Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Preface (Item 1)

Finally, on to the preface (also available in more readable .pdf). If the invocation and address were the gates, now we're into some sort of foyer. And the first thing to note is that this house is pretty much the same all over. A lot of the things we see here, we'll keep encountering again and again, and the most striking of them is the manner of composition.

Only rarely will we run into any documents in Pseudo-Isidore that exhibit clear, cohesive construction. Any search for coherency above the level of the paragraph will be pretty much doomed, and the reason is that Pseudo-Isidore is in thrall to his sources. This paragraph or that group of sentences will seem to advance a coherent argument, but as soon as you go on to the next bit you're in completely different territory. Suddenly our puppet pope is talking about something completely different, with only the most occasional and barest of apologies to account for the break. The preface is no exception.

Isidore the Merchant starts out with some conventional throat clearing: A bunch of bishops and other "servants of God" have urged him to put to together a collection of canons. He claims that "diverse interpretations" have resulted in divergent texts of the same laws. He's particularly uptight about the Greek councils, which exist in multiple translations. This is a problem that he says he's going to solve by producing his own authoritative translation. Remember what we said about the canonical portion (Part 2) of the HGA? How our forgers revised and interpolated a lot of the councils? Well here's how they account for any differences between their (falsified) version and the previous (authentic) versions they know their readers will be familiar with.

Suddenly, Isidore shifts gears and we get an etymological paragraph pulled out of the Hispana preface. "Canon" is Greek; the Latin is "rule." "Synod" is Greek; the Latin is "comitatum vel coetum." The word "council" indicates the common intention of those who gather together. And so on and so forth.

About ten lines of that, and he's ready to describe the shape of the collection before us. This description, too, comes from the Hispana, but Isidore has had to revise it significantly because he needs to account for all the changes he's made. At the beginning of this collection he's stuck a list of instructions for celebrating councils (from the Hispana); then the "Canons of the Apostles" (a pre-Pseudo-Isidore forgery), here following the Hispana again. Then, he says, he's added decretals from early papal letters -- namely, "of Clement, Anacletus, Evaristus, and of the rest of the popes that we were able to find, up until pope Sylvester." Then he's included the canons of Nicaea I, then of the other councils he knows of, and finally decrees of the post-Constantinian popes "up to St. Gregory." That's the three parts of Pseudo-Isidore, more or less.

Isidore's impatience with these niceties is almost palpable. As soon as the outline is over he wades right into his favored theme -- accusations against prelates -- with nary a transition. It was apprently to defend members of the priesthood from unjust accusations that the "holy fathers composed laws, which they called holy canons." A lot of people accuse others to cover their own asses or to enrich themselves from the goods of the accused, we read. On from there to one of Isidore's key legal contentions: No bishop who has been expelled or expoliated can be judged before he's been restored to his see and all his possessions. Then, interestingly, Isidore goes on to try to buttress this point by citing a genuine authority, namely Leo the Great. He closes this little excursus with the coy remark that he could cite more canons (i.e., all the forged decretals in his collection), but just as the soldier needs only one shield from his vast armory for his defense, so too will these words alone suffice.

Isidore dances on to another favored theme, only distantly related: No synod can gather without the authority of the apostolic see. Here we don't get any direct citations, though, aside from the general gesture in the direction of Isidore's collection: "Canonical authority attests to this; ecclesiastical history affirms this; the holy fathers confirm this."

Change of topics once more! Isidore assures us that no less than eighty bishops (!) commissioned his canonical collection. He especially wants everyone to know that the first council of Nicaea originally included many more than the standard twenty chapters; in fact, the letters of Pope Julius prove that it had seventy chapters! The reference is to none other than JK +196 (online here), one of the forged decretals, where we find Julius citing all kinds of capitula from Nicaea I beyond no. 20. (There is a bit of a disconnect though: He cites up through a "chapter 66," but never actually says there are seventy chapters.)

Note that the Pseudo-Isidorian text of Nicaea is perfectly legit (excepting the various prefaces) and contains nothing beyond the twenty authentic canons (none of which have been enhanced). Our forgers obviously wanted very much to fiddle with this famous, ancient and highly authoritative text. But they might as well have tried to circulate a falsified Gospel: the authentic version was widely cited and deeply familiar. So they opted for an indirect approach, getting one of the post-Nicene popes to cite canons not in Nicaea.

This is one of our forgers' boldest moves, and they're clearly nervous about it. About a quarter of the entire preface is devoted to demonstrating that most of Nicaea I has been lost. Isidore does this by noting that the First Council of Constantinople, Innocent I, and Theophilus of Alexandria, all appear to cite provisions in Nicaea that do not occur in the received text. Once again, a real argument citing genuine texts. (That sort of thing will get pretty rare from here on out.)

On the other side of this discussion is another passage pulled from the Hispana about the quattuor principalia concilia -- the four most authoritative councils: Nicaea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus I, and Chalcedon.

And that brings us to the end. We won't be going over all the decretals in such detail, but I did want to give you a sense of the flavor of this collection. I will, however, be drawing up a scorecard for each piece, so we can keep sources, relative length, and cross references straight (for the decretals I'll also add purported date and purported recipients).


Sources: Hispana (as in the HGA); Cassiodorus, Historia Tripartita; Augustine, sermon 351; Benedictus Levita; Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica; Leo the Great, Ep. 93; Liber Pontificalis

Lines (in Schon's edition): 166

Cross References: To JK +196 (last letter of Julius); also broad gestures to the entire collection.

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget that there were a whole lot of extra canons included in the Council of Nicaea in the collections found in North Africa. You might re-check Maassen on this. MES