|6th cen. fresco discovered beneath the Lateran Chapel in|
Rome, probably part of the ancient Lateran library
But one may ask, "How representative of other Christian centers was the Caesarean Library? Was it exceptional?"
Early Christian Libraries
Eusebius tells us that Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, founded a library in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 3rd century (Hist. eccl. 6.20.1). This library of Jerusalem appears to have had extensive holdings and contained the works of Beryllus, Hippolytus, and the Dialogue of Caius with Proclus (Hist. eccl. 6.20.2-3).
There seems to be no explicit mention of a library in Alexandria Egypt. But there was a famous catechetical school in Alexandria which flourished under Pantaenus in the late second century and later under Clement and Origen. Judging by the diversity of sources used by Clement and Origen (before he moved to Caesarea) there must have been an extensive library connected with the school (Gamble, Books and Readers, 161). It is likely that the Caesarean Library was patterned after the library of the catechetical school in Alexandria. Pantaenus personal library may have made up the nucleus of the Alexandrian catechetical school library in much the same way as Origen's personal library formed the nucleus of the Caesarean library.
There are no other major libraries explicitly mentioned for other Christian centers in the first and second centuries. But most Church congregations would have had collections of Christian writings, epistolary material from inter-Church communications, and other archival material (Gamble, Books and Readers, 144). As early as the letter of 1 Clement (ca. 96 CE), one can ascertain that Clement must have had a modest library at his disposal in Rome for writing his letter to the Corinthian Church. Just a decade or so later Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 112 CE) indicated specific collections of writings when he referenced the "archives" of Old Testament writings (Ign. Phld. 8.2) and made reference to the letters of Paul (Ign. Eph. 12.2). The author of 2 Clement, in the early second century, alluded to specific book collections when making reference to "the books and the apostles" (2 Clem. 14.2).
Justin Martyr (ca. 140 CE) in Rome wrote of the universal practice of reading from Christian literature;
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. (Apology, 1.67; ANF 1:186)Of course, reading every Sunday would be impossible if Church congregations had no collections of books from which to select.
Irenaeus of Lugdunum, Gaul (France, ca. 180), had an impressive array of Christian literature at his disposal, orthodox and gnostic (Haer. 1.31.2). These gnostic and "heretical" writings must have been largely available because Irenaeus criticized Christians for not reading and familiarizing themselves with their "false" doctrines (Haer. 4.preface.2.).
Melito of Sardis (died ca. 180), was a Jewish Christian who wrote extensively on the Passover, the canon of the Old Testament, and composed an Apology to Marcus Aurelius (Hist. eccl. 4.13.8; Vir ill. 24).
These Church fathers are merely representative of the prolific literary out-put of many Church leaders of the first through the third centuries (Hippolytus, Tertullian, etc). These scholars must have had extensive book collections at their disposal and many of them wrote expecting their readers to understand their references to Christian literature.
By the time of the great persecution under Diocletian in 303, book collections in Church congregations had become so numerous that Roman officials began to round them up and burn them (Gamble, Books and Readers, 145). Even in places as far reaching as the town of Cirta in Numidia North Africa Roman officials located extensive book collections (Gamble, Books and Readers, 145). The Martyrdom of St. Felix and The Martyrdom of Saints Agape, Irene, and Chione, each give evidence of sizable Church libraries (Gamble, Books and Readers, 145-148).
|Mosaic of a Book Cabinet 5th cen.|
Christian Book Lists
Let us return to our original question, "How representative of other Christian centers was the Caesarean Library? Was it exceptional?" When it came to the practice of inventorying the library holdings, the Caesarean library was no exception. This practice appears to have been common in Roman society (Houston, Inside Roman Libraries, 39-40). Besides Pamphilus's cataloging efforts, there is an example of a Church or monastic community inventorying their holdings in the papyrus fragment dating to the early fourth century, P. Ash. Inv. 3, which lists out Old Testament writings, Gospel writings, and even a copy of the Shepherd of Hermas (Gamble, Books and Readers, 149).
Certainly, the Caesarean library was exceptional in its connections with Origen, and Eusebius. But this library was not exceptional in its collecting of Christian literature and cataloging of its holdings, as it was a Roman practice to do so. Therefore, anywhere there was a book-collection, there was likely a book-list to go with it.
Gamble, Harry Y. Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995
Gregory, Andrew. The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Hill, C. E. Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy. New York City: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Houston, George W. Inside Roman Libraries: Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2014