'De divinis moribus' & 'De beatitudine'

From manuscript to printed work: a Utrecht convolute spotlighted

De beginpagina van De Divinis Moribus, fol 1r. uit handschrift 297 uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht

From the Carthusian cloister Nieuwlicht approximately 150 manuscripts and 70 volumes with printed works are now housed in the collection of Utrecht University Library. Mostly plain works, but also they can be of interest. One of them is Ms. 297, a convolute of which the first part was used as original manuscript for the world’s first printed edition of that particular text by the Utrecht printers Ketelaer and De Leempt in 1473. It gives a unique insight in the methods of the first printers in the Northern Netherlands who really mattered.

Typesetting instructions and other additions

The text which served as original manuscript for the printed work is De divinis moribus [&] De beatitudine by Thomas Aquinas, or rather: attributed to Thomas but not written by him. This we know because the typesetting instructions  are clearly visible in the manuscript (see also the story about the printed edition). This also applies to the corrections which for the greater part have been put in the margin. For instance, on fol. 1r on the third line from the bottom ‘non in creatore’ has been crossed out in red, and as a result this piece cannot be found in the print (fol. 2r). The punctuation which has been put in red in the lines above can thus be found in the printed version. 

This is also true for corrections in the margin (for instance 11r = print 7v; 18v = 12r; 19r = 12 v) at which the addition ‘Iusticia dei’ on fol. 3v at the end of the paragraph has for certain been put in by another hand than by the one who had written the text. It raises the question who put in these corrections and for what reason? Was there maybe another copy of Pseudo-Thomas available? Where did it come from and why has it not been used as original manuscript? This question needs further looking into.

Underlinings and filigree initials

It is also remarkable that in the manuscript words have been underlined at the end of a section (for instance  ‘Deus inmutabilis’ at the beginning of the manuscript) and that this has been imitated in the printed version. 

Other words that have been underlined, especially Biblical names, are not underlined in the printed version however, at least not in the copy of Utrecht University Library. However, there are more copies of the printed version of De divinis moribus [&] De beatitudine. This aspect awaits further research, in line with the research conducted by Gisela Gerritsen-Geywitz (2001 and especially 2004). This is also true for the late 15th-century filigree initials in the manuscript on fol. 1r and 16r. Do they also occur in other manuscripts inside or outside the Carthusian cloister? (cf. Korteweg 1993).

Pamphlet copy

The text of De divinis moribus [&] De beatitudine covers the part of fol. 1r up to fol. 51r in the manuscript (2r-30v in the printed version). But the manuscript contains another series of other texts, written by other hands, each time with blank pages in between: fol. 52r-122v (with additions in another hand to 125r), and 127r-145v. On fol. 61r the name of the writer has been crossed out. Friar Bonaventura Kruidwagen managed to read the name in 1923 as appears from the note from 1923, glued on one of the first fly-leaves. We are dealing with brother Bruno of Amsterdam (Bruno Jacobi ‘de Amstelredam’,  ?-1473). But Peter Gumbert remarked that another writing by Bruno from 1444 was written by an entirely other hand (Gumbert 1988, p. 211, nr. 716: UB Utrecht Ms. 823). The filigree initials on fol. 68r are indeed similar to what we see in the early 15th-century manuscripts of Nieuwlicht (see for instance Gumbert 1974, plates 6, 8, 84, 87). Finally yet again another writer has added a remark at the end (fol. 148v), which by the way looks like the hand depicted in Gerritsen-Geywitz 2004, 297.


The several parts were joined together probably somewhere in the last decades of the 15th century. Everything was written on paper that was trimmed to fit into one bookbinding. That leather bookbinding has the stamps characteristic of the books from Nieuwlicht. A  leaf written in Carolingian script was used as fly-leaf, possibly from the 10th century, with quotes from the works of Augustine and Beda about charity. All in all is this a many-sided manuscript which raises many questions and answers some of them too!

Author: Bart Jaski, April 2016