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.


  1. Resist the incursion of transitive neologisms into English! You blogged ABOUT them, you didn't blog them.

    The Pedant will return to writing her paper now.

  2. In my mind there is a distinction. To "blog about" something is to write generally about that something on one's blog. To "blog" something is to devote a specific, defined blog post to that something. Thus I blog about Pseudo-Isidore, but I blogged the letters of Cornelius.

    The Bible is the mythical history of the Hebrews & Tribes of Israel. The editing that was done by the Church proves that it selected what it wanted & got rid or hid what they didn't want people to see. If you want to see how a religion is stream-lined, then study Mormonism. It was founded by a Sexual Pervert (Smith) & established by another (Brigham Young). Anyone who exposed the Mormon church to non-Mormons were murdered by the Danites, this was Mormonism Nazi SS. Christendom from the very start is all about establishing state religions, that go hand in hand with the ruling power. Christians are no different than Muslims, Mormons etc when it comes to "thinking outside the box". Fear rules the day & they will kill you if you question their "god". Children love fables & are very superstitious, but its only as they grow older do they recognise the myths for what they were, at least we hope they will. The infantile mind & the insecure mind are drawn to religion & ritual. Most people have vested interests in their "stocks & shares religion" & even when the sh-t hits the fan, they continue to depend on it. Take Mother Teresa, she was pure evil. Instead of exposing Hinduism for the cancer it is & the cancer her religion has been down the centuries, she compounded these people in their ignorance. Castration on a universal scale is needed for most men. Matthew 19:10-12 clearly teaches this, so why do stupid people, who say they are followers of Jesus of Nazareth, not do what he commands them to do?

    The Jesus that was & the Jesus that has been created is on par with Coca Cola. It started off as a cough syrup, was bought & refined by another & then through marketing & getting rid of opposition, it took over most of the drinks market. Constantine did that & then owned the franchise of "Cola Cola Christianity". The history of Christendom & Islam is proof positive, that their "god" is a figment of their own imagination. Ask Billy Graham if he thinks the pope is "god's right hand man? Its all a scam. The Reformers were mini popes in their own way & acted the same way.