Computers & Texts No. 11
Table of Contents
March 1996

Using CETEDOC as an Instructional Tool

Maureen Tilley
Associate Professor of Religion
Florida State University

The CETEDOC Library of Christian Latin Texts CD-ROM was developed primarily with research in mind. It is fast becoming clear, however, that a rigid distinction between resources for research and resources for teaching cannot be maintained in the humanities. This article describes how CETEDOC is successfully employed in the teaching of Patristics to undergraduate students.

Helping undergraduate and graduate students to access the resources of Latin patristic documents is a formidable task. As a classroom teacher, I want to move my students from a slavish dependence on manuals and general volumes to an active engagement with the writings of Christianity in Late Antiquity, so they can ask their own questions of the texts. Part of the problem with this project is the volume and the state of the published materials. Searching the index to each volume of Corpus Christianorum or Sources Chrétiennes, even for a single author like Augustine or Jerome, is a formidable task even for the well-motivated scholar. Access to specific concepts in the corpus of Migne, even with the indices, is next to impossible unless one knows the method of the indices. This itself presumes a fair degree of scholarly sophistication. Woe to the scholar who presumes to ask the indices for entries on a topic not deemed important to the scholars of old, like women or childbirth. The second part of the problem is the linguistic backgrounds of most undergraduate students. At least in the United States, many register for patristics courses with only the most rudimentary knowledge of Latin. This situation might discourage an instructor or at least dim one's hopes of reading high quality papers at the end of the semester.

Yet one need not despair of providing undergraduates with an opportunity to pursue their interests in the period of Late Antiquity. This article discusses the use of the CETEDOC Library of Christian Latin Texts CD-ROM as it applies to undergraduate instruction.


The CETEDOC database is a single CD-ROM containing the text of the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina and the Continuatio Mediaeualis. It is supplemented by other editions to provide the complete works of Augustine, Jerome and Gregory the Great. These are usually from Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiaticorum Latinorum, other critical editions, or Migne. The database contains over twenty-one million Latin forms.

Searches are performed by entering choices into boxes on the screen called 'filters'. These are the name of the author, the work to be searched (if left blank, all works by the author are searched), the number in E. Dekker's Clavis Patrum Latinorum (if known; not ordinarily necessary), the specification Patres latini or Medii aevi scriptores (if a global search is desired), the specific form or forms to be searched. When a person types any entry into a 'filter' box, the program verifies or questions the form, and the user can access a list of options for a questionable form. Thus the user immediately knows if there is a problem with the data entered and the user is given an option for correction. The program allows for single word and Boolean searches with wild cards and alternative spellings, e.g., p*nitentia will search for penitentia, poenitentia, and paenitentia. By replacing the ending of a word with a wild card, the program will search variant forms, e.g., Gregori* will search for Gregorius in all cases. Enclitic particles (-ne and-que) are treated as separate words so novice users will not be confused.

The CETEDOC search screen

The program provides citations as well as the opportunity to have recourse to the complete text. One may read and manually copy from the screen, or download to paper or disk, depending on the hardware available. When downloading citations one can save not only the sentence and reference (author, treatise, chapter, and line number in the critical edition) but the number of leading and trailing sentences one chooses. One may not, however, download entire treatises. In the simplest form, one enters author and form to be searched and receives sentences in which the form occurs with the form highlighted.

Results of a search in CETEDOC

The best features of this program include the simplicity of the filter system and immediate and specific feedback on errors. There is a help key with explanations of functions in major European languages. The users' manual (in French and English) is compact but thorough. Brepols ships quickly, provides a replacement disk if your disk is damaged, and has technical support available. The major problem is the cost of the disk. The price is reduced for subscribers to the Corpus Christianorum Series and for second and subsequent disks to the same purchaser. Students who are used to 'instant everything' might balk at waiting five to ten minutes for a search of the entire Ambrosian corpus, but not if you have prepared them to think of the alternative.

Teaching with CETEDOC

I teach a regularly scheduled course 'Christianity in Late Antiquity', to mixed classes of upper-level undergraduates and first year graduate students at a large state university. The course begins with the late first century and ends with Gregory the Great. There are no prerequisites for this course and a variety of students register. They usually come from the Religion, Classics, and History Departments. One of the assignments is the production of a research paper of moderate length (eight to ten pages) and narrow scope. Students must use primary source materials (in original languages or in critical translations). Most students are hesitant to use paper indices of patristic works and would, under ordinary circumstances, resort to encyclopaedia articles and general treatises on their subjects, ornamenting their papers with texts they have gleaned from secondary sources. However, I have been able to motivate students to engage primary sources directly. Even students with rudimentary Latin skills are able to produce exceptionally good papers because our University library has the CETEDOC disk.

Undergraduates are open to the idea of using the CETEDOC database because they are comfortable using computer programs for data retrieval. All have previously learned to use the University's computer-based library catalogue. Some have also used other computer databases like MLA Index. They are also familiar with the 'word search' capabilities of their own personal computers. Consequently, it is a small project to convince them that they can manipulate a database in another language, because, at this point, all they have to do to find the occurrences of specific words.

I provide a general classroom orientation to the problems associated with accessing patristic documents and the opportunities offered by the use of the disk. Each student, with some guidance, chooses a topic for her or his paper and prepares a preliminary bibliography on their topic. Next, for students whose topics lend themselves to the use of the CETEDOC disk, I provide a simplified instruction manual (four pages). I work individually with students to help them decide what words and word combinations they need to search to begin their research. If they have a sufficient grasp of Latin, I encourage them to find synonyms for their key words and to make sure they know all of the forms of the words in their various cases. For students without these skills I provide the forms.

The class then attends an hour-long demonstration workshop at the library. The demonstration is open to students from other classes and departments. All come with specific topics in mind and often with specific terms. The library provides me with a projector which is linked to the CETEDOC disk hardware so that all the students can see how to use the disk. I demonstrate some simple and routine searches, taking the students through all the filters, but letting them know which ones are absolutely essential (author and word). I deliberately make mistakes about which I have warned them, so that they can correct my mistakes and learn how to avoid frustrations, such as searching for justus or vanitas when their search should have been for iustus or uanitas. Students then make appointments to use the disk outside of class time. At present the University has one disk, housed in the University library. We are in the process of acquiring one for the Religion Department, as we have a number of faculty members interested in the history of biblical interpretation, as well as an expanding Ph.D. program. One can easily imagine faculty and graduate use of this tool.

The most frequent objection raised to the use of documentary databases by undergraduates is the possibility that students will simply string together the quotations they find and avoid a nuanced reading of the primary sources. Paradoxically, the very fact that the students have minimal Latin skills is a safeguard against this. On their first retrieval of citations, they cannot determine the value of the citations they have garnered. In fact, they are not reading the citations themselves but the titles and sections of the documents in which their key words have been found. They are collecting the citations as if they were entries in an index.

Because undergraduate students use the CETEDOC disk in this manner, even students who cannot read Latin at all can use it very profitably. Once they recover the names and section numbers of the treatises, they can take the names to the library's computerized catalogue, type in the Latin name of the treatise, and learn the name and call number of an English translation. If the catalogue does not immediately reveal one, they are trained to have recourse to a standard manual of patrology or selected members of the reference staff.

After they have collected their citations, I encourage them to look for the constellations of citations in various works, e.g., the works in which Augustine most frequently refers to martyrs, relics and miracles in close proximity, or the times an author quotes a passage from the Bible. Students arrange the references by author and title of treatise (in chronological order). Next they find translations of the treatises and read the editors' introductions. They read significant sections of the treatises in chronological order. Then, and only then, are they prepared to formulate a thesis, e.g., about Augustine's attitude toward miracles associated with relics and how it may have changed over time, or how Gregory the Great modified the interpretation of the gospel verse which he inherited from the larger tradition.

At that point students are finally prepared to read secondary sources. They can see what other hypotheses, if any, exist about their own question. They can understand the discussions and references because they have met the texts themselves and puzzled over them on their own before reading other people's opinions. After reading secondary materials, they are ready to reread their primary source materials, if necessary, to perform other searches, to reformulate their theses, and write their papers. References to secondary materials thus buttress their own arguments and do not simply constitute arguments from authority.


Students who have availed themselves of the disk have often improved their Latin and have realised that they too can do original research. The best of the papers produced by undergraduates in their thirteen-week semesters have rivalled published masters' theses. I encourage professors not only to use the disk for their own work but also to encourage its use by their students. In the long term, one has the satisfaction of encouraging talented students. In the short term, one has the satisfaction of reading much better term papers.

Further information about the CETEDOC Library of Christian Latin Texts is available from Hans Deraeve, Brepols Publishers, Steenweg op Tielen 68, B-2300 Turnhout, Belgium. Tel: 32 14 40 25 00. Fax: 32 14 42 89 19.

[Table of Contents] [Letter to the Editor]

Computers & Texts 11 (1996), 2. Not to be republished in any form without the author's permission.

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