I have previously reported on this blog that the first ancient author to use the phrase “Minor Prophets” was Augustine, in his City of God 18.29. Before Augustine, so I thought, authors used the title “The Twelve” to refer to these prophets, which title is standard in Judaism and derives at least from the early second century BC work Sirach (49:10).
The attribution of the title “Minor Prophets” to Augustine is rather common (see a, b, c). The following scholarly articles that perpetuate this attribution are merely a sampling.
Peter Mommer, “Minor Prophets,” in E. Fahlbusch, et al., The Encyclopedia of Christianity, 4 vols. (Eerdmans and Brill, 2003), 3.544.
John William Rogerson, “Dodekapropheton,” in TRE 9 (De Gruyter, 1982), 18.
Marvin Sweeney is admirably cautious in saying: “The term ‘Minor Prophets,’ Prophetae minores in Latin, first appears in Latin Christian Patristic sources, such as the work of Augustine (City of G–d 18:29)” (The Twelve Prophets, 2 vols. [Liturgical Press, 2000], 1.xvi).
It turns out that Augustine is not the first author on record to use the title “Minor Prophets”. As seen in my preceding post, Hilary already used the term in the introduction to his “tracts” on the psalms. Manlio Simonetti dates this work to the last decade of Hilary’s life, which ended in 367 (see Simonetti’s discussion of Hilary in A. di Berardino, Patrology, vol. 4 (1978; ET 1986), 33–61).
Hilary’s use of the term thus preceded that of Augustine by several decades. The eighteenth book of Augustine’s City of God was probably written ca. 426. His words at chapter 29 that the twelve prophets “are called minor” implies that this is a somewhat common designation.