A reader writes:
Hi Mr. Akin,
I am an Indian Catholic and a huge fan of yours and am addicted to Catholic Answers content. I want to ask you how to verify sources of quotes.
I am currently collecting quotes on the Papacy in the early Church. I’ve got lots of stuff (copy-pasted from internet forums), but I want to be careful?before I use them and see if they are accurate. I’ve seen these quotes being used in apologetic books, but I would like to see the original sources to confirm for myself.
A quote looks like, for example:?Cyprian of Carthage (c. A.D. 200 – 258):
“the Chief or Ruling Church [at Rome], whence the Unity of the priesthood has its source, and to which heretical perfidy cannot gain access” [Epist. lv. ad Cornel. ed. Baluz].
I am not an academic so I don’t know how to work with these. What is this Epist.?lv. ad Cornel. ed. Baluz.? This seems like an abbreviated name, so how do I find the exact title? Also, do you think I’d be able to find the book (even as a translation) online?
Thank you very much for writing and for your kind words. Your desire to look up quotations and verify them in context is very commendable! I wish more people did that!
You may find that not all of the quotations out there (either pro- or anti-papacy) are being used correctly and in context.
The system of citations used for these documents can take a little while to learn, and it helps to know some Latin, because those abbreviations are in Latin.
The citation “Epist. lv. ad Cornel. ed. Baluz” has 3 parts.
The first and most important is “Epist. lv.”
“Epist.” is short for “Epistula,” which is the Latin word for “epistle” or “letter”–so you know you’re looking for one of Cyprian’s letters.
“lv” is the Latin number for 55, so you’re looking for Cyprian’s Letter #55.
But letters can be numbered differently in different editions, so what’s Letter #55 in one book might have a different number in another book.
That’s where the other two parts of the citation come in.
“Ad Cornel.” tells you something else to help you identify the correct letter.
“Ad” is the Latin word for “to,” and “Cornel.” is an abbreviation for the name “Cornelius,” so “ad Cornel.” means the letter you’re looking for is addressed “to Cornelius.” If it’s addressed to someone else, it’s the wrong letter.
For example, here is Letter 55 in one collection that is available online:
Upon opening it, you might think, “Ah! This is Letter 55, so it must be the right one!” But it’s not. From the opening line, you can see it’s addressed “To the people abiding at Thibaris” not “To Cornelius.” Apparently, the editor of this collection gave the letters different numbers than the edition that was being cited.
So, who’s edition was that? This is where the last part of the citation comes in: “ed. Baluz”
“Ed.” is short for “editio”–the Latin word for “edition,” and “Baluz” is a proper name. So, somewhere out there, there was an edition of Cyprian’s letters by someone named Baluz, and in the edition of Baluz, Letter #55 was addressed to Cornelius, and that’s the letter you’re looking for.
Unfortunately, I don’t have Baluz’s edition. You might be able to find it, as it’s probably in the public domain. However, I went another route to find the letter you’re looking for.
I googled “cyprian chief or ruling church letter cornelius” and the first result was this one:
Instead of being Letter 55, it’s Letter 54–one off–in the collection that they have at NewAdvent.org
To find the specific passage, I then hit Ctrl-F and searched the letter for one of the keywords from your quotation–“unity”–and in section 14 of the letter, I found this:
After such things as these, moreover, they still dare — a false bishop having been appointed for them by, heretics— to set sail and to bear letters from schismatic and profane persons to the throne of Peter, and to the chief church whence priestly unity takes its source; and not to consider that these were the Romans whose faith was praised in the preaching of the apostle, to whom faithlessness could have no access.
That’s clearly the passage that you’re looking for; it’s just a different translation of it.
Because translations render words differently (note that this one uses “priestly unity” instead of “the unity of the priesthood”), you often have to try searching?on more than one key term to find the right passage. If you’d searched on “priesthood” you wouldn’t have found the right passage. But searching on “unity,” you would find it.
If I were going to cite this passage for other people, I would do it like this:
The reason is that I don’t want other people to have the same trouble finding the passage that I did. They probably won’t know what “Epist. lv ad Cornel. ed. Baluz” means. Neither will they likely know how to find Baluz’s edition, which is likely out of print.
But–if I update the citation to read “Letter 54” instead of 55–and if I add the section number 14, I can tell them exactly?where to go in an edition that is easy to find on the Internet. I can even give them a direct link along with the citation (as above).
This procedure is what I used here, and variations on it will work when trying to identify other hard-to-understand citations.
If nothing else works, you can always just google key words from the quotation until you find the passage in its original context.
You may be aware of this, but something that can help when googling is using the “site:” tag to restrict the searching to a specific web site.
For example, NewAdvent.org has a lot of documents by the Church Fathers, and so–in addition to your key words–you can add the tag “site:newadvent.org” to your search query, and it will search New Advent only?for the key terms, making it more likely that you’ll find the quotation in a primary source document.
Years ago, when I first started researching in the Church Fathers it took me a while to figure all this out, so I hope it’s helpful to you!
God bless you in your studies!