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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Jacob de Voragine
archbishop of Genoa, and author of the Legenda aurea, was born at Viraggio, near Genoa, in 1230. He joined the preaching friars at Genoa in 1244, and became provincial of the order for Lombardy in 1267. For services rendered to the Church and to his order in different circumstances, he was finally made archbishop of Genoa in 1292, and died in 1298. His reputation rests exclusively on a compilation of legends which he wrote under the title of Legenda Sanctorume, or Legendela aurea (also known as the Historia Longobardica, on account of a short Lombard chronicle it contains, attached to the life of pope Pelagius).
The work consists of a series of fanciful biographies, some compiled from older works, others merely made up of the traditions current among the people and in convents. Many of the elements of these biographies are taken from apocryphal Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and martyrologies, and are to be found in other anterior and contemporary works, such as the Passional, the legends of Mary, etc. Some of them are inventions of the Middle Ages, and show how quickly fables become mixed up with history: such are the clives of Dominic and of Francis of Assisi. These legends are, moreover, entirely devoid of poetic beauty, that redeeming feature of many works of this kind. Jacob was a mere compiler and chronicler, without taste and without talent; a specimen of his coarseness is to be found in what he relates of Vespasian in his life of the apostle James.
The only original part of the work is the preface or introduction to the life of each saint, in which Jacob attempts to give an explanation of the meaning of their names; and these explanations consist in wonderful etymologies and wild speculations, such as could be expected from an ignorant monk unacquainted with either Greek or Hebrew. The work was soon esteemed at its just value. The superior of the order, Berengarius de Landora, subsequently archbishop of Compostella († 1330), commissioned Bernardus Guidonis, afterwards bishop of Lodè ve († 1331), to write a life of the saints from authentic sources. Bernardus, who was a zealous historian, set to work and produced a Speculum sanctorbum in four volumes. This, however, did not meet with much success. The Legenda of Jacob became the Legenda aurea, and gained in popularity not only because it was shorter than the voluminous compilation of Bernardus, but especially on account of its extravagant descriptions and relations of miraculous occurrences, which suited the spirit of the Middle Ages mulch better than a plain, truthful narration of facts.
Many translations of it were made into German, French, Italian, Spanish, and English, and after the discovery of printing many editions of it were published. (See Brunet,' Manuel de l'amateur de. lieres, 4, 687 sq. The latest edition is by Dr. Grä sse, librarian of the king of Saxony, Lpz. 1845, 8vo). To us the book is very important as an index to the superstitious spirit of the Middle Ages. Among the other works of Jacob de Voragine we may mention Sermones de tempore et quadrayesimales (Paris, 1500; Venice, 1589, 2 vols.): — Sermones de dominicis per annum (Venice, 1544, 4to, and 1566, fol.): — Quadragesimale et de sanctis (Venice, 1602,2 vols. 4to): — Sermones de Sanctis (Lyon, 1494; Papiae, 1600; Venice, 1580): — Mariale sive sermones de L. Maria Virgine (Venice, 1497, 4to; Paris, 1503; Mayence, 1616, 4to). The latest editions of his collected sermons appeared at Augsburg (1760,4 vols. fol.). All these sermons are mere sketches: those on the saints are full of fables, and can be considered as a sort of supplement to the Legenda aurea; the 160 sermons on Mary treat, in alphabetical order, of the virtues, perfection, and miracles of the Virgin. Lentz, in his Gesch. d. Homiletik (Brunswick, 1839, 1, 257), gives a German translation of one of them as a specimen. Jacob also wrote in defense of the Dominicans. and doubtless against the attacks of St. Amour, a Defensorium contra inmpugnantes Fratres Praedicatores, quod Znon vivant secundum vitam apostolicam (Venice, 1504). An abridgment which he prepared of the Summa viritutum et vitiorum of Wm. Peraldus, and his De operibus et opusculis S. Augustini have never been printed (Quetif and Echard, 1, 458). His chronicle of Genoa, down to 1297, has been published by Muratori, Scriptores rerum Italic. 9:1 sq. The assertion. made by Sixtus Senensis (Biblioth. Sacra, lib. 4), that Jacob wrote an Italian translation of the Bible, appears to be erroneous: no such work has ever been found, nor is it mentioned by contemporary writers; it is, moreover, highly improbable that the compiler of the Legenda aurea should have considered it desirable or profitable to give the fiction-loving people the Scriptures in the vernacular. See Herzog, Real- Encyklopadie, 6, 399.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Jacob de Voragine'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/j/jacob-de-voragine.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.