The Pamplona Exemplar

On February 18 we had the great pleasure and privilege of viewing one of the authoritative original manuscripts of Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on Book III of the Sentences: the Pamplona university exemplar.

A university exemplar is a master copy made from an author’s original text by a stationarius for the purpose of producing further copies to rent or sell to members of the university community. In the case of the Pamplona manuscript, St. Thomas would have sent a final draft of In III Sententiarum to the Parisian stationer, Guillaume de Sens, who ran a workshop providing books to the Paris university scene. Guillaume’s exemplar was the model for further copies to be provided to students and scholars, but it was also subject to St. Thomas’s own revisions. While an autograph manuscript is considered the primary authoritative text, in the case of Book III, the Pamplona manuscript is the immediate source of the tradition, since it represents the text in its final definitive form in the mind of St. Thomas, and it was the text published and circulated. Thus the Pamplona manuscript ranks as an authoritative original.

The museum archive lies deep in the heart of the breathtaking gothic Cathedral of Pamplona. It was so well hidden, in fact, that we arrived there a few minutes late for the appointment that we had arranged months before. Upon arrival, we were informed that the computer was currently occupied, so we would be unable to view digital images of the text. My heart sank as I wondered if we had made the trip to Spain in vain. Then I could not believe my ears as the archivist continued, “. . . so you will have to look at the original.”

We were astonished at the excellent condition of the 750-year-old manuscript. It’s no wonder that the Dominicans of St. Jacques chose Guillaume de Sens to publish their manuscripts—his work has held up well. As part of the book’s normal life in the medieval university system its pages had been corrected, repaired, and pasted over; some pages featured tears or doodles in the margin.

As we looked up a series of problematic passages from the text we are translating, we couldn’t help but feel honored at this moment of direct contact with St. Thomas across the centuries. We could see a few of the marks of the students who had pored over these pages and were awed to be following them in trying to learn at the foot of the master. Just as Guillaume’s exemplar brought St. Thomas’s text to the world for the first time, our bi-lingual editions are bringing the Sentences Commentary to readers who have never been able to encounter this text of St. Thomas before. We are honored to be the latest and smallest heirs of this eminent tradition.

This research trip was made possible in part by a grant from the
National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor

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