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


  1. I can mail you your notes! Or scan them as pdfs and email them to you. Where are they?

  2. No worries -- and it's possible they're not in New Haven, but in some unexamined portion of my office. Definitely don't mail them; not that important.


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