Visita nos: A literary, historical and theological examination of the psalm collects of the "Africana" series

Thomas Scott Ferguson, Fordham University


In 1949, Dom Louis Brou edited three series of fifth and sixth century psalm collects, including the Africana series. Brou's notes on the collects and the one manuscript that preserves them, a ninth century Gallican Psalter, led him to claim that the collects were written in the late fifth century, in a North African monastery, by an unknown abbot. In a 1954 article, he discounted Fulgentius of Ruspe as the possible author. Brou's method did not allow investigation of all the criteria necessary to prove or disprove authorship. A set of conclusions based upon historical and theological method, as well as modern literary criticism, reveals more about the collects. They were written in the early sixth century in the province of Byzacena. Fulgentius of Ruspe was, most probably, their author. His literary and theological abilities, coupled with the need to address the concerns of a monastic community, caused him to shift the manner of psalm interpretation prevalent until then. Historical investigation uncovers the frustrations of a religious community living under Vandal occupation. Even though the collect genre and the author's spiritual concerns limit.pn2 commentary on such matters, the conflict emerges. Modern reception criticism highlights the literary abilities of the collect author by allowing for a reinvestigation of classical literary techniques in the context of late antiquity. Christian appropriation of these techniques obscured their classical associations, but left them intact as literary tools for the classically trained figures of the era who adapted their knowledge for a Christian audience. Reception theory helps to delineate the collect author's method of receiving the revelation of the Psalms. His choices of psalm verses to paraphrase or quote indicate his personal reception, made in light of the monks' needs. The third element of the literary method is the form-critical work on psalms by Hermann Gunkel, Sigmund Mowinckel, and their successors. Psalm genres offer a framework for a study of the collect author's reception. By combining the three literary tools, the collect author's technique emerges. He shifts the contemporary receptive model through his pastoral concern and historical awareness. Sermo humilis forms the basic mode of communication in the collects, and allows the author to teach theology in the liturgical setting. Theological method in this study is comparative. Augustine's psalm expositions and theology of grace, Chalcedonian christology and the works of the sixth century North African writers serve to place the collect author within the tradition of African theology and psalm interpretation. By considering the life and work of Fulgentius of Ruspe in light of the collects, especially his pastoral concern and rhetorical abilities, he emerges as the most likely person to have composed the collects.

Subject Area

Theology|Religious history|Classical studies

Recommended Citation

Ferguson, Thomas Scott, "Visita nos: A literary, historical and theological examination of the psalm collects of the "Africana" series" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9313761.