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.