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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

Vol. XIX
Ludovico Antonio Muratori​a

Muratori, Ludovico Antonio (1672‑1750), Italian scholar, historian and antiquary, was born of poor parents at Vignola in the duchy of Modena on the 21st of October 1672. While young he attracted the attention of Father Bacchini, the librarian of the duke of Modena, by whom his literary tastes were turned toward historical and antiquarian research. Having taken minor orders in 1688, Muratori proceeded to his degree of doctor in utroque jure before 1694, was ordained priest in 1695 and appointed by Count Carlo Borromeo one of the doctors of the Ambrosian library at Milan. From manuscripts now placed under his charge he made a selection of materials for several volumes (Anecdota), which he published with notes. The reputation he acquired was such that the duke of Modena offered him the situation of keeper of the public archives of the duchy. Muratori hesitated, until the offer of the additional post of librarian, on the resignation of Father Bacchini, determined him in 1700 to return to Modena. The preparation of numerous valuable threats on the history of Italy during the middle ages, and of dissertations and discussions on obscure points of historical and antiquarian interest, as well as the publication of his various philosophical, theological, legal, poetical and other works absorbed the greater part of his time. These brought him into communication with the most distinguished scholars of Italy, France and Germany. But they also exposed him in his later years to envy. His enemies spread abroad the rumour that the pope, Benedict XIV, had discovered in his writings passages savouring of heresy, even of atheism. Muratori appealed to the pope, repudiating the accusation. His Holiness assured him of his protection, and, without expressing his approbation of the opinions in question of the learned antiquary, freed him from the imputations of his enemies. Muratori died on the 23rd of January 1750, and was buried with much pomp in the church of Santa Maria di Pomposa, in connexion with which he had laboured as parish priest for many years. His remains were removed in 1774 to the church of St Augustin.

Muratori is rightly regarded as the "father of Italian history." This is due to his great collection, Rerum italicarum scriptores, to which he devoted about fifteen years' work (1723‑1738). The gathering together and editing some 25 huge folio volumes of texts was followed by a series of 75 dissertations on medieval Italy (Antiquitates italicae medii aevi, 1738‑1742, 6 vols. folio). To these he added a Novus thesaurus inscriptionum (4 vols., 1739‑1743), which was of great importance in the development of epigraphy. Then, anticipating the action of the learned societies of the 19th century, he set about a popular treatment of the historical sources he had published. These Annali d'Italia (1744‑1749) reached 12 volumes, but were imperfect and are of little value. In addition to this national enterprise (the Scriptores were published by the aid of the Società palatina of Milan) Muratori published Anecdota ex ambrosianae bibliothecae codd. (2 vols. 4to, Milan, 1697, 1698; Padua, 1713); Anecdota graeca (3 vols. 4to, Padua, 1709); Antichità Estensi  p31 (2 vols. fol., Modena, 1717); Vita e rime di F. Petrarca (1711), and Vita ed opere di L. Castelvetro (1727).

In biblical scholar­ship Muratori is chiefly known as the discoverer of the so‑called Muratorian Canon, the name given to a fragment (85 Iines) of early Christian literature, which he found in 1740, embedded in an 8th‑century codex which forms a compendium of theological tracts followed by the five early Christian creeds. The document contains a list of the books of the New Testament, a similar list concerning the Old Testament having apparently preceded it. It is in barbarous Latin which has probably been translated from original Greek — the language prevailing in Christian Rome until c. 200. There is little doubt that it was composed in Rome and we may date it about the year 190. Lightfoot inclined to Hippolytus as its author. It is the earliest document known which enumerates the books in order.

The first line of the fragment is broken and speaks of the Gospel of St Mark, but there is no doubt that its compiler knew also of St Matthew. Acts is ascribed to St Luke. He names thirteen letters of St Paul but says nothing of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The alleged letters of Paul to the Laodiceans and Alexandrians he rejects, "for gall must not be mixed with honey." The two Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of James are not referred to, but that of Jude and two of John are accepted. He includes the Apocalypse of John and also the Apocalypse of Peter. The Shepherd of Hermas he rejects as not of apostolic origin, but this test of canonicity is not consistently applied for he allows the "Wisdom written by the friends of Solomon in his honour." He rejects the writings of the Gnostics Valentinus and Basilides, and of Montanus.

The list is not an authoritative decree, but a private register of what the author considers the prevailing Christian sentiment in his neighbourhood. He notes certain differences among the Gospels, because not all the evangelists were eye‑witnesses of the life of Jesus; yet Mark and Luke respectively have behind them the authority of Peter and of Paul, who is thus regarded as on a footing with the Twelve. The Fourth Gospel was written by John at the request of the other apostles and the bishops on the basis of a revelation made to Andrew. The letters of Paul are written to four individuals and to seven different churches, like the seven letters in the Apocalypse of John.

It is interesting to notice the coincidence of his list with the evidence gained from Tertullian for Africa and from Irenaeus for Gaul and indirectly for Asia Minor. Before the year 200 there was widespread agreement in the sacred body of apostolic writings read in Christian churches on the Lord's Day along with the Old Testament.

Muratori's Letters, with a Life prefixed, were published by Lazzari, (2 vols., Venice, 1783).º His nephew, F. G. Muratori, also wrote a Vita del celebre Ludov. Ant. Muratori (Venice, 1756).º See also A. G. Spinelli "Bibliographia delle lettere e stampa di L. A. Muratori" in Bollettino dell' istituto storico italiano (1888), and Carducci's preface to the new Scriptores. The Muratorian Canon is given in full with a translation in H. M. Gwatkin's Selections from Early Christian Writers. It is also published as No. 1 of H. Lietzmann's Kleine Texte für theologische Vorlesungen (Bonn, 1902). See also Journal of Theological Studies, VIII.537.

Thayer's Note:

a See also the more anecdotal and considerably more detailed entry Lodovico Antonio Muratori in the Nuova Enciclopedia Italiana.

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