Migne’s Patrologia Latina

An alert blog reader recently noticed that a citation of PL found in one online resource did not match the references given in two leading commentaries on Romans (see further here). When the reader asked for our advice on how best to cite PL in these instances, it was time for us to learn more about why PL’s column numbering varies across printings.

According to the Patrologia Latina Database (here), PL’s printing history can be divided into at least three different periods. Jacques-Paul Migne initially published the 217 volumes of PL over a twelve-year period, 1844–1855.* Migne reprinted volumes as needed for another decade (through 1865), then sold the rights to the Paris publisher Garnier. Some volumes of Migne’s pre-Garnier reprintings were produced from different plates than his original publications, which introduces significant discrepancies in column numbering. So, for example, PL 30:537 in the original 1846 publication corresponds to PL 30:554 in Migne’s 1865 reprinting. To complicate matters further, in February 1868 a fire destroyed Migne’s presses and printing plates, which meant that Garnier, which had begun reprinting some PL volumes in 1865, was the only source for future reprints—all of which were produced on plates other than Migne’s originals. These plates differed substantially in some cases and are considered in general “inferior in a number of respects to Migne’s own first editions.”

What does this mean for researchers today who need to cite PL? SBL Press recommends that authors always check a PL volume title page to ensure that the printing is dated 1855 or earlier. If the publication or printing date is 1857 or later, we encourage authors to find the original printing of PL to cite.

Finding that earlier printing is not as difficult as one might imagine, since PL is freely available online in a number of locations. Google Books and Archive.org host scans of all 217 volumes of PL, both conveniently listed and linked at the patristica.net website (here) and Roger Pearse’s PL page (here). Another valuable resource is Documenta Catholica Omnia (here), which hosts multiple copies of PL and identifies the printing year for each copy linked.

So, for example, one easily discovers that Ambrose’s (Ambrosiaster’s) Commentaria in Episiolas B. Pauli begins on column 45 in Migne’s original 1845 printing (here, page 5 of the PDF) but on column 41 in Garnier’s 1879 printing (here, page 4 of the PDF).

Because Migne’s initial printings are both original and superior to later printings, SBL Press recommends that authors always cite PL from one of the 1844–1855 volumes. If for some reason it is necessary to cite a later printing, we suggest that the citation indicate the year printed after the volume:column citation:

6. See Ambrosiaster’s commentary on 1 Cor 2:15 in PL 17:207 (1879).

As a rule, however, readers will be best served by citations of Migne’s original printings.

* The dates of publication for the PL entries in SBLHS §§8.4.1–2 need to be corrected to read 1844–1855 instead of 1844–1864. The latter range includes reprint dates that were not part of the original printing of the 217 volumes.

Post updated 7 February 2017.

9 thoughts on “Migne’s Patrologia Latina

  1. Thank you for this excellent, informative post: helps to clear much potential confusion.
    Additional source: certain university libraries provide online access to a searchable database of the original Migne editions through ProQuest.

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  2. This post is very helpful. Thank you! On a related note, I’m still waiting for Logos Bible Software to digitize these volumes along with the PG. They are trying to fund it through their users, it seems. But perhaps a project grant could help it grow wings. I thought I had heard that Perseus was playing with the idea too. Hopefully, this materializes in our lifetime. These sources are so important, it just needs to happen. Does anyone have any information about digitizing projects in this regard? I would be interested in participating, particularly with respect to the Greek volumes.

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  3. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a friend who has been conducting a little research on this. And he actually bought me lunch simply because I found it for him; lol. So let me reword this. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending some time to discuss this issue here on your site.

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