Heribert Rosweyde

Heribert Rosweyde

Heribert Rosweyde (2 January 1569, Utrecht, Netherlands - 5 October 1629, Antwerp, Belgium) was a Jesuit hagiographer. His work, quite unfinished, was taken up by Jean Bolland who systematized it, while broadening its perspective. This is the beginning of the association of the Bollandists.


He entered the Society of Jesus in 1588. A professor of philosophy in the Jesuit college at Douai during the last years of the sixteenth century, Rosweyde devoted his leisure to the libraries of the monasteries of Hainaut and French Flanders. He copied with his own hand a vast number of documents relating to church history in general, and to hagiography in particular, and found in the old texts contained in the manuscripts coming under his observation quite a different flavour from that of the revisions to which many editors, notably Lippomano and Surius, then the latest and most celebrated, had believed it necessary to subject them.


Rosweyde thought it would be a useful work to publish the texts in their original form. His superiors, to whom he submitted his plan in 1603, gave it their approval, and allowed him to prepare the projected edition, without, however, relieving him of other occupations. Rosweyde pursued his project, which he announced publicly in 1607, as well as the plan he proposed to follow. Under the title: "Fasti sanctorum quorum vitae in belgicis bibliothecis manuscriptiae", he gave in a little volume in 16mo., published by the Plantin press at Antwerp, an alphabetical list of the names of the saints whose acts had been either found by him or called to his attention in old manuscript collections. This list filled fifty pages; the prefatory notice in which he indicates the character and arrangement of his work, as he had conceived it, takes up fourteen. Finally, the work contains an appendix of twenty-six pages containing the unpublished acts of the passion of the Cilician martyrs, Tharsacus, Probus, and Andronicus, which Rosweyde regarded -- wrongly -- as the authentic official report from the pen of a clerk of the court of the Roman tribunal.

According to this programme the collection was to comprise sixteen volumes, besides two volumes of explanations and tables. The first volume was to present documents concerning the life of Jesus Christ and the feasts established in honour of the special events of His life; the second volume would be devoted to the life and the feasts of the Blessed Virgin, and the third to the feasts of the Saints honoured with a more special cult. The twelve succeeding volumes were to give the lives of the saints whose feasts are celebrated respectively in the twelve months of the year, one volume for each month. This calendar arrangement had been prescribed by his superiors, in preference to the chronological order Rosweyde himself favoured. But this presented, especially at that time, formidable difficulties. Lastly, the sixteenth volume was to set forth the succession of martyrologies which had been in use at different periods and in the various Churches of Christendom. The first of the two supplementary volumes was to contain notes and commentaries bearing on the lives divided into eight books treating respectively of the following subjects:

*The authors of the lives;
*the sufferings of the martyrs;
*the images of the saints;
*liturgical rites and customs mentioned in hagiographical documents;
*profane customs to which allusions had been made;
*questions of chronology;
*names of places encountered in these same documents;
*barbarous or obscure terms which might puzzle the readers.

The other supplement was to present a series of copious tables giving:
*the names of the saints whose lives had been published in the preceding volumes;
*the same names followed by notes indicating the place of the saint's birth, his station in life, his title to sanctity, the time and place in which he had lived, and the author of his life;
*the state of life of the various saints (religious, priest, virgin, widow, etc.);
*their position in the Church (apostle, bishop, abbot, etc.);
*the nomenclature of the saints according to the countries made illustrious by their birth, apostolate, sojourn, burial;
*nomenclature of the places in which they are honoured with a special cult;
*enumeration of the maladies for the cure of which they are especially invoked;
*the professions placed under their patronage;
*the proper names of persons and places encountered in the published lives;
*the passages of Holy Scripture there explained;
*points which may be of use in religious controversies;
*those applicable in the teaching of Christian doctrine;
*a general table of words and things in alphabetical order.

"And others still," adds the author, "if anything of importance presents itself, of which our readers may give us an idea."

Cardinal Bellarmine, to whom Rosweyde sent a copy of his little volume, could not forbear exclaiming after he had read this programme: "This man counts, then, on living two hundred years longer!" He addressed to the author a letter, the original of which is preserved in the present library of the Bollandists, signed, but not written by the hand of Bellarmine, in which he intimates in polished but perfectly plain language that he regarded the plan as chimerical.

Rosweyde was nowise disconcerted by this. From various other sources he received encouragement, enthusiastic praise, and valuable assistance. The new enterprise found an especial protector, as generous as he was zealous and enlightened, in Antoine de Wynghe, abbot of the celebrated monastery of Liessies in the now Nord department of France. Venerable Louis of Blois, whose third successor de Wynghe was, seemed to have bequeathed to him his devotion to the Jesuits. The large sympathy of this patron manifested itself in every way; in letters of recommendation to the heads of the various houses of the great Benedictine Order which opened to Rosweyde and his associates monastic libraries; in loans and gifts of books, of manuscripts, and of copies of manuscripts; and in pecuniary assistance.

Rosweyde quite counted on completing by his own efforts the monument of which he had dreamed, and on bringing it to a worthy end. As a matter of fact, he did not get beyond the first stages of the structure. His literary activity was expended on a multitude of historical works, both religious and polemical, some of which, it is true, would have later formed a part of the great hagiographical compilation. The majority, however, bear no relation whatever to the work. At the time of Rosweyde's death, then, which took place in Antwerp in 1629, not a page was ready for the printer.

His labour was not lost however, as Jean Bolland, entrusted with going through the papers and documents gathered by Rosweyde saw the value of them all and embarked decidedly on the vast project identified later with the association of the Bollandists. The first volume of the "Acta Sanctorum" came out of the press in 1643.


The writings which would have been available are: the edition of the "Little Roman Martyrology", in which Rosweyde believed he recognized the collection mentioned by Gregory the Great in his letter to Eulogius of Alexandria; the edition of the martyrology of Ado of Vienne (1613); the ten books of the "Lives of the Fathers of the Desert", which he first published in Latin (1615 in fol.), dedicating the work to the Abbot of Liessies, and later in Flemish (1617) in fol., with an inscription to Jeanne de Bailliencourt, Abbess of Messines.

The rest, however, as for instance the Flemish edition of Ribadeneira's "Flowers of the Saints" (1619, two folio volumes), the "General History of the Church" (1623), to which he added as an appendix the detailed history of the Church in the Netherlands, both in Flemish; the Flemish lives of St. Ignatius and St. Philip Neri; the Flemish translation of the first part of the "Treatise on Perfection", drew his attention.


*COENS, Maurice: 'Héribert Rosweyde et la recherche des documents. Un témoignage inédit', in "Anactecta Bollandiana", vol.83, 1965.
*Hippolyte Delehaye: "L'oeuvre des Bollandistes à travers trois siecles 1615-1915", Bruxelles, 1959.

External links

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