Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Forty-First Letter (Item 47): Pope Stephen I to the Bishop Hilarius

Your blogger must once again apologize for the delay. Pseudo-Isidore managed to escape me entirely last week; teaching, the distractions of the job market, and sundry other events were to blame. Now we return to the slog.

Today's letter is mostly stuff we've heard before, though it does have something new to offer. It's in the name of Stephen I, who writes to answer the question of a certain Bishop Hilary, styled as Stephen's "beloved brother and close friend." Ps. Stephen borrows the words of Leo the Great (ep. 85) to assure Hilary that there's no doubt he's doing well and behaving properly, but that it has nevertheless seemed a good idea to write out of friendship. To this kind little sentence Ps.-Stephen adds a slight jab: Hilary is advised to persist in good deeds and avoid bad ones; he is to maintain communion with men of good conversatio and steer clear of perverse men who persecute bishops, unless he's trying to goad the wayward back to the right path. Ps. Stephen warms to his theme, quoting first I Cor. 15:33 -- "Evil communications corrupt good manners" -- and then throwing an entire chapter of Ecclesiasticus at Hilary. I guess Pseudo-Isidore is on an Ecclesiasticus kick, because we had the same thing last time with Lucius. Now it's the thirteenth chapter, and it's all vaguely on point (sample verse: "He that toucheth pitch shall be defiled with it.")

Only on the other side of this quote -- more than halfway through the letter -- does Ps. Stephen get down to answering Hilary's question. His trusted correspondent has apparently asked which people are to be considered infames, and which are to be excluded form the clergy.

Naturally, these are topics dear to Ps. Stephen's heart, and he dives right in with a long list of undesirables. Some of these Ps. Stephen gets from other, authentic sources, among them:

-those who hold ecclesiastical statutes in contempt
-those guilty of capital offenses
-violators of graves
-those who take up arms against clergy
-those widely known to be infamous (a bit tautological but anyway)
-those guilty of incest
-those guilty of calumny against their fellow brothers
-those who make accusations that they can't prove
-those who pervert the minds of princes to anger against the innocent

Ps. Stephen also rounds out this list with some additional categories from Benedictus Levita and the other related forgeries. According to these sources, other infames include

-those who reject the norms of Christian law
-thieves and the sacriligeous
-anyone who has been declared anathema
-everyone whom ecclesiastical or secular law calls infamis (yes, the letter actually says that)

Kind of weak, colorless and redundant compared to the stuff you get in the authentic sources, no? And Ps. Stephen's own additions are still more tepid and repetitive. Also infames, Ps. Stephen would have us believe, are

-those who violate the statutes of the fathers and their successors
-those who seek to hold indigna loca for themselves (not clear what this means: is this about misrepresenting one's qualifications for ecclesiastical office?)
-those who unjustly seize facultates ecclesiae (i.e., church income? church property)
-those who have been driven from their churches because of their crimes

Anyway, it should come as no surprise that none of these guys can hold ecclesiastical office. Also among those barred from clerical ranks are slaves, penitents, the twice-married, those who serve at court, those who are not of sound mind or body, those who lack understanding, those who disobey the decrees of the saints, and those who are mad (furiosi). All this from authentic sources of course.

We get the historical hook right at the end. Stephen's bio in the Liber Pontificalis says that "He forbade priests and deacons to use their consecrated garments for daily wear save in the church" (Loomis's translation again). Ps. Stephen latches onto this and spends the rest of his letter telling Hilary that "ecclesiastical vestments ... should be consecrated and honored." No one is to use them for any extra-ecclesiastical purposes, "lest the divine vengeance that struck Balthazar fall upon the transgressors who presume to do such things." This threat, interestingly, seems to come from the 836 Council of Aachen.

Right at the end there's some boilerplate about obedience. We conclude with a few lines from the same Leo letter that we started out with: Hilary is to conduct his office with moderation, to remember to be both benevolent and just, to conduct his office impartially, and to protect the catholic faith.


Recipient: a bishop named Hilary

Date: 3 May 255 (Valeriano et Gallicano vv. cc. conss.: the end of Stephen's pontificate)

Sources: letter of Leo the Great, the Bible (major excerpt from Ecclesiasticus; other stuff from I Corinthians and Mark); the Lex Romana Visigothorum and some other bits of Roman law; Benedictus Levita, perhaps also the First Council of Carthage (or maybe Pseudo-Isidore only has that through Benedictus Levita); the preface to the Twelfth Council of Toledo; a letter of Gregory the Great; the Liber Pontificalis

Contemporary Carolingian Legislation: 836 Council of Aachen

Words: 1100


  1. Doesn't facultates ecclesiae mean simply "church property" (rather than specifically "income"? WG


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