the “most perfect edition of the manuscript which had yet appeared”, which is the text of the New Testament of the codex on the basis of Mai’s edition.

1868-1881 – C. Vercellone, Cozza-Luzi, and G. Sergio publish an edition of the entire codex in 6 volumes.

1889–1890 – Cozza-Luzi publishes a photographic facsimile of the entire manuscript in three volumes.

1904-1907 – A facsimile of the New Testament text is published in Milan. This results in the codex becoming widely available.

1999 – The Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca release a facsimile that reproduces the very form of the pages of the original manuscript, complete with the distinctive individual shape of each page, including holes in the vellum. It has an additional Prolegomena volume with gold and silver impressions of 74 pages.

2015 – The codex is digitized and made available for viewing online.

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[1] –

[2] – Abbot, Ezra. “On the Comparative Antiquity of the Sinaitic and Vatican Manuscripts of the Greek Bible.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 10, 1872, pp. 189–200. JSTOR, Accessed 17 July 2020.

[3] – Accessed 17 July 2020.

[4] – Aland & Aland’s “The Text of the New Testament” (1995). Accessed 17 July 2020.

[5] – Cross’ The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2005). Accessed 17 July 2020.

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