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Jean Mabillon

Jean Mabillon

The French monk and historian Jean Mabillon (1632-1707) made an important contribution to the science of historical investigation by discovering a way of dating ancient manuscripts.

Jean Mabillon was born on Nov. 23, 1632, the son of a peasant who lived close to Reims. He was a capable student and a religiously devout young man. After spending a year in the diocesan seminary, he became a novice in 1653 in the Benedictine monastery in Reims. He was ordained a priest in 1660, and his quiet scholarly competence prompted his abbot to send him to the abbey of St-Germain-des-Prés in Paris in 1664 to take part in the work of historical research in which the monks there were engaged.

The abbey belonged to a group of reformed Benedictine monasteries called the Congregation of St. Maur. The Maurists were beginning to establish a reputation in Paris for sound historical scholarship. Mabillon's first major project at St-Germain-des-Prés was to collect documents pertaining to the lives of Benedictine saints and to edit these manuscripts into a nine-folio Acta (1668-1701). His grasp of history showed itself in a series of introductions in which he connected each saint's life with the ecclestiastical and civil events that were taking place at that particular time. Mabillon's sensitive interpretations, particularly of the early Middle Ages, received wide attention in French historical circles outside the Benedictine order.

When a Jesuit scholar named Daniel Papebroch attacked the validity of the ancient charters supposedly given by the Merovingian kings to the Benedictine monks for the land on which the Maurist monasteries were built, Mabillon spent 8 years working on a reply: De re diplomatica (1681; On Diplomatics). In it he showed that the age of a manuscript could be determined from its handwriting. With this important work Mabillon established the principles for the modern science of determining manuscript authenticity by means of dating. Later Mabillon was again called upon, this time to defend the legitimacy for monks to do scholarly work. This resulted in his Traité des études monastiques (1691; Treatise on Monastic Studies).

Mabillon traveled widely in Europe in search of manuscripts, but the most profitable trip was to Italy, which led to the publication of Museum Italicum (1687-1689). Throughout his life Mabillon was a monk and a scholar first, and only secondly did he allow himself to become a man of fame and controversy. When he died in St-Germain-des-Prés on Dec. 27, 1707, he had established his place as the greatest historical scholar of the 17th century.

Further Reading

There are no biographies of Mabillon in English. His importance is described in works on the science of history. James Westfall Thompson, A History of Historical Writing, vol. 2 (1942), is especially good. □

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Mabillon, Jean

Jean Mabillon (zhäN mäbēyôN´), 1623–1707, French scholar, a Benedictine monk. His De re diplomatica (1681; with a supplementary volume, 1704) was the first attempt to develop a critical method of determining the authenticity of documents. Mabillon thus created the science of diplomatics, which made historiography far more scientific. The work remains a classic in its field.

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Mabillon, Jean

MABILLON, JEAN

Seventeenth century French Maurist; b. Saint-Pierremont (Ardennes), Nov. 23, 1632; d. Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Dec. 27, 1707. He studied at Reims before becoming a Benedictine monk (1654), was ordained at Corbie (1660), and collaborated with Jean Luc d' Achéry at Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the edition of the works of St. bernard of clairvaux, Sancti Bernardi opera omnia (Paris 1667). Following his master's plan, he collected the documents pertaining to the lives of the saints of the Benedictine Order, which, with T. Ruinart, he published in nine volumes in the Acta Sanctorum ordinis sancti Benedicti (Paris 16681701). These lives of the Benedictine saints in chronological order (5001100) served as a commentary for his Annales ordinis sancti Benedicti, which were continued after his death by R. Massuet and É. Martène (170339). Mabillon also organized voyages of investigation in search of manuscripts in Champagne, Lorraine, and Flanders (1672); Bourgogne (1682); Germany and Switzerland (1683); and Italy (1685). He described their results in Itinerarium Burgundicum, Itinerarium Germanicum (1685) and the more famous Musaeum Italicum (2 v. Paris 168789). The discovery of a Lectionary at Luxeuil was the origin of his study on the Gallican liturgy, Liturgia gallicana (3 v. Paris 1675). He wrote a Traité des études monastiques (1691) and a monograph, devoted mainly to the study of relics, on the cult of unknown saints (1698). When the authenticity of the Merovingian charters of the monastery of Saint-Germain was questioned by the Bollandist D. Papebroch (1675), Mabillon studied the question for six years and published his famous De re diplomatica libri sex (Paris 1681), an exposition of the principles of documentary criticism that laid the foundation for a scientific approach to this discipline. The work was attacked by B. Germon (1703), and Mabillon supplied a supplement by way of a definitive answer (see diplomatics, ecclesiastical). The treatise on monastic studies was his response to the rigorism of A. J. de rancÉ demonstrating the value of scholarly work for monks. Mabillon also supported the claim of John gerson for authorship of the Imitation of Christ. He displayed true monastic equanimity in all his undertakings and courageously opened a path for the conscientious and realistic study of church history. He was made a member of the Royal Academy of Inscriptions and considered one of the most learned men of his age.

Bibliography: h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 190753) 10.1:427724; Mabillon, 2 v. (Paris 195357). g. heer, Johannes Mabillon und die Schweizer Benediktiner (St. Gallen 1938); Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 6:125455. m. d. knowles, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 10 (1959) 153173. a. pratesi, Enciclopedia cattolica, ed. p. paschini et al., 12 v. (Rome 194954) 7:173738. j. bergkamp, Dom Jean Mabillon (Washington 1928).

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