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