Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Seventy-Fifth Letter (Item 130): Pope Julius to the Eastern Bishops

We get more harping on Nicaea after the fake Lateran synod. This time it’s a decretal in the name of Julius, addressed to all eastern bishops and headed by a rubric: What follows, we read, concerns those who convene synods for the condemnation of bishops, absent apostolic authority, and either expel or even condemn said bishops. Without the pope, apparently, no such judgments can be issued. Next comes the address, “Julius to all the venerable brothers, the eastern bishops,” and then a long scriptural pastiche consisting of verses from Luke, Galatians, 1 Peter, Zachary, Wisdom, 1 John, Proverbs, and Job. Some of these excerpts wander pretty far afield, but most of them line up behind benign themes like fraternal charity and harmony.

Then Pseudo-Julius gets around to the meat of his letter. Borrowing from Benedictus Levita, he informs us that nothing is worse than citizens persecuting fellow citizens or brothers persecuting fellow brothers  and raising calumnies against one other. The bishops gathered at Nicaea, we read, were willing to bear persecution in order to legislate about the Christian life and to establish “laws that we call sacred canons.” So far so good – that’s all out of the Historia tripartita. But then Julius steps out on his own to assert that Nicaea established “multa pernecessaria” for the church and the support of its columns, the bishops. Those who violate these statutes or attempt to harm the columns/bishops will be demoted if they are clergy, and anathematized if they are monks or laity.

Now, I’m not sure whether the average reader of the Nicene canons would agree that the several bits of pertinent legislation therein contained (really only canon 4 on episcopal ordination and canon 18 on bishops and priests getting communion before deacons) really add up to “many” canons established for the support of bishops. But in case you had any doubts, Pseudo-Julius leaps quickly from mild characterization to bold-faced lie. He says, more specifically, that the bishops at Nicaea established the following: 1) No bishop is to be judged except at a legitimate synod, convened “in suo tempore” by apostolic authority; 2) proceedings convened otherwise have no force; 3) the right to call general synods and judge bishops is a singular privilege conceded by evangelical, apostolic and canonical decree, because many authorities prove that the judgment of major cases is to be referred to the apostolic see and that greaters are not to be judged by lessers; 4) councils in general are not to be celebrated without apostolic authority, nor (again) can a bishop be condemned, since the Roman see is the primate of all churches, just as Peter was the first of the apostles; and finally 5) once again, nobody can condemn bishops without the say-so of Rome. It was also decided at Nicaea, Julius goes on to say, that accusers and accusations not permitted by secular law cannot be brought against priests. Repetitive and insistent as usual, and naturally none of this is to be found anywhere in the authentic canons of Nicaea.

With that out of the way, we’re on the home stretch. We get a lot of quotes from Leo, punctuated with some scriptural spice and Pseudo-Julius's own sententious inserts. Julius’s correspondents are to remain steadfast in faith (Leo); the apostolic church will not abide infringement of its rights (canon 101 from the Dionysio-Hadriana African council) with respect to major cases and bishops (Pseudo-Julius); he who improperly condemns a bishop and drives him from his see is irrevocably damned (Pseudo-Julius) and bishops condemned in this way are to be restored (Benedictus Levita); there’s another reference to Nicaea in case you forgot; all the members of Christ’s body have different duties, and when each member correctly performs its duties the whole body is healthy (Leo); clergy should bear the cross of Christ and suffer with their brothers, rathern than persecute them (Benecitus Levita) and he who opens a pit for his brother merits a like punishment (Pseudo-Julius); everyone should observe the canons of the apostles and their apostolic successors, by which Julius and co. are delighted, surrounded, pleased and armed (Pseudo-Julius); the papal office requires frankness and the bishop of Rome is not at liberty to keep quiet about abuses (Siricius), lest through silence the popes condone or consent to the injury of brothers (Pseudo-Julius).

Given on 1 October 337 -- just a week after item 129 if we adopt the earliest possible date.


Recipients: eastern bishops

Date: 1 October 337 (Feliciano et Maximiano viris clarissimis consulibus: just like last time, and unsurprisingly, since they're the only set on offer in the LP)

Sources: the Bible, the Historia Tripartita, the Lateran council of 649, Benedictus Levita and the Capitula Angilramni, letters of Innocent I, Leo the Great, Siricius, Gelasius I, the African council of the Dionysio-Hadriana, the Liber Pontificalis (only for the consuls)

Words: 2000

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Item 129: A Synod Convened Under Pope Julius

After Mark’s letter, we get something different: A document purportedly issued at a Roman synod convened in the Lateran under Mark’s successor, Julius. Most of this piece consists of the Nicene creed, followed by various anti-Arian sentiments, all of them taken from books 2 and 4 of the Historia Tripartita. It carries a rubric that calls it “The faith recounted in the Holy Roman council by the most blessed pope Julius and other bishops of the true faith.”

Now I’m going to step out on a limb and presume that the limited readership of this blog (or what remains of it after the prolonged silences that have plagued my output since the summer) know their way around the Nicene creed. So I’ll set the HT stuff aside and concentrate on the things that Pseudo-Isidore contributes to this concoction. These amount to two substantial introductory paragraphs that set the scene, and a brief dating clause tipped in at the end.

Our document was issued “in the name of the Lord God and our saviour Jesus Christ, in the fourth year of the emperors Constantius and Constans, on the eighth day before the Kalends of October, the sixth indiction.” Julius, we read, is presiding over a synod that has been convened in the Basilica Constantiniana, before the “sacrosanct and venerable Gospels,” together with a total of 116 bishops of whom only five are named: Benedict of Aquileia, Rufus of Carthage, Agapitus of Ravenna, Julius of Milan, and Lucian of Maurienne. I’m sure there are many problems with this list, but I’m traveling and don’t really have the resources to check out the names. Wikipedia, however, tells me that there was a Bishop Benedict of Aquileia from 332 onwards. The other names appear to be completely fictional; Lucian of Maurienne is additionally impossible because, as far as I can tell, there weren’t any bishops at Maurienne until the sixth century. So, yeah.

Pope Julius then breaks in, acknowledging that all the bishops have gathered in Rome to confirm and correct the faith and establish Christian discipline. It is therefore necessary to collectively consider and remind everyone about the nature of God and Jesus Christ, because “Everyone therefore that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven; but he that shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33). Thus Julius wants the “faith of the three hundred and eighteen fathers” that had been confirmed at Nicaea to be read into the record. The 116 bishops gathered in the Lateran chime in: They all think this is a great idea (no surprise there), and afterwards they look forward to getting on with their work “on behalf of the opression of brothers.” Apparently these brothers are so gravely afflicted that none of the bishops gathered before Julius has managed to find any rest, “because when the members are troubled the rest of the body can hardly find peace.”

The HT excerpts follow. On the other side of them is a short and rather odd sentence: “Trinitas consubstantialis aeterna est Iesus” (“The consubstantial and eternal Trinity is Jesus”). Now I am not a theologian, but that struck me as a highly peculiar sentiment, and so I sought the help of my old friend, the PL database. It seems to be an error (through interna dicta?: according to Schon’s edition it has near-unanimous MS support) for “Trinitas consubstantialis aeterna Deus est” ("The consubstantial eternal Trinity is God"), which benefits both from making far more sense, and for being the rubric concluding book 2, chapter 12 of the Historia Tripartita (whence also comes the immediately preceding passage in Pseudo-Julius). Finally, we read that our document was issued on 1 November, while Felicianus and Maximin were consuls.

Beyond the undeniable fact that Pseudo-Isidore is very down on Arians, it’s not entirely clear to me what work this document is doing for our forgers. Yes, we get the familiar carping about the persecution of brothers and some further reinforcement for our forgers’ beloved factoid that there were 318 bishops at Nicaea. But beyond that, whoever put this lovely document together mainly just managed to wade into a deep pit of chronological problems.

To wit: At the start, our document claims that it was issued in the fourth year of the reign of Constantius II and Constans, which would be about 340/341 if reckoned from the date both actually took power, or perhaps 343/344 if reckoned from the date that Constans got rid of his brother, Constantine II, thereby assuming sole rule in the West. But neither date works, because we’re also supposed to be in the sixth indiction, which could only be 348 (our only other options being 333, when Constantine I was still in charge, or 363, after Constantius and Constans had both kicked the bucket). Which also flies in the face of the consuls listed in the dating clause, which are naturally taken from Julius’s biography in the Liber Pontificalis. These are the only set on offer, and date the beginning of Julius’s pontificate. Maximin is some kind of error (etiology unknown, at least by me), but Felicianus yields 337. Not that very many ninth-century scholars would’ve had the resources (or the inclination) to work very much of this out, but still.


Recipients: Nobody and everybody. This purports to be a synodal document.

Date: You pays your money you takes your choice: 337? 341? 344? 348? Definitely 24 September, though.

Sources: The Historia tripartita. Hinschius also claims that the intro paragraphs discussed above were modeled on the acta of the Roman synod convened under Pope Zachary in 743, and cites Mansi. Right now I only have access to the MGH (hard to travel with the Nova et amplissima collectio), and I’m not seeing much resemblance with either recension of the acta edited there, but I’ve not exactly conducted a word-by-word collation either.

Words: 950

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Your intrepid blogger (pictured here with the good Chairman) has returned from Beijing, where the food was wonderful but the Great Firewall thwarted all posting.

Coming up: More on the beginning of Pseudo-Isidore Part III, with any luck at a snappier pace than I've been managing recently. Fun fun fun.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Recurrent passages in the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries: The example of 'Haec apostolorum'

I just want to talk a little more about the passage that concludes Mark's letter, which I said recurs in two other forged decretals. I'll call it the Haec apostolorum from its incipit. Its contents come primarily from the acta of the Third Council of Constantinople, with some lines from a letter of Leo the Great (ep. 7) and Benedictus Levita (III.55) thrown in. It asserts that the apostolic tradition is to be cultivated and adhered to by everyone; the popes have never erred and will never fall into heresy. That which previous pontiffs enacted is thus to be remembered. The writer fears what will happen to him if he neglects to preach the "truth of our savior Jesus," or if he oppresses that truth with silence. Thus, the pope's correspondents are advised to be on the lookout against heretics and enemies of God's church, and to attack any heresy with as much severity as possible.

Every time I run into one of these recurrent passages I find myself wondering whether they were originally developed for one forged letter and later transferred to others, or whether they're separately-composed snippets designed for repeated use. I wonder, in other words, to what degree the Pseudo-Isidorian workshop assembled letters from prefab parts, and to what degree they attended to each as a separate, coherent composition designed to make a discrete argument. (In which connection see also my previous obsessive musings on cohesiveness.) In the case of Haec apostolorum, I can't make any solid argument about an original environment, but it seems to fit best with the Mark letter.

At first glance it looks fine in Lucius. That letter starts out with some bellowing about the persecution of faithful bishops at the hands of heretics, and though it goes on to talk mainly about (you guessed it) episcopal accusations, Haec apostolorum brings the focus back to heresy at the end. This basic correspondence between the opening and closing passages of a decretal -- frequently with sharply different intervening material -- is a common feature of the forgeries that we've observed before. Yet there's no more specific resonance and no shared source material. That is, none of the sources employed in Haec apostolorum recur in earlier passages of the Lucius letter. That's not all that unusual, but without any more explicit contact it becomes hard to argue that our passage was crafted specifically for Lucius.

You could argue that the text is a little less at home in the third letter of Felix (not yet blogged but edited here). Beyond Haec apostolorum, this decretal consists almost entirely of one long passage clipped from Idacius's anti-Arian treatise Adversus Varimadum. To the extent this letter is about heresy, our passage is at least vaguely on point, though again there's no correspondence at the level of sources. The last Felix letter also falls pretty clearly into the category of filler; our forgers are obviously putting very little work into most of its text. I guess they could've woken up at the end and decided to more tightly construct its closing lines, but that would be unusual in the case of emptier letters, like this one, that lack an historical hook or any overt arguments on Pseudo-Isidore's pet htemes.

The thing that really jumps out at me when I consider Haec apostolorum in the context of the just-blogged Mark letter is the similarity between aspects of this text and the Lucius forgery. Both letters have vastly different contents, of course, but both pretend to have been prompted by similar episcopal complaints. Though Pseudo-Isidore doesn't bother to invent whatever letter Lucius is supposed to be responding to, Lucius's address and initial lines discuss bishops "in Gaul and Spain" whose "afflictions" have saddened the pope. The bishops have been "persecuted and defamed" by those who do not adhere to the correct faith; their churches have been robbbed of their possessions and despoiled of the offerings of the faithful, to the point that the persecuted can neither defend themselves nor offer necessary services to the faithful. All of which is redolent of Athanasius's complaint that heretics have destroyed all his stuff, to the point that he has neither books, nor ecclesiastical vestments, nor ornaments nor other utensils (presumably meaning altar vessels).

Haec apostolorum concludes Pope Mark's reply. While in Lucius and Felix there was general thematic corresponsence with earlier passages, here it explicitly interacts with the argument (though once again it shares no sources with the rest of Mark's letter). At the beginning of the decretal, Pseudo-Mark justifies his investigation of Athanasius's claims by declaring that the Roman church "has remained and will remain...forever unstained," immobile and free of any heresy. This is just an extremely emphatic rewording of a line from Haec apostolorum, which declares that "This holy and apostolic church, the mother of all churches...which will be shown never to have erred, has not succumbed to heretical innovations...."

Anyway, that's enough for now. Someday I hope to be able to post a broader survey of these recurring passages -- there's not all that many of  and they're easy enough to find with Hinschius's apparatus fontium).

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Seventy-Fourth Letter (Item 128): Pope Mark to Athanasius and the Egyptian Bishops

Mark's reply immediately follows Athanasius's request. At first he has to clear his throat. Mark says he's sorrowed to hear Athanasius and company are having a hard time, but nonetheless consoled because the Egyptian bishops are holding fast to the faith. "You are not a reed shaken with the wind," he says, nodding at Matt. 11:7. Then Pseudo-Mark borrows from a letter of Leo the Great to say that he recognizes the strength of his correspondents' constancy, and that he is happy they're exercising their vigilance for Christ's flock; this is important so that the wolves in sheep's clothing can't get at the simplices. Athanasius and his friends should keep up the good work, for those who persevere to the end are blessed for their patience. According to the Gospel, persecution accompanies whoever desires to live piously in Christ.

With that out of the way, Pseudo-Mark hops along to the interesting bit. He says that he's investigated Athanasius's claims about the Council of Nicaea by consulting witnesses who attended the proceedings. These, of course, confirmed Athanasius's account. Mark hastens to reassure his friend that he didn't go to all this trouble because he was worried Mark was putting him on -- he just needs to keep the church united, out of trouble, free from the insult of heretics, immaculate, firm and immobile for all time. You can tell Pseudo-Isidore is writing in his own words here: Few other writers, forgers or polemicists or otherwise, get worked up enough to lay such stress on the unity and orthodoxy of the Roman church.

Only after these inquiries did Mark bother to open up his filing cabinet. Tucked away in his scrinium, he found the seventy chapters Athanasius was talking about, as directed to his predecessor Sylvester eleven years previously in 325. Sort of makes calling in those witnesses pointless, doesn't it? After all, if Mark only had to root around in the archives to verify that the Egyptians weren't full of it, why bother?

Anyway, Mark is a generous guy but he's not going to send Rome's only copy of the Nicene canons to Egypt. The document possesses great authority as a witness to the council, and it has a funky subscription list besides (from which remarks we are meant to understand that the pope hasn't just got any old copy, but is in fact looking at the original acta as promulgated at Nicaea). Thus he's had a copy made in the presence of Athanasius's messengers, who can bring it back to the land of canon-burning heretics without endangering the original. This copy, Mark hastens to confirm, has the same number of canons, the same words and the same subscription list as Mark's. Our letter does nothing if not protest too much.

The pope pinches off his epistle with a long passage on heresy (and the purity of the Apostolic Church therefrom) that we also find concluding the only letter of Lucius (blogged previously) and the third letter of Felix, both forgeries from Part I.


Recipients: Athanasius and the rest of the Egyptian episcopate

Date: 24 Oct. 336 ("Nepotiano et Fecundo viris clarissimis consulibus": the only set of consuls on offer in the Liber Pontificalis)

Sources: the Bible (Matthew), letters of Leo the Great and Celestine I (both from the Hispana, presumably), the Concilium Africanum of the Dionysio-Hadriana, the Liber Pontificalis (only for the consuls)

Words: 800

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Seventy-Third Letter (Item 127): Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria to Pope Mark

Well, a week turned into four, but I have finally risen from the dead, or at least from the greater part of my job applications. It’s time to get back to work.

I know Part I of Pseudo-Isidore has provided you with absolutely hours of entertainment, but I’ve decided to jump ahead to Part III, at least for now. We’ve been hanging out among those early popes for a while and I think we’ve gotten the feel of the place. We haven’t found all the hidden treasure, not a by a long shot – but the complexities of Part III have been beckoning for some time, and I we should at least make an exploratory foray.

Part II of Pseudo-Isidore, you’ll remember, is nothing but church councils from the HGA: Our forgers have given these texts a healthy working-over, but it doesn't look like they've added any outright forgeries. Papal decretals resume on the other side of this conciliar material, in Part III, and here everything is different. In Part I things have been pretty simple: There’s no corresponding section in the HGA and Pseudo-Isidore just makes everything up. In Part III, Pseudo-Isidore switches hats; he becomes less of an outright fabricator and more of a compiler. To be sure, a lot of the stuff he adds to the HGA is perfectly fake, but he also brings in loads of genuine stuff, including earlier forgeries that Carolingian-era clerics accepted as authentic. Part III, in other words, is a lot more complicated, because at this point Pseudo-Isidore is working to expand an existing law collection.

It also helps to keep an eye on chronology: Part I ends with a single decretal from Pope Miltiades (dated to 314, the year of Miltiades’s death: we’ll get to this someday, I promise), Sylvester’s successor; Part II starts with Nicaea (A.D. 325) and goes up to Seville II (618/9). In Part III we backtrack, following the HGA. Right after the chapter list there’s a short text (I'm not going to bother with it) that has a rubric calling it the Excerpta quaedam ex synodalibus gestis Silvestri papae. This is a fake, but it doesn't seem to be Pseudo-Isidore's fake: according to Duchesne it's of a piece with the Symmachean forgeries. Beyond this piece Pseudo-Isidore doesn’t seem all that interested in Sylvester. His own forgeries don’t pick up until the pontificate of Mark in 336. Pseudo-Isidore, in other words, lets twenty-two crucial years in the history of Christianity slip by with nary a fake decretal.

Now he’s got to make up for lost time, and we get fireworks right away: The first forged letter of Part III is written not in the name of a pope, but of the bishop Athanasius of Alexandria. Apparently Athanasius’s notorious and intractable opposition to Arianism made him an attractive figure to our forgers – as good an historical hook as any for one of their more outlandish fictions. Together with his fellow Egyptian bishops, Athanasius writes to Mark to complain about the persecution that he and the rest of the orthodox have been suffering at the hands of “heretics,” particularly Arians. The Arians are problematic because they have burned all the bishops’ stuff: They have burned their books, Athanasius says, their liturgical vestments, their church decorations and associated utensils. But mainly they have burnt all their books, utterly destroyed their libraries. Not one iota has been left intact. Naturally this includes Athanasius’s copy of the decrees enacted at Nicaea in 325.

Pseudo-Athanasius casts his mind back eleven years, when he was still a deacon serving under his predecessor, Alexander I of Alexandria. Athanasius clearly remembers that the canons enacted at Nicaea were sent to Pope Sylvester at Rome through the priests Victor and Vincentius, apocrisiarii of the Apostolic See (he gets these names and the background from the preface to the Nicene acta found in the Quesnelliana). Athanasius thus reasons that Sylvester’s successor, Mark, is sure to have the canons. Nor is that all that Pseudo-Athanasius remembers – and here he gets around to the real purpose of this letter. Eleven years ago, Athanasius maintains, the 318 holy fathers gathered at Nicaea came up with a total of eighty canons; he says that forty were proposed by the Greek contingent and drawn up in Greek, and another forty were proposed by the Latin bishops, written in Latin. This posed a problem for Alexander I of Alexandria and the Roman apocrisiarii, who thought there should only be seventy canons, to commemorate the seventy disciples and the seventy languages of the world. (Isn't it just great how Pseudo-Isidore makes the absent bishop of Rome a prime mover at Nicaea, right up there with the  Alexandrian patriarch?) Thus they decided to nix ten of the canons and merge their content with the other seventy, to yield the necessary total. It was a copy of these seventy canons, Athanasius reiterates, that the nefarious heretics have burned. He has every confidence Mark will help him out and send a copy straight away. The concluding rhetoric isn’t very interesting; it’s spliced together primarily from acta of the Roman council of 721, with a few lines from a letter of Justinian and the 418 Council of Carthage.

Now I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that the fathers gathered at Nicaea enacted only twenty canons, not seventy (though I am reminded that recensions with more than twenty canons circulated). As we saw a while ago, the preface to Pseudo-Isidore also insists that the fathers at Nicaea issued seventy canons, and before long we’ll get a forged decretal of Pope Julius I citing some of these additional decrees. Don’t hold your breath – they all turn out to be on typical Pseudo-Isidorian themes. As I speculated last time this came up, it seems our forgers weren’t feeling quite bold enough to actually interpolate Nicaea, so they took a different and more creative approach, essentially inventing a bogus indirect tradition that just happens to witness this additional (and mysteriously lost) legislation.

For those of you keeping score at home: Part II of Pseudo-Isidore’s decretals starts out with the Council of Nicaea, which Pseudo-Isidore passes on intact from the HGA. So Pseudo-Isidore invents this correspondence about seventy Nicene canons, but his own collection presents only the authentic twenty-canon version.


Recipient: Pope Mark

Date: 336, because that was the only year Mark was pope. No consuls and no dating clause, of course, because there’s no underlying Liber Pontificalis entry (though I guess, if our forgers were really committed, they could’ve just borrowed them from Mark’s biography in the LP)

Sources: the Historia Ecclesiastica Tripartita commissioned by Cassiodorus (VI.22 really forms the backbone of this letter); the Quesnel preface to Nicaea, a letter of Leo the Great (ep. 14), the preface to the council of Rome of 721, the 418 Council of Carthage; a letter form Justinian I to Pope John II

Words: 530

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Pause in the Posts

Fellow scholars, loyal readers, Pseudo-Isidore enthusiasts everywhere: There will, I fear, be a small break from posting while I tend to matters relating to my future employment (that is, while I try to convince some people at certain institutions to actually give me money for this). Back next week.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Eighteenth Letter (Item 24): Viginius to the Athenians

Now that we've started on Viginius we might as well finish him off.

Ages ago, I said that Pseudo-Isidore likes to assign his letters discrete tasks: He'll often let one letter in the name of a given pope handle the historical hook, and another letter carry the meat. The Viginius letters are a textbook example of this recurring phenomenon. The first brings out all the key arguments; the second has the Liber Pontificalis tie-in (anemic though it may be).

According to his LP bio, Viginius was a Greek and an Athenian philosopher, so here we have Ps. Viginius popping off a letter to the Athenians. It consists almost enitrely of snippets from 2 Corinthians and 1 and 2 Peter, though Ps. Viginius adds the odd sentence of his own. In the opening lines he says that he's quite joyful and happy on the Athenians' behalf, because (his own words now) he's heard that they're doing things that befit good Christians. Sometimes I think our forgers could do with a good freshman writing course: Show, don't tell. That sort of thing.

The letter goes on to say a lot of stuff we've heard before. Mainly, the Athenians should avoid the company of the  impious. Most of these exhortations come out of scripture, but Ps. Viginius does crop up about two-thirds of the way through to demand obedience to the apostolic see and emphasize that "great distance has to be kept between the faithful and the unfaithful." Then it's more scriptural citations to warn against impurity of the flesh (2 Cor. 7:1: "and the body!" Viginius adds, puzzlingly), and to advise that the day of the Lord will come like a thief.


Recipients: Athenians

Date: 20 February 138 (Magno et Camerino consulibus). Consuls as in the first Viginius letter, though the Liber Pontificalis offers consuls for both the beginning and the end of Viginius's pontificate, so the forgers could've changed it up if they'd wanted to.

Sources: the Bible (II Cor. 6:14, 16; 7:1, 4; I Peter 5:10-11; II Peter 2:4-10; 3:8-13); Liber Pontificalis (just for the historical hook and the consuls)

Words: 430

The Seventeenth Letter (Item 23): Viginius to All Christians

Well, our forgers haven't given Viginius a lot to say, but it's raining, my office is closed, and my copy of Hinschius is locked in said office, which means we'll have to do with one of the random photocopies I have hanging around my apartment.

This is the first of two entries for Ps. Viginius, and it's directed to everyone "living in apostolic faith and doctrine." He starts out by remarking that "God sent his son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and through sin he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the justice of the law might be fulfilled." These lines look original, which is a little unusual: (Emended after helpful correction: this is just Romans 8:3-4) Most often the opening words seem to be ripped from the arenga of some authentic letter from the Hispana (frequently Leo). So slightly unusual, but nothing to get excited about.

Then we get a long excerpt from an anti-Arian tract (by Hydatius?), which basically provides a lot of scriptural proofs that the son was sent by his father not only according to his divinity, but according to the flesh. Ergo, the father did not precede the son in any way and is not greater than the son; nor was the son born afterwards so that his divinity might seem less than the father's.

Otherwise, we read (salvo in omnibus Romanae ecclesiae privilegio) that no metropolitan is to hear any cases without the assistance of all his suffragans; if he does so, his suffragans are to correct him. Accusations of those greater by birth (maiorum natu) are once again forbidden, unless we're talking about criminal accusations; even then, though, the accusers have to be irreprehensible and to have shown, through public acts, that they are above all suspicion, that they lead upright lives and that their faith is solid. Also forbidden are all manner of peregrina negotia and iudicia, because bishops should choose their judges from among the fellow bishops of their province.

I know, I know, you've heard it all before: so have I, believe me. At the end we get some Ennodius snippets, which help Ps. Viginius to rage against those who persecute innocent brothers. Matthew is also brought in to help make the point: "For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again." We wrap up with some lines from a letter of Pope Martin I ("every kingdom divided against itself will not stand, and every regula and scientia divided against itself will not stand" either); and another of Leo the Great  (everyone should get along and not fight).


Recipients: all Christians

Date: 15 September 138 (Magno et Camerino consulibus: the start of his pontificate)

Sources: the Bible (Romans 8:3-4, Matt. 7:2); Hydatius (?), Liber contra Varimandum; Capitula Angilramni; Lex Romana Visigothorum; Benedictus Levita; Ennodius; letter of Pope Martin I; Liber Pontificalis (only for the consuls)

Words: 870

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Forty-First Letter (Item 47): Pope Stephen I to the Bishop Hilarius

Your blogger must once again apologize for the delay. Pseudo-Isidore managed to escape me entirely last week; teaching, the distractions of the job market, and sundry other events were to blame. Now we return to the slog.

Today's letter is mostly stuff we've heard before, though it does have something new to offer. It's in the name of Stephen I, who writes to answer the question of a certain Bishop Hilary, styled as Stephen's "beloved brother and close friend." Ps. Stephen borrows the words of Leo the Great (ep. 85) to assure Hilary that there's no doubt he's doing well and behaving properly, but that it has nevertheless seemed a good idea to write out of friendship. To this kind little sentence Ps.-Stephen adds a slight jab: Hilary is advised to persist in good deeds and avoid bad ones; he is to maintain communion with men of good conversatio and steer clear of perverse men who persecute bishops, unless he's trying to goad the wayward back to the right path. Ps. Stephen warms to his theme, quoting first I Cor. 15:33 -- "Evil communications corrupt good manners" -- and then throwing an entire chapter of Ecclesiasticus at Hilary. I guess Pseudo-Isidore is on an Ecclesiasticus kick, because we had the same thing last time with Lucius. Now it's the thirteenth chapter, and it's all vaguely on point (sample verse: "He that toucheth pitch shall be defiled with it.")

Only on the other side of this quote -- more than halfway through the letter -- does Ps. Stephen get down to answering Hilary's question. His trusted correspondent has apparently asked which people are to be considered infames, and which are to be excluded form the clergy.

Naturally, these are topics dear to Ps. Stephen's heart, and he dives right in with a long list of undesirables. Some of these Ps. Stephen gets from other, authentic sources, among them:

-those who hold ecclesiastical statutes in contempt
-those guilty of capital offenses
-violators of graves
-those who take up arms against clergy
-those widely known to be infamous (a bit tautological but anyway)
-those guilty of incest
-those guilty of calumny against their fellow brothers
-those who make accusations that they can't prove
-those who pervert the minds of princes to anger against the innocent

Ps. Stephen also rounds out this list with some additional categories from Benedictus Levita and the other related forgeries. According to these sources, other infames include

-those who reject the norms of Christian law
-thieves and the sacriligeous
-anyone who has been declared anathema
-everyone whom ecclesiastical or secular law calls infamis (yes, the letter actually says that)

Kind of weak, colorless and redundant compared to the stuff you get in the authentic sources, no? And Ps. Stephen's own additions are still more tepid and repetitive. Also infames, Ps. Stephen would have us believe, are

-those who violate the statutes of the fathers and their successors
-those who seek to hold indigna loca for themselves (not clear what this means: is this about misrepresenting one's qualifications for ecclesiastical office?)
-those who unjustly seize facultates ecclesiae (i.e., church income? church property)
-those who have been driven from their churches because of their crimes

Anyway, it should come as no surprise that none of these guys can hold ecclesiastical office. Also among those barred from clerical ranks are slaves, penitents, the twice-married, those who serve at court, those who are not of sound mind or body, those who lack understanding, those who disobey the decrees of the saints, and those who are mad (furiosi). All this from authentic sources of course.

We get the historical hook right at the end. Stephen's bio in the Liber Pontificalis says that "He forbade priests and deacons to use their consecrated garments for daily wear save in the church" (Loomis's translation again). Ps. Stephen latches onto this and spends the rest of his letter telling Hilary that "ecclesiastical vestments ... should be consecrated and honored." No one is to use them for any extra-ecclesiastical purposes, "lest the divine vengeance that struck Balthazar fall upon the transgressors who presume to do such things." This threat, interestingly, seems to come from the 836 Council of Aachen.

Right at the end there's some boilerplate about obedience. We conclude with a few lines from the same Leo letter that we started out with: Hilary is to conduct his office with moderation, to remember to be both benevolent and just, to conduct his office impartially, and to protect the catholic faith.


Recipient: a bishop named Hilary

Date: 3 May 255 (Valeriano et Gallicano vv. cc. conss.: the end of Stephen's pontificate)

Sources: letter of Leo the Great, the Bible (major excerpt from Ecclesiasticus; other stuff from I Corinthians and Mark); the Lex Romana Visigothorum and some other bits of Roman law; Benedictus Levita, perhaps also the First Council of Carthage (or maybe Pseudo-Isidore only has that through Benedictus Levita); the preface to the Twelfth Council of Toledo; a letter of Gregory the Great; the Liber Pontificalis

Contemporary Carolingian Legislation: 836 Council of Aachen

Words: 1100

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Fortieth Letter (Item 46): Pope Lucius I to Bishops in Gaul and Spain

This is the only decretal that Pseudo-Isidore ascribes to Lucius I. The pope says he's gotten letters from bishops in Gaul and Spain complaining of persecution at the hands of heretics. This persecution has driven many from the church and made it all but impossible to minister to the remaining faithful.

Lucius declares that all bishops are to keep two or three priests or deacons with them, to serve as witnesses; there are a lot of people conspiring against the church, and Lucius is worried that his correspondents might be falsely accused. The basis for this command is Lucius's biography in the Liber Pontificalis, which has Lucius declaring that "in every place two priests and three deacons should abide with the bishop to be witnesses for him to the church" (from Loomis's translation: Duchesne's edition is in some reshelving limbo after my adventures earlier this week). Pseudo-Lucius of course is much more insistent on this point, but not out of step with the LP here.

Then it's on to the subject of accusations, with words from Benedictus Levita and/or the Capitula Angilramni. Earlier, I said that Pseudo-Isidore likes to tightly edit his borrowings from these sister forgeries, but as always there are exceptions, and this is one of them. Pseudo-Lucius gets most of  his discussion from one long, unedited passage (c. 43 of the Capitula Angilramni = Benedictus Levita III.358), though he does round it out with a few supplementary extracts. Anyway, the technique may be different but it's nothing we haven't heard before: Bishops are not to be lightly accused, and wronging a bishop is the equivalent of wronging Christ. Accusations againt maiores natu are likewise forbidden, except in the case of criminal accusations, but even then the character of the accuser is to be taken into account. Appeals from lesser to greater judges are to be permitted in every case.

After this our letter turns suddenly to the idea of metropolitan authority, with precepts that are once again quite familiar -- and obviously, very closely related to the issue of accusations in Pseudo-Lucius's mind. No archbishop is to interfere in matters outside of his diocese without the advice and consent of all his suffragans; otherwise he risks demotion. Nor can any metropolitan hear cases without all his suffragans in attendance. Each bishop should look after his own province, and lesser bishops (episcopi posteriores -- i.e., less senior bishops?) should not prefer themselves to their superiors (i.e., more senior bishops?). Any matter extending beyond the boundaries of a single diocese is to be dealt with by all the bishops of the province, not just the metropolitan.

After this comes the most substantial original passage of the letter. Pseudo-Lucius declares that it would be great if an evil seed of persecution had not been sown within the church to thwart those priests of the Lord who live justly and piously. Sadly, though, this seed has been sown; the resulting plant is creeping into all parts of the church, and it is therefore necessary to excise it with an ecclesiastical and apostolic sword, lest God's servants and priests all die off. Pretty strong language, and Pseudo-Lucius must be tired from all that shouting because he immediately cedes the stage to the Vulgate. We get a long, long excerpt from Ecclesiasticus (10.16-34 and 11:1-36), which Lucius intends as a warning against leaving the right faith.

On the other side of this quotation, we get some saber rattling against those who seize church property and carry off the offerings of the faithful. These wrongdoers are equated with Judas, who according to the Gospel of John (12:6) stole offerings for the poor.

No sooner has our letter quoted Psalm 82 (all of it) against these thieves than we're back to the subject of  heresy and deviation from the true faith -- exactly how we started out. Cribbing from the acta of the Third Council of Constantinople, Pseudo-Lucius assures us that the apostolic church has never been wrong in matters of faith or fallen from the path of righteousness. This concluding passage, which Lucius rounds off with some snippets from a letter of Leo the Great (ep. 7), is interesting for its verbatim recurrence at the end of two other forged decretals: the third letter ascribed to Pope Felix (also in Part I) and the only letter ascribed to Pope Mark (in Part III).


Reciepients: bishops in Gaul and Spain

Date: 1 April 252/3 (Gallo et Volusiano vv. cc. conss.: the first year of Lucius's pontificate)

Sources: Leo the Great, letters; the Bible (especially long excerpts from Ecclesiasticus), the Liber Pontificalis, Benedictus Levita, the Lex Romana Visigothorum, the Capitula Angilramni, the Sentencdes of Sextus, letter of Boniface, acta of the Third Council of Constantinople;

Contemporary Carolingian Legislation: 836 Council of Aachen?

Words: 2200

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More on the Dates of the False Decretals

Earlier, in my discussion of the anatomy of a forged decretal, I talked a bit about the dates. From the first letter of Evaristus, I said, Pseudo-Isidore concludes each of the letters he forges with a date: the day of the month, followed by the consuls who served in the year the letter was issued. Pseudo-Isidore gets his consuls' names from the Liber Pontificalis, and so I rushed passed them to consider the distribution of calendar dates, which Pseudo-Isidore invents outright. I even had a groovy chart.

In the process, I made the error of assuming that the outright fabrications of Pseudo-Isidore are somehow more significant than his borrowings. I should have been thinking about the consuls, which are far more interesting. They've been bothering me for some time, but it was only today that I made the trek down to the fourth floor of the library to unearth the Liber Pontificalis. I have now compared all the consular dates that Pseudo-Isidore gives in Part I of his decretals to the consular dates on offer in the Liber Pontificalis (in the course of which work I also found this helpful online list of Roman consuls, which has freed me from my Cappelli).I have tabulated the results in an Excel spreadhseet, and am finally ready to pass the distilled version on to you.

The Liber Pontificalis gets its dates for the early popes from the Liberian Catalogue, which provides consuls for pontificates through the time of Pope Liberius (d. 366). The compiler of the Liber Pontificalis handles this source pretty loosely. He typically gives the consuls for the beginning of pontificates, but sometimes omits the concluding dates, or vice versa (and the Liberian Catalogue is itself not entirely consistent). This means that Pseudo-Isidore is constrained to dating most of his letters to either the first year or the last year of every pontificate. Now the Liber Pontificalis enjoyed reasonably wide circulation in Carolingian Europe, so you'd think that Pseudo-Isidore would have thought twice about forging dates from its pages. How likely is it, after all, that absolutely every early pontiff should have issued absolutely every decretal* on either his first or last year in office? And because his source is so limited, less than half of the decretals in Part I of Pseudo-Isidore have unique consular dates; the remaining letters with dating clauses share their consuls with at least one other epistle. Surely that would have looked odd to any enterprising, attentive reader.

Pseudo-Isidore compounds these difficulties with remarkable carelesness. Given the paucity of information that the Liber Pontificalis provides about Roman consuls, I would have bet that our forgers would like to change their dates up as much as possible -- that is, provide different consular dates whenever possible. They do this in the letters ascribed to Denis, Eutichian, Victor, Evaristus, and Sother: Each of these popes gets two letters, and in each case the first letter has consuls from the beginning of that pope's pontificate, and the second letter has consuls from the end of it.  But in three other cases (Viginus, Zepherinus and Felix), two sets of consuls are on offer and Pseudo-Isidore uses only one of them for both letters -- the first set in each case. As if to balance this out, two of the three popes who have only one letter in Pseudo-Isidore, but two sets of consul dates in the Liber Pontificalis (Gaius and Elutherius), write their decretals on their last year in office (that is, they get the second set of consuls). In the case of Anicitus, however, Pseudo-Isidore mixes the consuls, and gives us one from the beginning and one from the end of the pontificate.

Nor is that the only error. Mixed consuls occur again in a letter ascribed to Fabian, and on four further occasions in Part I (letters in the name of Alexander, Sixtus, Telesphorus and Felix), Pseudo-Isidore mistakes emperors for one or both of the consuls (the Liberian Catalogue, and thus the Liber Pontificalis, frequently supplied emperors who held power during various pontificates). Interestingly, Alexander, Felix and Fabian are also three of the four popes who contribute three letters in Part I -- everyone else getrs only one or two. It's like something goes haywire with Pseudo-Isidore's dating process when he has to deal with more than two letters in one pope's name.

A final tidbit: Some recensions of the Liber Pontificalis fail to give consular dates for Urban, and all recensions lack consular dates for Cornelius. In both cases our forgers borrow them from the preceding pope's biography -- Calixtus in Urban's case, and Fabian in Cornelius's case (where Pseudo-Isidore again provides a mixed set of consuls).

*The prefatory material claims that Pseudo-Isidore has all papal decretals from the Clement through Damascus.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Thirteenth Letter (Item 19): Pope Alexander I to All Priests

At last, your blogger returns. In the months of his absence, he has read Homer, Euripides and Plato; gained a little weight after prolonged exposure to the culinary temptations of the West Village; developed the need for a hair cut; moved offices; acquired a niece; and bought a new bicycle. I had intended to resume the slog through Pseudo-Isidore a few weeks ago, but the minor chaos of a new semester has delayed things a bit. The internet, I know, has seemed a dry and boring place without continual updates on the false decretals.

I now sit in a coffeeshop with a false decretal in front of me -- namely the third and last letter in the name of Pope Alexander I. It's what I grabbed at random when I left my office on Friday, and I fear it's not the most substantial forgery in the history of mankind.

It does have an interesting address, though, cribbed from I Peter 1:2. Alexander writes to "everyone exercising the divine priesthood," and wishes for the furtherance of peace, mercy, wisdom and good will. Much of the letter that follows is pieced together from other biblical passages: snippets from 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, Romans, 1 John, Tobit, the Gospel of John, Ecclesiasticus, Ephesians,  the Psalms, the Gospel of Matthew and Jude; and two longer passages from Micah (2:1-8) and Nahum (1:7-12).

The text opens with some generic remarks about divine grace, but gathers momentum as it pivots to emphasize love and harmony. Pseudo-Alexander tells his readers to judge nobody, and emerges from the scriptural quotations briefly to declare that "the height of inqiutiy is to disparage and accuse your brothers" (i.e., fellow bishops).  I John 3:15 ("Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer") helps Alexander out here: this is a favorite scriptural citation of Pseudo-Isidore, recurring in letters ascribed to Clement and Anacletus, as well as the first book of Benedictus Levita.

By the end of the letter Alexander has exhausted most of scriptural citations, and turns to the Sentences of Sextus for some pithy concluding rhetoric. It is easy to deceive man but not God; he who does harm is not wise; he who is faithful does not will evil. All of this is just a warm-up for Pseudo-Isidore's own sentiments (and the only really original passage of the whole decretal): Those who persecute priests are persecuting the Lord. He who suffers violence indeed endures great torment, but is nevertheless blessed if he endures this persecution on behalf of justice. Then a citation from Jude 14-15 ("Behold, the Lord cometh with thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all and to reprove all the ungodly for all the works of their ungodliness"), followed by Alexander's insistence that his precepts be respected and observed. The alternative is eternal damnation.


Recipient: all priests of Christendom

Date: 1 May

Sources: the Bible; the Sentences of Sextus; the acta of the Second Council of Seville

Words: 652

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Your delinquent blogger has gotten a nod from ICMAC. According to issue 6 of the Novellae (.pdf) we are interesting and worth reading. As many a scholar has recognized, if it's in the Novellae, it must be true.

Also in Novellae no. 6, we learn that Gratian has found a happy home at Vicipaedia.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Why There Have Been No Posts Recently, or, The Stuff I've Been Up To Instead

There have been no posts because I am working on an article about our pseudonymous friend. I will be finished soon! Thereafter, we will embark upon a Pseudo-Isidorian summer fall, with some special excursions through the waters of Benedictus Levita (somewhat better charted than the decretals we've been sailing through recently).

Picture somewhat related. There is no wind in my office and I generally avoid ties, but the chair is similar. Also I think the time has come to get green slacks.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Anatomy of a Forged Decretal

Your explorer has returned from The Zoo, tired but full of thoughts, which basically means I'm going to afflict all of you with more analysis. I can hear your groaning through the intertubes. As penance, I promise to post a meaty overview of the first Alexander letter once I've recovered and made my way back to my office.

I've said this once or twice before, but it bears repeating: The really striking thing about reading these forged decretals is their uniformity. However our forgers went about drawing up all these fake documents, they did so according to a rough, fluid template. I'm not saying that every decretal is exactly the same, but most of them are enough like one another to permit some broad generalizations.

So say you want to cook up your own forged decretal, in the style of Pseudo-Isidore, at home. How do you go about it? Well you need these elements:

1) The address. Discussed earlier and still to be continued.

2) Introductory and concluding formulae. Frequently the arenga-like lead-in will be spliced together from the letters of Leo or Gregory; other times it comes from one of the Hispana decretals. Our forgers never seem to worry all that much about thematic coherence. The letter will start out with some disquisition on heresy or charity or whatever, and then suddenly Pseudo-Isidore will cut all that short and launch into a tirade against peregrina iudicia. Often the final clauses of a letter will come from the same source(s) as the introductory clauses though. To give the letter a sense of unity? Or because intros and conclusions were produced by the forgery workshop in batches?

3) The historical hook. (Optional.) Pseudo-Isidore wants his letters to fill some sort of historical role. As we said before, if the Liber Pontificalis ascribes some liturgical or ecclesiastical innovation to one of our forgers' popes, they often draw up a letter that starts out with that pope enacting said innovation. Usually it's just a paragraph or so, but our forgers really went overboard with Clement. The Recognitiones not only ascribed all kinds of words and deeds to Peter's successor: there were also a few letters circulating bearing his name.  

4) The meat. This is almost always about accusations against priests generally and bishops specifically. If it is about accusations, all the key terms will come out of Benedictus Levita or the Capitula Angilramni. The forgers only rarely take over entire capitula unedited from either of these sources, though. Rather, they borrow odd keywords and catch phrases from disparate locations and sew them up into tightly constructed two- or three-hundred-word paragraphs.

5) The scriptural pastiche. Easily half the letters have this. Sometimes you'll get a substantial excerpt, as many as thirty verses all together. Elsewhere -- I guess when Pseudo-Isidore is feeling more engaged/energetic -- you'll get a carefully edited passage stitched together from as many as twenty or thirty different verses from several different books.

6) The dates. Beginning with the first letter of Evaristus (item 14), Pseudo-Isidore provides a calendar date and consuls for each of his forged decretals. He invariably gets the consuls' names from the Liber Pontificalis. I guess he just makes up the calendar dates.

The distribution of these dates in Part I, broken down by month, is far from even:

Pseudo-Isidore has his fictional popes writing a great many letters in April and September. June and December, on the other hand, are pretty dry months. Just an accident? Could this possibly mean anything? I've no idea.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cornelius and Cohesiveness in Pseudo-Isidore

Since I started reading the decretals, I've tried to get my head around Pseudo-Isidore's basic unit of composition. In a very early post I asserted that our forgers "were in thrall to [their] sources," and said that most of the decretals don't have much consistency or coherency beyond the level of the paragraph.

I don't think that's wrong, exactly, but I've gradually become aware that these forgeries operate at a broader level too. Let's take the two Cornelius decretals (here and here) as an example: I just blogged them so they're fresh in my mind.

The first one doesn't say all that much. Aside from some general pastoral pablum taken from a letter of Pope Martin I,* it basically just expands on a few statements in Corenlius's Liber Pontificalis biography. The second Cornelius letter, though, has some substantial points to make: on oaths, accusations by inferiors, peregrina iudicia, and absentee trials. We said before that Pseudo-Isidore likes his letters to have a historical hook wherever possible. He likes to forge letters that show his popes doing what other sources -- primarily the Liber Pontificalis -- say they did. This gives the letters a patina of authenticity, and integrates them -- however superficially -- with the historical record. How our forgers can devote so many words to this rather cunning project on the one hand, while undermining it with silly anachronisms on the other must remain a mystery.

Now take another look at those Cornelius letters. It's clear that Pseudo-Isidore has marked out one (namely the first) for his historical hook, and reserved all of his hard content for the second. And as I page through all the stuff I've read so far, I realize that this tactic is not uncommon: Often when you have a letter that's pretty light on content, it turns out to be one of two or three ascribed to a given pope. Pseudo-Isidore has just stashed all his arguments in the other epistles. When a given pope gets only one letter, on the other hand, you often have the historical hook and the content side-by-side.

Now this may be a good general rule, but isn't always true. Urban I is one contrary example. This is one of those popes who gets only one letter, and his has nothing but content and no historical hook at all. At the same time, it's a really unusual letter that breaks the mold in other ways as well -- it's the one that trots out the novel principle that estates should simply be ceded to the church, and not sold to generate alms, as per apostolic example.

Anyhow. The idea that the content may have been planned and developed pope-by-pope (rather than, say, decretal-by-decretal, or paragraph-by-paragraph) seems worth looking into.

* I hasten to add that words taken from the mouth of one pope and put in the mouth of another, are not always, ipso facto, filler. Pseudo-Isidore is trying to build the impression of an abundant, unanimous, and cohesive tradition, after all. Sometimes he accomplishes this by taking something one guy said and ascribing it to a random selection of his predecessors.

The Thirty-Ninth Letter (Item 45): Pope Cornelius to the Bishop Rufus

Well I finally had to get a picture of the guy. (And the "stockphoto" overlay is almost invisible. Who wants to buy a low-res scan of a 17th century plate of Pope Cornelius anyway? Hard to imagine there's much of a market.)

Yes. Onwards and upwards, invisible readers. Time for the second letter ascribed to Cornelius. This is about as long as the first, but it's a little lighter on the Sacred Scripture, and a little heavier on argument.

This isn't a universal letter, but a specific reply to some bishop named Rufus. The opening lines come from a letter of Pope Zosimus, available to Pseudo-Isidore from the Hispana, and they allow our forgers to maintain the fiction that some correspondence has taken place between the pope and this Rufus character. "Cornelius" explains that he has a lot to do so his reply will be shorter than usual. If Rufus needs more instructions, though, he need only consult "the other decisions of the holy fathers" ("reliqua sanctorum patrum instituta").

Rufus has apparently asked whether it's all right for priests to take oaths, because this is what most of our letter is about. In case you were wondering, it is VERY UNCOOL for priests to take oaths. They are allowed to swear to their Christian faith and nothing else. Pseudo-Isidore quotes the acta of the Council of Chalcedon in support of his case here, but he also constructs his own argument based on scriptural citations. James 5:12 is front and center ("But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath. But let your speech be, yea, yea: no, no: that you fall not under judgment") as are those key lines from Matthew (5:33-7: "But I say to you not to swear at all...."). You've got to admit, Cornelius has a point.

We're back to the favorite topic of accusations in the second half of this letter. Cornelius declares that accusations brought by subordinates against their superiors can have no force. Sheep cannot accuse their shepherds. Cornelius also has a bit to say about peregrina iudicia. Before this issue has always been framed from an episcopal perspective: Bishops aren't to be tried in foreign courts (unless they appeal!). Here, though, Pseudo-Isidore emphasizes that no priest can be tried in a court beyond that of his diocesan bishop (no word on appeals this time). Corenlius finishes up by prohibiting the judgment of absentees.


Recipient: the bishop Rufus; see usnpecified but the rubric calls him him an orientalis episcopus

Date: 22 May

Sources: Letter of Zosimus (from the Hispana); acta of the Council of Chalcedon; the Bible; letter of Jerome; Benedictus Levita; Isidore, Sententiae; Ambrose, letter; the Sentences of Sixtus (Pseudo-Isidore's go-to source for pithy statements); letter of Boniface, Liber Pontificalis (but only for the consuls this time)

Contemporary Carolingian Legislation: 816 Council of Aachen (?)

Words: 930

The Thirty-Eighth Letter (Item 44): Pope Cornelius to All Faithful

The first of two letters ascribed to Pope Cornelius is pretty light on content. Some introductory passages come from the register of Gregory the Great, but the rest of the letter comes from two sources: All the generally pastoral and vaguely pious passages come from a few letters of Pope Martin I, and the rest of the content is based on the Cornelius biography that occurs in the Liber Pontificalis.

We begin with some pretty straightforward exhortations to charity (these from Gregory). There's a bit of a disjunct between these passages and the ostensible purpose of the letter, which is to inform all the faithful that he has supervised the translation of the bodies of Peter and Paul from the catacombs. Here Pseudo-Isidore is just building on the Liber Pontificalis biography. From there he skips on to complain about the Novatian heresy, here also taking his cue from the LP. Wherever God closes a door he opens a window, though (I'm pharaphrasing here), and he rejoices that a variety of confessors who had earlier left the faith have now returned. Naturally, this means that nobody should give up on exhorting the Novatian heretics back to the way of truth.

The rest of the letter is borrowed from Martin. Nothing can separate us from God's charity; we need patience to overcome our adversaries; everyone should remember the eternal rewards that come with martyrdom; the faithful should take up the arms of the lord and resist their spiritual enemies. A few lines lifted from Leo close off the letter.


Recipients: all faithful

Date: 7 Sept.

Sources: Gregory the Great, register; Liber Pontificalis; letter of Martin I; letter of Leo the Great

Words : 900

Monday, May 10, 2010

An Answer to My Question About Chrism

In my post about the thirty-sixth letter, I noted a passage in which Pseudo-Isidore insists on the annual consecration of chrism.  I was puzzled about the purpose:
None of this has anything to do with Fabian's biography in the Liber Pontificalis, though the same argument does occur in Benedictus Levita. What's going on here? Were there any contemporary ninth-century arguments about the annual consecration of chrism? So many questions.
W.G. reminds me that this is actually highly relevant to the issue of episcopal authority. While ordinary priests needed chrism for a variety of sacramental purposes, only bishops could consecrate it. Pseudo-Isidore wants to keep those priests heading off to the bishop every year for a renewed supply. In other words, he wants his bishops to take advantage of every opportunity to flex their muscles and advertise their authority.

The Thirty-Seventh Letter (Item 43): Pope Fabian to the Bishop Hilary

The third and last letter that Pseudo-Isidore ascribes to Pope Fabian is addressed to a certain Hilarius episcopus. No word on this bishop's see, though a later phrase in the letter implies that he's somewhere in the West. The name may have been suggested by item 76 of the Hispana, a letter issued by Pope Hilary (d. 468) that is among Pseudo-Isidore's sources for this piece.

Nothing here is all that new, though there are a few interesting twists here and there. Fabian writes that he has heard the devil is causing problems for people "in occiduis partibus" where Hilary lives; he is leading not only the laity but also certain priests astray. Fabian thinks that these errors ought to be corrected before the sickness spreads.

If you thought he was gearing up for a theological discussion, though, you'd be wrong. All that rumbling about heresy comes from some letters out of the Hispana. Once Pseudo-Fabian is done with these, he brings discussion around to matters nearer and dearer to his heart. He declares that nobody can bring any accusations against priests who is not of good conversatio, whose life, faith or status is questionable -- the same litany, more or less, that we got last time. Additionally, those who are involved in or suspected of crimes cannot accuses maiores natu.

Fabian rushes onwards to pontificate against  peregrina iudicia. This is absolutely forbidden, unless a) the pope decides to permit it (one of those famous phrases again: "salva in omnibus apostolica auctoritate generali sanctione") or b) an appeal is involved. This is the first time I've encountered Pseudo-Isidore acknowledging that his appeal system could lead to the otherwise dreaded "foreign judgment." As we saw in the last letter, Pseudo-Isidore acknowledges the possibility of appealing only to one's primate and/or to Rome. A cleric appealing a judgment handed down by his diocesan bishop would thus presumably leap over the head of his metropolitan, heading off to someone else's province -- assuming that his primate wasn't also his archbishop. It's like the forgers just realized the potential contradiction and have stepped in to clarify.

Anybody should feel free to appeal any adverse judgment, Fabian says: Nobody should hinder the appeals process. Even criminal matters should be appealed. "Nor should the power to appeal be denied to someone who has already been sent off to punishment in accordance with his sentence." Anyone who has been driven from his see can bring this fact before his judge, if he wishes; anytime a deposed bishop appeals all proceedings against him are to be brought to a halt.

The argument is already getting pretty specific, and it gets more specific still. Look at this odd bit: Anyone accusing anyone else of a crime out of anger has to submit the accusation in writing and promise to prove the charge; if the irate accuser is unwilling to repeat the charge he made out of anger and write it down, the case against the accused cannot proceed. In fact, Fabian says, ANYBODY bringing a criminal accusation has to promise, in writing, to provide proof. Anyone unable to prove said accusations is to suffer the the very
penalty that the accused would have suffered had guilt been proven. You can see how these provisions might have a chilling effect on the judicial process. And does it seem to you, as it seems to me, that Pseudo-Isidore is referencing some recent, infamous incident where some cleric was angrily denounced and deposed?

Fabian finishes his disquisition on the matter of accusations by declaring that all the faithful are to come to the aid of anyone who is unjustly oppressed. Pseudo Isidore has been quoting other sources -- primarily Beneditus Levita -- throughout this entire discussion, though he emphasizes in his own words that his correspondent, Hilary, and all his fellow bishops should help one another to avoid falling into the abyss of mutual detraction and persecution. Bishops should show only charity to one another.

All of that and we're still only halfway through the letter. Two long quotes from Ecclesiasticus (27:18-33 and 28:1-30) and a passage from Ephesians (6:10-17) take up the rest; the closing words come from the register of Gregory the Great.


Recipients: the bishop Hilary

Date: 16 Oct.

Sources: letters of Pope Hilary and Felix III (from the Hispana); Benedictus Levita; Capitula Angilramni; letter of Pope Hadrian; the bible; Gregory the Great, letters

Contemporary Carolingian Legislation: a capitulary of 789 (though it's not quite clear whether Pseudo-Isidore uses this independently or whether he's getting it through Benedictus Levita)

Words: 1400

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Thirty-Sixth Letter (Item 42): Pope Fabian to all the Eastern Bishops and Faithful

This letter, the second ascribed to the third-century Pope Fabian, is nothing if not hefty. It's also more closely crafted than usual, with arguments spliced together from a wide range of sources, and textual excerpts carefully integrated for a smoother-than-usual effect. It's not the summit of medieval Latin literature, but it manages to avoid that clunky feel that plagues a lot of the other false decretals.

While the contents are mostly familiar (same old stuff on judicial proceedings against clerics), we do get an unusual bit on chrism right up front. Usually liturgical content in Pseudo-Isidore depends on the papal biographies in the Liber Pontificalis. Most of the time, it turns out that the biography ascribed some liturgical innovation to the pontiff in question (i.e., Easter is to be celebrated on Sunday), and Pseudo-Isidore -- always on the lookout for gaps in the historical record that he can fill with his forgeries -- invents a letter that supposedly establishes that liturgical point. Of course the other 90 percent of the letter is about primates and judicial proceedings against bishops and assorted stuff; the liturgical angle just gave Pseudo-Isidore a nail to hang his coat on.

Here, though, things are different. Fabian says that "certain people" aren't consecrating the chrism every Paschal season; some argue that if they have enough left over from last year, why bother to consecrate more? Fabian is very, very opposed to this kind of liturgical neglect. No less an authority than Jesus, he says, commanded the blessing of chrism when he washed the apostles' feet at the Last Supper: It's to be done every year without exception. None of this has anything to do with Fabian's biography in the Liber Pontificalis, though the same argument does occur in Benedictus Levita. What's going on here? Were there any contemporary ninth-century arguments about the annual consecration of chrism? So many questions.

The rest of the letter covers more familiar ground. A very tightly constructed paragraph, with nearly all its words taken from other sources (primarily Benedictus Levita and the Bible: it took me nearly twenty minutes to disentangle it all, and this is WITH the help of Hinschius's apparatus fontium), drags out the same old arguments. Nobody can bring an accusation who is himself under suspicion, who is an enemy of the accused, who is infamis, whose conversatio is less than perfect, whose faith, life and libertas are unknown. Certainly no members of the laity are permitted to acccuse the clergy.

Onto a point that seems at first completely unrelated: Pseudo-Fabian starts citing passages from the Old Testament that, he asserts, establish the Christian diaconate. If deacons were so important to God, what about priests and the higher clergy? Now you get where he's going. Nobody in the priesthood can be condemned humano examine; only God can judge priests. From there back to the subject of accusations: The apostles and all their successors aimed to make it well nigh impossible to accuse members of the clergy of any crime -- and they did this for a reason. From there we get familiar lines about the exceptio spolii: no bishop who has been deprived of goods or office can be tried until he's been restored to his former state. Also, clerics who consipre against their bishops are to be kicked out of office and handed over to the episcopal curia, which they are to serve for the rest of their lives as infames.

You might think Fabian would be winding down, but he's still going strong. Nobody should ever be an accuser, a judge and/or a witness at the same time, and so every judicial process requires at least four people (an ELECTED judge, an accuser, a defendant, and a witness). Bishops should only really be tried if they've deviated from the faith, and even then the proper thing is for their subordinates to approach them first and attempt to correct them in private. If this doesn't work -- quod absit ! -- they're to be brought before their primate or the Apostolic See (NOT their archbishop!). If the problem does not involve matters of faith, it's better for everyone just to put up with the offending bishop.


Recipients: eastern bishops and faithful

Date: 19 Oct.

Sources: Letters of Zosimus, Siricius, Celestine I and Innocent I (all from the Hispana); an additional letter of Innocent I (from the Quesnelliana); other letters of Gregory the Great, Jerome and Ambrose; Gregory's Regula pastoralis; Benedictus Levita; Augustine, sermons 46 and 351, as well as his Enchiridionn; the Bible; Capitula Angilramni; Isidore, Synonyma and Sententiae; acta of the 418 Council of Carthage

Contemporary Carolingian Legislation: 816 Council of Aachen (?)

Words*: 2300

*Karl Georg Schon has only provided .pdf editions, with numbered lines, through item 41, the first Fabian letter. Thus for letters after item 41 we'll  have to gauge length differently, by word count (which, in retrospect, I should've been dong all along). Over the next few days I'll add wordcounts to the older posts, so we'll have a consistent means of comparison.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Thirty-Third Letter (Item 39): Pope Pontian to All Bishops

The second and last letter of Pontian starts with a brief gloss on Luke 2:14 ("Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will"). From there it eases into a discussion about the "sons of God and the sons of the devil" . The sons of God always strive after those things which are of God; the sons of the devil...well, you know what they get up to.

You can always tell that Pseudo-Isidore is getting around to his point when the verbal echoes of Benedictus Levita start to resound. Nobody, he says suddenly, should do anything to a brother that this brother doesn't want. Enemies, those under suspicion, the litigious (facile litigantes), those "who do not lead a good life or whose life is worthy of accusation and who do not hold to or teach the right faith": all these cannot bring accusations against others.

Then we get a very long series of quotes from Ecclesiasticus (32:1-3, 37:21, 35:2,5; 27:18-33, 28:1-30; 5:8-18; 6:1-4) that bring us right up to the end of the letter. Before signing off, Pontian tells his readers to defend the oppressed and help the needy.

Longer than the last Pontian letter, but as most if it is a pastiche of unedited passages from the Bible, still pretty light on content.


Recipients: all bishops

Date: 28 April, "Severo et Quintiano vv. cc. conss"

Sources: the bible, the Sentences of Sextus, Benedictus Levita, letter of Gregory the Great

Lines : 105

The Thirty-Second Letter (Item 38): Pope Pontian to Felix Scribo

In this very short and straightforward decretal (the first of two pieces ascribed to Pontian) our forgers show us the pope writing to one Felix Scribo, who has been defending various priests "against the perfidies of evil men" (contra pravorum hominum insidias). The pope, of course, is convinced that this good conduct is highly pleasing to God.

Most of this letter consists of reassuring pastoral passages lifted from the register of Gregory the Great. Pseudo-Isidore trots out his pet themes only in one brief passage about halfway through: Not only are priests to be honored, but they are not to be accused by pestilential men. And if they're in error, they cannot be corrected by the laity, but only by their felow priests and the pope.


Recipient: Felix Scribo: a fictitious person, though the by-name seems to have been borrowed from one of Gregory the Great's correspondents.

Date:  23 Jan.; the consuls are Severus and Quintianus, from the Liber Pontificalis again

Sources: Gregory the Great, letters; the Bible; a letter of Jerome (?); Benedictus Levita

Contemporary Carolingian Legislation: 816 Council of Aachen (?) -- It's hard to tell whether one particular passage is citing the Jerome epistle or these conciliar acta

Lines: 50

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Thirty-First Letter (Item 37): Pope Urban I to all the faithful

Fellow investigators, I have a confession to make: I've been reading the Decretals for longer than I've been blogging them. Also, all my notes on the addresses are in New Haven, while I am in Philadelphia. This means two things: 1) We'll be resuming with our ordinary programming in the meantime (an occasion more for relief than regret, perhaps?), and 2) I'm going to fast-forward us to item 37, a letter from Urban I (d. 230) directed to all the Christian faithful. Fear not! We will return to fill in the gaps. But Pseudo-Isidore did not write a novel; his decretals were not intended for cover-to-cover reading. So with any luck we'll survive.

This is the one and only epistle ascribed to Urban. It's one of the letters we highlighted last time for its atypical address; it echoes 1 Peter 1:2. Finally, it's one of several letters in the first part of the decretals very concerned about the common possession of goods, and even has some material in common with the similarly-themed fifth item (no. 11, Clement I to James, Jesus's brother).

Urban, like Clement, derives his image of apostolic communism largely from Acts; once again we have the story of Ananias and Sapphira quoted verbatim -- though Urban, unlike Clement, doesn't claim to have been around for the action. Perhaps the most interesting bit in the whole letter comes right before this episode. For once speaking in their own words, our forgers say that in the wake of the apostolic period it has become clear that estates (hereditates et agres) are more useful to the church than the money that they can be sold for; thus, we read, everyone should just give the church land instead of selling the land and passing on the money. Naturally, the transferred properties are to remain in the possession of the church "now and in the future." In the course of this we get some verbal borrowings from the 829 Council of Paris, which help the Pseudo-Isidor emphasize that these land donations are to be reserved exclusively for ecclesiastical use.

More rumbling, from Benedictus Levita, about those who fiddle with church property, and then some general statements about episcopal authority; more remarks on the common life; and than a final paragraph decreeing that "all the faithful should receive the Holy Spirit through the imposition of the bishops' hands after baptism," based in part on the 836 Council of Aachen.


Recipients: all the faithful

Date: 5 Sept., "Antonio et Alexandro vv. cc. conss." Consular names here, as almost always, taken from the Liber Pontificalis.

Sources: Cyprian, De habita virginum; the Bible; Benedictus Levita; Gregory the Great, Homiliae in evangelia; Fourth Council of Carthage; Isidore, Etymologies; Eusebius, homily for Pentecost

Contemporary Carolingian Legislation: 829 Council of Paris; 836 Council of Aachen; 816 Council of Aachen (?)

Lines: 110

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Epistolary Addresses in Pseudo-Isidore: I

Distinguished lectores, there are always patterns, and it is our job to find them. In the process of forging scads of papal letters, the Pseudo-Isidore also forged scads of epistolary addresses -- the bit at the start of a letter that tells everyone to whom, and from whom, the letter is sent. Pope Damasus to all bishops in the whole world everywhere, health and prosperity as long as you do what I say.  That sort of thing.

Pseudo-Isidore fakes all these addresses because his forgeries wouldn't look like real letters without them. But beyond the simple identities of sender and recipient, what does he stick in his addresses? Does he try to make them look ancient and archaic; does he squeeze arguments into them; does he do anything ridiculous and strange? I know these questions have been bothering millions of people; they've been bothering me too. It's time to deal with them.

Pseudo-Isidore forges about ninety addresses in all: Eighty-four of them are cast in the mouths of popes, while the other six are from others addressing the pope. For now we'll set the latter aside and concentrate on the former.

The papal addresses in Pseudo-Isidore, Part 1 are pretty homogenous. The vast majority have the pope calling himself "bishop" (frequently, "bishop of the city of Rome") and wishing his addressee(s) "health" (salutem) or (more frequently) "health in the lord" (salutem in domino). Our fictive popes tend to be more expansive with their titles if they're sticking their names first, and they tend to exclude or minimize their titles if they're sticking their addressees' names first. And what of the addressees' names, when these come first? Then Pseudo-Isidore can at least spare them an adjective in addition to their title. In Part 1, these adjectives are almost always either dilectissimus or carissimus (declined as necessary). These tendencies remain through a substantial portion of the forgeries in Part 3 as well, though later on we do encounter a little more variation (which we'll get to). I've not consulted manuals of papal diplomatics for this post, but I assure you that none of this is overwhelmingly out of line with ancient epistolary practice. (More on Pseudo-Isidore's models soon.)

This relative uniformity makes the exceptions quite interesting. Particularly curious are four addresses in Part 1 modeled on the addresses of the Petrine epistles (item 12: Anacletus to all the faithful, using 2 Peter 1:1-2; item 14, Anacletus to all bishops also using 2 Peter 1:1; item 19, Alexander to the entire priesthood, using 1 Peter 1:2; and item 37: Urban I to all the faitfhul, also using 1 Peter 1:2). Does that mean anything? In future posts we'll survey the contents of these letters with this point in mind.

Also interesting are ten letters (items 20, 22, 25, 26, 28, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35), all of them near each other and all in Part 1, where all else is more or less normal, but where the pope calls himself archbishop of Rome: A highly irregular title that, as far as I can tell, occurs nowhere outside of the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries. And wasn't Pseudo-Isidore supposed to be a) pretty partial to the papacy, and b) pretty down on archbishops? I know that's an oversimplification but still, you must admit that this is odd.

But the most interesting irregularities crop up in Part 3, right at the beginning. The initial burst of forged letters through Damasus, including correspondence to and from Athanasius (from item 127 to item 146 or so), has addresses that, for the most part, really stand out. See items 128 and 130: the first letters to use the adjective venerabilibus; 136, the first occurrence of reverentissimis; 138, sanctissimis et deo amantissimis; 144, where Damasus calls himself servus servorum dei (two-hundred years before Gregory I!); and 146, venerabilibus again. Of all these new features only reverentissimus sticks around (we find it again in items 292 and 299); otherwise, after item 146 the addresses return to the standards familiar from Part 1.

I've not sorted out all my thoughts on what this means, but it does mean something. In the first place, the Damasus letters are an obvious seam in the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals: They're the bit where our forgers begin to blend their invented papal decretals with genuine papal decretals from the Hispana. It's also interesting to find deviations in items 144 and 146, both of which are additionally irregular in that they're two of only four forged decretals in all of Pseudo-Isidore that also occur in the HGA.

And there's another reason we should care about irregularities at the beginning of Part 3. The A2 recension, remember -- the recension that Zechiel-Eckes suggested might be the earliest -- ends right at the beginning of Part 3, midway through the letters of Damasus. And I was just saying that we first get adjective reverentissimus in item 136, but that's not quite right. That word also occurs in the prefatory material to the Decretals, and specifically in the address of item 3,  the forged letter from Damasus to Aurelius of Carthage. You remember this piece: It's the one in which Damasus says he's sending Aurelius decretals from the time of St. Peter's successors up to his own day. It's the letter that grabs our attention because it seems to be describing the contents of the A2 recension, as we said earlier, and because it essentially suggests the canonical collection of Isidore the Merchant contains within it the earlier canonical collection of Damasus (i.e., Pseudo-Damasus within Pseudo-Isidore).

So can we say that item 3 and the forged decretals constituting the anomalous sequence of items 127-146 were written around the same time -- around the time that our forgers first conceived of changing things up a bit by varying their use of adjectives in the address? I think it's not such a crazy assumption to make. It's one indication that the Aurelius/Damasus exchange was written to preface a shorter collection -- one ascribed to Damasus, not Isidore. So goes my thinking anyway.

More on the addresses next time.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Fourth Letter (Item 10): Pope Clement I to His Fellow Bishops Julius and Julianus and Their Associates

Of all the Clementine forgeries, the fourth is the most heavily dependent on the Recognitiones. Our forgers contribute only about 13 of 160 lines. The rest is a single, continuous passage lifted from Recognitiones book 6 (chapters 2-12).

The letter is primarily about heresy -- specifically, episcopal error in matters of faith -- and only the first few lines were written by Pseudo-Isidore. In this passage "Clement" says that his addressees, the bishops Julius and Julianus (who, as far as I can tell, are fictional) have been led astray by various gentes (peoples? or just people?)  in their midst. It is of course better that they return to "the way of truth" than that they persist in error. And not only should they return to truth, Clement says -- they should drive as many of those who led them astray back to the right path.

Then comes the long Recognitiones excerpt, which is basically just a rambling sermon. The transition is pretty smooth, as the borrowed passage starts out talking about that "just and necessary anger" which everyone should deploy against those who have fallen into error. There follows a long discussion of Matt. 10:34: "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword," and thereafter the sermon runs pretty far afield. We have the statement that we should revere our parents as "ministers" but not as "givers of life," because only God is a giver of life. This leads into a rather opaque discussion of God's creation, and the special place water has been accorded therein. From there the leap to baptism is a short one.

Towards the end we get some odd remarks on purity (castimonia). Men are not to mix with (have sex with?) menstruating women, in accordance with the law of God. Everyone should wash their body with water (no word on how often though). Clement assures us that purity comes from within, but argues that those who are externally filthy are doubtless filthy within as well. Before too long, though, he's forced to acknowledge that this doesn't always work in reverse.

All of that from the Recognitiones. Pseudo-Isidore only shows up right at the end to close off the letter, which he accomplishes by citing Rom. 3:23 and 1 Cor. 14:1 ("For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And so, dear friends, follow the way of love and eagerly desire better and spiritual things.")

An easy read for your blogger; more difficult problems await.


Recipients: the bishops Julius and Julianus (both are called fratres, so I'm assuming they're bishops), and their associates

Date: none

Sources: Recognitiones; Pauline epistles

Lines: 160

Cross references: none