An early Zel quarto: Rufinus' Apologia for the Virgin Birth

Rufinus, Tyrannius, Aquileiensis (344/5-411)

Expositio in symbolum apostolorum

[Cologne: Ulrich Zel], about 1472


Chancery quarto in half sheets: 20.6 x 14 cm. 30 leaves. Collation: a-c8, d6 (leaf d6 blank and present). 2a: 27 lines, 146 x 85 mm. Type 96 (108) Voulliéme 1057. Hain *8578.


First edition of Rufinus' exposition on the Creed. The printer, Ulrich Zel (d. ca. 1505), was the first printer in Cologne. A fine copy. Bound in nineteenth-century green morocco gilt. Later 4-line initial in red on a gold ground with red penwork decoration, early red paraphs and initial strokes, early manuscript note on verso of final blank.  With watermarks of a unicorn and a p surmounted by a cross, which was also used by Zel for his edition of "De pollutione nocturna" (see Needham, p. 27)

The printer:

"Ulrich Zel is no obscure figure in the history of printing. He has long been recognized as the first printer in Cologne, with a prolific, if sparsely signed and dated, output spread over more than a generation from the mid-1460s on. He is, moreover, a critical witness in the matter of Johann Gutenberg. The 1499 Cologne Chronicle cites Zel, then still living, as the primary source of its statmenets that 'joncker Johan Gudenburch' was the inventor of typography, and that the first book made by this new system was a Latin Bible printed with a 'grobe' types. In essence, Zel asserted that there was such a thing as a 'Gutenberg Bible,' centuries before antiquaries took the statement seriously… It is accepted that by strong probability, Zel himself became involved in the craft of printing in Mainz during Gutenberg's lifetime, and that his statements reflect personal knowledge."(Needham, Ulrich Zel's early quartos revisisted, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, Vol. 15, No. 1, (2012), pp. 9-57)

The Author:

"Tyrannius Rufinus is chiefly known from his relation to Jerome, first as an intimate friend and afterwards as a bitter enemy. Like Jerome, he departed from Italy to live in the East. For many years he lived in monasteries in Egypt and in Palestine, acquiring the learning of the Eastern churches. Towards the end of his life he returned to Italy and occupied himself in translating works of the earlier Greek Fathers into Latin.

"His exposition on the Creed, besides its intrinsic merits, must always be an authority as a witness to the state of the creed as held in the Italian churches in the beginning of the 5th century, as also to the state of the Canon and the Apocrypha at that time. 

"The exposition was made at the request of Laurentius, a Bishop whose see is unknown, but is conjectured by Fontanini, in his life of Rufinus, to have been Concordia, Rufinus’ birthplace. Its exact date cannot be fixed; but from the fact that he says nothing of his difficulty in writing Latin after being so long in the East, as he does in several of his books, and from the comparative ease of the style, it is most probable that it was written in the later years of his sojourn at Aquileia, that is, about 307–309. 

"Its value is considerable (1) as bearing witness to the state of the Creed in local churches at the beginning of the 5th century, especially their variations. (In the church of Aquileia, in JesChristo. Patrem invisibilem et impassibilem. Resurrectio hujus carnis); (2) as showing the adaptation of Eastern ideas to the formation of Western theology; (3) as giving the Canon of the books of Scripture, and the Apocrypha of both the Old and New dispensations."(W.H. Fremantle)

"Qui natus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine". Rufinus and the Virgin Birth:

Rufinus' exposition contains his remarkable explanation of the mystery and mechanism of the Virgin birth, in the course of which even the Virgin's initial lack of understanding is recalled. This part of the exposition includes an even more remarkable apologia for that doctrine, in which Rufinus points to examples of parthenogenesis in nature, including the marvelous Eastern bird, the phoenix; and counters the arguments of pagans, whose parthenogenic deities (such as Athena who was born from the head of Zeus) do not involve conception, gestation in the womb, or even the agency of a woman. Among the other matters considered by Rufinus is whether Christ's passage through the birth canal was a form of defilement.

ISTC ir00351000 ; Goff R351; HC 8578*; Voull(K) 1057; Pell Ms 10282 [bis] (10057b); CIBN R-226; Zehnacker 2033; Kotvan 635; Sajó-Soltész 2987; IDL 3971; Ernst(Hildesheim) I,I 239; Voull(B) 716,5; Voull(Trier) 371; Ohly-Sack 2507; Pad-Ink 602; Walsh 338; Oates 383, 384; Bod-inc R-147; Sheppard 667, 668; Pr 877; BMC I 191; BSB-Ink R-285; GW M08074