On Critical Editions

It has become commonplace for scholars to insist upon use only of the critical editions of manuscripts.  It is interesting, however, that in many cases these editions are not properly available to all those who need them; and, likewise, that no essential difference on pertinent speculative points may obtain between the critical edition and some earlier edition.  Accordingly, the question that must be raised at some juncture is why the speculative pursuit of inquiry should be impeded by being restricted to less available works when these do not vary in any essential facet from some earlier edition in terms of the particular speculative issue concerned. Certainly it would be ideal were the Leonine editions made available in the manner in which the University of Navarre has made Thomas’s work available on its Corpus Thomisticum site.  But in the absence of this, and where no significant textual difference affects the speculative issue pursued, there is no speculative basis for frowning on the use of earlier editions. A scholar should track the relation of the editions—if there is a significant difference with respect to the matter under examination, the edition judged to be better with respect to that matter should be used—but where there is no essential discrepancy, or only the most minor discrepancy, what matters is the authenticity and adequacy of the pertinent passages and not a wider comparison of editions.  It is one thing to prefer an edition.  It is another to suppose that for this reason correct texts in earlier editions cannot legitimately be cited; or to suppose that editions less available to students should be given universal preference over earlier editions even when these earlier editions do not vary significantly from the later edition and are more accessible.  Given that the Leonine Commission was given the task of making Thomas’s work accessible, the insistence on using a less accessible edition even where this is not mission-critical is ironic.  St. Dominic famously insisted that “grain that is horded, rots”.  It is past time for the Leonine Commission to make the entire critical edition of Thomas’s work available online to the world.  The original purpose of the Leonine Commission could not be better served.  And hard copies will always still be desired by libraries (as well as by individuals!).