Tuesday, May 11, 2010

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

1 comment:

  1. Re. pictures of popes (hasn't G. Ladner written at length about this?) I recall seeing an impressive collection of these on the ceiling of Sienna cathedral, all carefully colored. WG


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