Friday, September 17, 2010

The Fortieth Letter (Item 46): Pope Lucius I to Bishops in Gaul and Spain

This is the only decretal that Pseudo-Isidore ascribes to Lucius I. The pope says he's gotten letters from bishops in Gaul and Spain complaining of persecution at the hands of heretics. This persecution has driven many from the church and made it all but impossible to minister to the remaining faithful.

Lucius declares that all bishops are to keep two or three priests or deacons with them, to serve as witnesses; there are a lot of people conspiring against the church, and Lucius is worried that his correspondents might be falsely accused. The basis for this command is Lucius's biography in the Liber Pontificalis, which has Lucius declaring that "in every place two priests and three deacons should abide with the bishop to be witnesses for him to the church" (from Loomis's translation: Duchesne's edition is in some reshelving limbo after my adventures earlier this week). Pseudo-Lucius of course is much more insistent on this point, but not out of step with the LP here.

Then it's on to the subject of accusations, with words from Benedictus Levita and/or the Capitula Angilramni. Earlier, I said that Pseudo-Isidore likes to tightly edit his borrowings from these sister forgeries, but as always there are exceptions, and this is one of them. Pseudo-Lucius gets most of  his discussion from one long, unedited passage (c. 43 of the Capitula Angilramni = Benedictus Levita III.358), though he does round it out with a few supplementary extracts. Anyway, the technique may be different but it's nothing we haven't heard before: Bishops are not to be lightly accused, and wronging a bishop is the equivalent of wronging Christ. Accusations againt maiores natu are likewise forbidden, except in the case of criminal accusations, but even then the character of the accuser is to be taken into account. Appeals from lesser to greater judges are to be permitted in every case.

After this our letter turns suddenly to the idea of metropolitan authority, with precepts that are once again quite familiar -- and obviously, very closely related to the issue of accusations in Pseudo-Lucius's mind. No archbishop is to interfere in matters outside of his diocese without the advice and consent of all his suffragans; otherwise he risks demotion. Nor can any metropolitan hear cases without all his suffragans in attendance. Each bishop should look after his own province, and lesser bishops (episcopi posteriores -- i.e., less senior bishops?) should not prefer themselves to their superiors (i.e., more senior bishops?). Any matter extending beyond the boundaries of a single diocese is to be dealt with by all the bishops of the province, not just the metropolitan.

After this comes the most substantial original passage of the letter. Pseudo-Lucius declares that it would be great if an evil seed of persecution had not been sown within the church to thwart those priests of the Lord who live justly and piously. Sadly, though, this seed has been sown; the resulting plant is creeping into all parts of the church, and it is therefore necessary to excise it with an ecclesiastical and apostolic sword, lest God's servants and priests all die off. Pretty strong language, and Pseudo-Lucius must be tired from all that shouting because he immediately cedes the stage to the Vulgate. We get a long, long excerpt from Ecclesiasticus (10.16-34 and 11:1-36), which Lucius intends as a warning against leaving the right faith.

On the other side of this quotation, we get some saber rattling against those who seize church property and carry off the offerings of the faithful. These wrongdoers are equated with Judas, who according to the Gospel of John (12:6) stole offerings for the poor.

No sooner has our letter quoted Psalm 82 (all of it) against these thieves than we're back to the subject of  heresy and deviation from the true faith -- exactly how we started out. Cribbing from the acta of the Third Council of Constantinople, Pseudo-Lucius assures us that the apostolic church has never been wrong in matters of faith or fallen from the path of righteousness. This concluding passage, which Lucius rounds off with some snippets from a letter of Leo the Great (ep. 7), is interesting for its verbatim recurrence at the end of two other forged decretals: the third letter ascribed to Pope Felix (also in Part I) and the only letter ascribed to Pope Mark (in Part III).


Reciepients: bishops in Gaul and Spain

Date: 1 April 252/3 (Gallo et Volusiano vv. cc. conss.: the first year of Lucius's pontificate)

Sources: Leo the Great, letters; the Bible (especially long excerpts from Ecclesiasticus), the Liber Pontificalis, Benedictus Levita, the Lex Romana Visigothorum, the Capitula Angilramni, the Sentencdes of Sextus, letter of Boniface, acta of the Third Council of Constantinople;

Contemporary Carolingian Legislation: 836 Council of Aachen?

Words: 2200


  1. How silly of you to return LP to the claws of the library. Six times out of ten, the library (any library!) always looses track of large-size volumes like that, and they show up at some undefined later date. This was true at Columbia, it is true at Yale, and apparently also at Penn. Never return anything!

  2. What can I say? My overly air-conditioned office impairs my judgment. Though Loomis is working out for me now (he takes up far less space on my desk).

  3. Is this the bit where we get the rule of 72 witnesses and a set of impossibly high standards for convicting a Bishop of anything?


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