Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The First Letter (Item 7*): Pope Clement I to James, Jesus's Brother

Once again, apologies for delays in posting: Holiday traveling had me preoccupied. Finally, though, we're beyond the prefatory material, and onto the first letters! Hurray and so forth.

The first two letters of the collection (here and here in .pdf format) , both in the name of Pope Clement I (Peter's successor), are a little atypical. Unlike the rest of what we'll encounter in Part 1 of Pseudo-Isidore, these aren't outright inventions of our forgers. They're forged through and through, but the core of each document was invented long before Pseudo-Isidore got to work. The important point to take away from this is that both of the pre-Pseudo-Isidorian Clement letters were accepted as authentic (more or less) in ninth-century Europe. Here we have our forgers interpolating what they regarded as genuine documents, rather than drafting new letters from whole cloth.

Seckel suggests starting out the forged collection with a few seemingly genuine pieces makes sense. Too much unknown or unfamiliar material, right at the beginning, could only give up the game. Which I sort of agree with, though (as I'll talk about later) I'm still a little confused about the exact game our guys are playing here.

Anyway, the first letter decretal in Part 1 of Pseudo-Isidore is in the name of Pope Clement I, and it's addressed to James, Jesus's brother. The first half (roughly speaking) -- including the address -- is taken over from the pre-Pseudo-Isidorian forgery; the second half is the invention of our forgers.

So what is this old forgery that Pseudo-Isidore is expanding upon? It's from the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitiones, a widely studied piece of apocryphal literature. It relates Clement's conversion to Christianity, his meeting of Peter the Apostle, and various other exploits. The whole collection is prefaced by a letter addressed to James, the Lord's brother, in Jerusalem. This is the very letter that our forgers have extracted and put to work in their decretals collection.

They've used the whole letter, which starts out with Clement notifying James of Peter's death. Clement relates a flowery and improbable deathbed speach by the apostle, which begins with Peter designating Clement as his successor (talk about canonical irregularity). After some obligatory tussling about Clement's worthiness for episcopal office, Peter launches into about 150 lines of advice. Clement is to "live impeccably," to avoid "saeculare negotium," to rely upon the deacons to teach the people (this speech is big on deacons), on and on. Peter admonishes the onlookers to obey Clement and listen to him (we see now why Pseudo-isidore likes this letter). Then we get an odd tirade about adultery, which is the second worst offense after apostacy (this line, we'll see, comes back to haunt our forgers later on, as they'd like crimes against bishops to be up in the top two). Clement is also to look after the needs of the Christian community, to promote harmony and accord, to remember that "deacons are the eyes of the bishops" (those deacons again), and then we get an extended metaphor about the church as a great ship, and finally some more verbiage on the necessity for the laity to obey clerics. Then comes an important bit declaring that those who maintain relations with the excommunicated will themselves be excommunicated. This is a sentiment that becomes important in the history of the Investitutre Controversy; it makes its way into a lot of later canonical collections and Gregory VII and the other reformers cite it. Of course everyone says it's a Pseudo-Isidorian principle, which we see is only half-right. Yeah, Pseudo-Isidore picks up on it and uses it, but Pseudo-Clement was there long before him.

Anyway, shortly after that bit on excommunication Peter starts to wind down. He tells Clement to write to James and tell him about their exploits together. And so, Clement says, now the time has come to follow Peter's order, and relate their adventures, including travels to various cities, their preaching, the miracles they worked, etc. In the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitiones, this is the point where the preface breaks off and the narrative begins, but of course in Pseudo-Isidore we don't get the story. We get the forged material instead, all 300 lines of it. A remarkably obvious seam, which must have left many a reader quite puzzled. And wouldn't anyone who knew the Recognitiones (the text enjoyed some distribution in Carolingian Francia) have been driven to immediate suspicion? Something to think about.

The stuff that Pseudo-Isidore adds is all cast in Peter's voice; it's basically a continuation of the deathbed speech begun earlier in the letter. Remarkably cheeky of our forgers to stick their words into the mouth of an apostle, don't you think? And also, perhaps, a golden opportunity to associate some of their key arguments with one of the most authoritative figures in ninth-century Latin Christendom. Peter's second speech starts out with some platitudes about faith (all taken from Venantius Fortunatus), rambles on about the importance of charity and harmony, and finally, after extensive citation of scripture, begins to get down to business. Around line 320 the bishpos appear. They are to be established "per singulas civitates"; he also establishes "primates or patriarchs" ("in illis...civitatibus, in quibus olim (!) apud ethnicos primi flamines eorum atque primi legis doctores erant"), and then archbishops ("in illis ...civitatibus, in quibus dudum apud praedictos erant ethnicos eorum archiflamines" -- and am I wrong in thinking Pseudo-Isidore just made up the term archiflamen? I know there were flamines minores....). Then the standard song and dance about accusations against bishops; greaters are not to be judged by lessers; the people are to obey the priests; drunknness is forbidden (that kind of stands out, doesn't it?); priests are not to act without episcopal jurisdiction; bishops are to be judged by the Lord alone.

And that's pretty much it. Peter's speech ends, Clement says goodbye to James, and we're done. This the longest forged decretal in Part 1 of the collection; I've got more to say about it, but this post is already pretty long. So we'll have more Clement next time.

*I have discreetly skipped Items 4-6 -- the Ordo de Celebrando Concilio (carried over from the Hispana) and the Canones Apostolurum (a pre Pseudo-Isidorian forgery) with preceeding capitulatio -- because as everyone knows the forged decretals are more interesting.


Recipient: James (of biblical renown)

Date: None. In fact the first eight letters lack dates. Does this reflect gaps in consul lists available to Pseudo-Isidore? Something I've yet to look into.

Sources: A great many. The prefatory letter to the Recognitiones, (as well as excerpts from the text itself, incorporated late in the letter), the Bible (buckets of quotes), Venantius Fortunatus, Gregory the Great (Moralia, Homilies on the Gospels), Isidore of Sevile (Sentences) Ambrose (De dignitate sacerdotali); genuine letters of Innocent I, Zachary I, Leo the Great; Council of Chalcedon, Benedictus Levita, the Liber Pontificalis, the Rule of St. Benedict. Those are all the major pieces.

Contemporary Carolingian Legislation: A few lines taken from the 813 Council of Mainz.

Lines: 572

Cross References: None. It would be odd if Clement were to refer to his successors' future letters, or to future conciliar legislation.


UPDATE: The Clement letter has contributed a substantial chunk of new material for our collection of Pseudo-Isidore In His Own Words.


  1. The surprising item to me is the use of Fortunatus as a source. WG

  2. This isn't the only letter in which I've met Fortunatus. I'm pretty sure he's recurred a few times now. I'll look it up and let you know which pieces.

  3. In the Clement letter, it's his commentary on the apostolic creed. Is that a pseudonymous text though? Hinschius says it's his, but it seems to me that most of these creed commentaries have false attributions.

  4. Might you tell us why "Recognitions"? WG

  5. Re. Fortunatus: he is a very widely used poet among the Carols. See Godman about him. I would see the use of him in Ps-Isid as a sign of a liberal education (surprise, surprise). WG

  6. Thanks for the advice about Fortunatus; I'll keep him in mind.

    Why the Recognitiones? It strikes me as analogous to PsI's use of the Liber Pontificalis. Wherever possible the forger tries to integrate his fake letters with the historical record, as he knows it. Carolingian readers were most familiar with Clement I through the Recognitiones, so Pseudo-Clement obliges, drawing up letters with a lot of familiar material in them. Does that make sense?