Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

French scholar, b. in 1655, at the château de Soulatge, Department of Aude, arrondissement of Carcassone; d. in Paris, at the Abbey of St-Germain-des-Prés, in 1741. He was the son of Timoléon de Montfaucon and of Flore de Maignan. His family, originally of Gascony, had settled in Languedoc after the Albigensian Crusade of the thirteenth century; its principal seat was the château of Roquetaillade ( arrondissement of Limoux), where Bernard was reared. He was instructed by Pavillon, Bishop of Aleth, his father's friend, and in 1672, at the age of thirteen, he entered the Académie des Cadets at Perpignan, to prepare for a military career. After his father's death, he left home with his relative, the Marquis d'Hautpol, a captain of grenadiers in the Regiment of Languedoc, and served as a volunteer under Turenne (1673). He went through the campaign of Alsace, was at the battle of Marienthal, and fell dangerously ill at Saverne. In pursuance of a vow made to the Blessed Virgin, he then returned to his own country, resolved upon entering religion. On 13 May, 1676, he made his profession in the Benedictine monastery of Durade, at Toulouse. Being sent to the Abbey of Sorèze, he there learned Greek, making rapid progress. He next spent eight years at the priory of la Grasse (Aude). Claude Martin, assistant superior of the Congregation of St-Maur, noted his zeal and caused him to be sent to the Abbey of Sainte-Croix at Bordeaux. Finally, in 1687, he was transferred to Paris, to the Abbey of St-Germain-des-Prés, which, under the rule of Mabillon, had become one of the chief centres of French erudition. He was then chosen to assist in preparing the edition of the Greek Fathers which the Benedictines had undertaken. To perfect his own training, he also began the study of Hebrew, Chaldean, Syriac, and Coptic, as well as that of numismatics, and in 1694 was appointed curator of the numismatic collection at St-Germain-des-Prés.

In 1690 Montfaucon had published a treatise on "La vérité de l'histoire de Judith". The monumental edition of the works of St. Athanasius , on which he laboured with Dom Pouget and Dom Lopin, appeared in 1698 and was well received (3 vols., folio, Paris ; reproduced in P.G., XXV-XXVIII). Before undertaking new patristic labours, he resolved to study the manuscripts in the libraries of Italy. Obtaining permission in 1698, he set out with Dom Paul Briois. At Milan he made the acquaintance of Muratori ; at Venice he was received very coldly, and was not even allowed to see the manuscripts in the Benedictine monasteries of San Giorgio Maggiore and San Marco. On the other hand, he was welcomed at Mantua, Ravenna, and especially at Rome by Innocent XI. Having been named by his superiors procurator general at Rome of the Order of St. Benedict, certain difficulties with the Jesuits led to his resignation of that office which brought with it so many distractions from his chief work, and in 1701 he secured his recall to France. The scientific results of his journey were embodied in the quarto volume of his "Diarium Italicum" (Paris, 1702). He also collected the notes of his companion, Dom Paul Briois, who had died on the journey (edited by Omont, "Revue des Bibliothèques", XIV, 1904).

In the full maturity of his powers, at liberty to satisfy his passion for work, with a large experience of life and an intense fund of general information, Montfaucon now took up his abode at the Abbey of St-Germain-des-Prés, where he spent the last forty years of his life. Here a choice body of scholars gathered around him, his avowed disciples, whose affection for their master prompted them to take the name of "Bernardins". Among these were Claude de Vic and Joseph Vaissette, authors of the "Histoire de Languedoc", the hellenist Charles de la Rue (his favourite disciple ), Dom Lobineau, the historian of Brittany, and even the Abbé Prévost, who was then a collaborator on the "Gallia Christiana" . Montfaucon, moreover, corresponded with scholars all over Europe, and, in spite of the heavy tasks he took upon himself, he succeeded, thanks to his abstemious and regular life, in working almost to his last day. During this, his most productive period, he supplemented the former edition of the Greek Fathers with a "Collectio nova patrum et scriptorum graecorum" (2 vols., folio, Paris, 1706). In 1709 he translated into French the "De vita contemplativa" of Philo Judæus, and essayed to prove that the Therapeutae there mentioned were Christians. Next appeared the edition of Origen (2 vols., fol., Paris, 1713) and that of St. John Chrysostom (13 vols., folio, Paris, 1718), prepared with the assistance of François Faverolles, treasurer of St-Denis, and four Benedictines, who spent thirteen years in collating 300 manuscripts.

The thoroughly scientific bent of Montfaucon's mind led him to elaborate a new auxiliary science out of the studies he had made for the verification of his Greek texts. As Mabillon had created the science of diplomatics, so Montfaucon was the father of Greek palaeography, the principles of which he established by the rigour of his method in grouping his personal observations. His great "Palaeographia Graeca" (folio, Paris, 1708) inaugurated the scientific study of Greek texts. Another auxiliary science of history, that of bibliography, owes to him a work still of considerable value, the "Bibliotheca bibliothecarum manuscriptorum nova" (2 vols., folio, Paris, 1739), a catalogue of the Greek manuscripts of the chief libraries of Europe. Lastly, Montfaucon intuitively saw what benefit might accrue to history from the study of figured monuments, and, if he was not the creator of archaeology, he was at least the first to show what advantages might be derived from it. Two of his works show him to be an originator. In 1719 he published "L'Antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures" (10 vols., folio, Paris ), in which he reproduces, methodically grouped, all the ancient monuments that might be of use in the study of the religion, domestic customs, material life, military institutions, and funeral rites of the ancients. Of this work, which contains 1120 plates, the whole edition of 1800 copies was exhausted in two months, in spite of its enormous size. The regent, Philippe d'Orléans, desired that the author should become a member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, and he was elected to replace Père Letellier (1719). Montfaucon then conceived a more daring idea, a work, similar to "l'Antiquité expliquée", which should embrace the entire history on France. This work, the "Monuments de la monarchie française", dedicated to Louis XV, appeared from 1729 to 1733 (5 vols., folio, Paris ). In it Montfaucon studies the history, as it is shown in the monuments, of each successive reign down to that of Henry IV . His reproductions are inexact, and the work remained incomplete. In 19 December, 1741, he read before the Academy of Inscriptions a plan for completing this work; two days later he passed away tranquilly, without any premonitory symptoms of illness. An indefatigable scholar, a bold thinker, an originator of scientific methods, he left after him a mighty generation of disciples to form the connecting link between the old Benedictine learning and modern scholarship.

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 6:10-20
10 Finally, grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 144:1, 2, 9-10
1 [Of David] Blessed be Yahweh, my rock, who trains my hands for war and ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 13:31-35
31 Just at this time some Pharisees came up. 'Go away,' they said. 'Leave ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 27th, 2016 Image

St. Frumentius
October 27: Called "Abuna" or "the fa¬≠ther' of Ethiopia, ... Read More