Jacques Paul Migne’s Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Series Latina forms the largest collection ever published of the extant writings of the Latin Fathers and Doctors of the early and medieval Church. It served as the translation base for Philip Schaff’s Early Church Fathers and has been the bedrock for theological and historical studies of the time period extending from Tertullian in AD 200 to Pope Innocent III in AD 1216.
Between 1844 and 1864, the abbé Jacques Paul Migne, an industrious French priest, published the 221 volumes that make up the Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Series Latina, roughly translated “Complete Course on Patrology, Latin Series,” and commonly referred to as “Patrologia Latina” (PL). These volumes contain much of the available witness in Latin to the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the early and medieval Church. Each volume of the Patrologia Latina contains not only the Latin editions, but also lengthy dissertations, introductions, critical apparatuses, and other supplementary material written in Latin.
The 38-volume edition of the Early Church Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff, used many of the Patrologia Latina volumes as its translation base, but the Patrologia Latina contains many works of the Church Fathers not translated by Schaff and not available in English. With the Patrologia Latina, you can read and research valuable but difficult-to-find works, like the important writings by Radbertus and Ratramnus in the ninth century on the Eucharist, which contain the earliest debate on the doctrine of transubstantiation and provide a window into this doctrine's emergence and development.
For those who have the Logos editions of Schaff’s Early Church Fathers, the Patrologia Latina encodes links to the material in common, allowing access to an English translation. More importantly, for those wanting to read the texts translated by Schaff in their original language, the Patrologia Latina is a must.
These volumes are not facsimile editions of page-scans; they are full-blown, full-text Logos resources. Search, for example, for every occurrence of the word “filioque” to trace the important debate surrounding the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son, which contributed to the Great Schism of 1054 between the Eastern and Western Churches. Search for “facienti quod en se est” to look for discussions on Franciscan pactum theology, which was so important for the controversies surrounding the Reformation era. (Morphological tagging may be added later depending on interest.) Each volume of the Patrologia Latina is navigable by page number or column number (the primary method of citation of the Patrologia Latina), linked to many Logos books, and indexed by author and work. Further detail (chapter, section, verse) will depend upon each work itself and reflect the divisions marked by Migne.
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Be sure to also get Migne’s monumental work on the Greek Fathers, the Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Series Graeca (167 vols.). And to round out your collection of the church Fathers in their original languages, don’t forget the Patrologia Syriaca (vols. 1-2) and Orientalis (vols. 1-14, 16) which contains the Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Greek, Georgian, Slavonic, and Syriac writings of the Fathers of the Eastern Church.
A new era was initiated in the 19th century by the Frenchman J.-P. Migne (1800–1875), who was the first to publish all the works of the church fathers according to the best available editions. His Patrologia latina appeared in 221 volumes (1844–64), and, with Latin translations, his Patrologia graeca in 161 volumes (1857–66) . . . scholars all over the world continue to depend on them . . .
Students should be especially alert to the value of both the contents of and the indices to the major series edited by Jacques-Paul Migne, the Patrologia Latina and the Patrologia Graeca.
—Church History: An Introduction to Research, Reference Works, and Methods, by James E. Bradley and Richard A. Muller
The most complete collection of patristic texts, which needs to be consulted when no critical text is available . . .
. . . the two Patrologia remain the standard edition for much of the religious Latin and Greek literature of the patristic and medieval periods.
—A Global Encyclopedia of Historical Writing, vol. 2, by D. R. Woolf
Not only does it usually give the best texts which were available at the time of its publication, but it adds to them a store of notes, introductions, and dissertations by well-known Patristic scholars. The Latin series is furnished with four volumes of useful indices.
. . . PG and PL are still the standard means of reference and citation for most patristic authors.
—The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, Rev. and expanded ed., by Michael Glazier and Monika K. Hellwig
Jacques Paul Migne (1800–1875) was a notable priest and publisher in nineteenth-century France. He studied theology at Orleans, before becoming ordained in the diocese of Orleans in 1824. After publishing a controversial pamphlet, Migne was forced to leave his parish. He moved to Paris, where he founded the journal L’Univers religieux, which he edited until 1836.
In 1836, Migne founded a publishing company designed to distribute theological works cheaply for a wide audience. For nearly three decades, Migne published hundreds of volumes of Greek, Latin, and Syriac writings from the first 15 centuries of Christianity. He published continually until his publishing company was destroyed by fire in 1868, and his publishing was further hampered in 1870 by the Franco-German War. His enormous contribution to Patristics in the Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca continues to be a standard among scholars today.
*Authors in each volume are listed and relfect the Latin text on the series title page of each PL volume. For instance, Saint Jerome is listed as S. Hieronymi. Some volumes contain additional authors and anonymous works.