Sunday, November 28, 2010


Your intrepid blogger (pictured here with the good Chairman) has returned from Beijing, where the food was wonderful but the Great Firewall thwarted all posting.

Coming up: More on the beginning of Pseudo-Isidore Part III, with any luck at a snappier pace than I've been managing recently. Fun fun fun.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Recurrent passages in the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries: The example of 'Haec apostolorum'

I just want to talk a little more about the passage that concludes Mark's letter, which I said recurs in two other forged decretals. I'll call it the Haec apostolorum from its incipit. Its contents come primarily from the acta of the Third Council of Constantinople, with some lines from a letter of Leo the Great (ep. 7) and Benedictus Levita (III.55) thrown in. It asserts that the apostolic tradition is to be cultivated and adhered to by everyone; the popes have never erred and will never fall into heresy. That which previous pontiffs enacted is thus to be remembered. The writer fears what will happen to him if he neglects to preach the "truth of our savior Jesus," or if he oppresses that truth with silence. Thus, the pope's correspondents are advised to be on the lookout against heretics and enemies of God's church, and to attack any heresy with as much severity as possible.

Every time I run into one of these recurrent passages I find myself wondering whether they were originally developed for one forged letter and later transferred to others, or whether they're separately-composed snippets designed for repeated use. I wonder, in other words, to what degree the Pseudo-Isidorian workshop assembled letters from prefab parts, and to what degree they attended to each as a separate, coherent composition designed to make a discrete argument. (In which connection see also my previous obsessive musings on cohesiveness.) In the case of Haec apostolorum, I can't make any solid argument about an original environment, but it seems to fit best with the Mark letter.

At first glance it looks fine in Lucius. That letter starts out with some bellowing about the persecution of faithful bishops at the hands of heretics, and though it goes on to talk mainly about (you guessed it) episcopal accusations, Haec apostolorum brings the focus back to heresy at the end. This basic correspondence between the opening and closing passages of a decretal -- frequently with sharply different intervening material -- is a common feature of the forgeries that we've observed before. Yet there's no more specific resonance and no shared source material. That is, none of the sources employed in Haec apostolorum recur in earlier passages of the Lucius letter. That's not all that unusual, but without any more explicit contact it becomes hard to argue that our passage was crafted specifically for Lucius.

You could argue that the text is a little less at home in the third letter of Felix (not yet blogged but edited here). Beyond Haec apostolorum, this decretal consists almost entirely of one long passage clipped from Idacius's anti-Arian treatise Adversus Varimadum. To the extent this letter is about heresy, our passage is at least vaguely on point, though again there's no correspondence at the level of sources. The last Felix letter also falls pretty clearly into the category of filler; our forgers are obviously putting very little work into most of its text. I guess they could've woken up at the end and decided to more tightly construct its closing lines, but that would be unusual in the case of emptier letters, like this one, that lack an historical hook or any overt arguments on Pseudo-Isidore's pet htemes.

The thing that really jumps out at me when I consider Haec apostolorum in the context of the just-blogged Mark letter is the similarity between aspects of this text and the Lucius forgery. Both letters have vastly different contents, of course, but both pretend to have been prompted by similar episcopal complaints. Though Pseudo-Isidore doesn't bother to invent whatever letter Lucius is supposed to be responding to, Lucius's address and initial lines discuss bishops "in Gaul and Spain" whose "afflictions" have saddened the pope. The bishops have been "persecuted and defamed" by those who do not adhere to the correct faith; their churches have been robbbed of their possessions and despoiled of the offerings of the faithful, to the point that the persecuted can neither defend themselves nor offer necessary services to the faithful. All of which is redolent of Athanasius's complaint that heretics have destroyed all his stuff, to the point that he has neither books, nor ecclesiastical vestments, nor ornaments nor other utensils (presumably meaning altar vessels).

Haec apostolorum concludes Pope Mark's reply. While in Lucius and Felix there was general thematic corresponsence with earlier passages, here it explicitly interacts with the argument (though once again it shares no sources with the rest of Mark's letter). At the beginning of the decretal, Pseudo-Mark justifies his investigation of Athanasius's claims by declaring that the Roman church "has remained and will remain...forever unstained," immobile and free of any heresy. This is just an extremely emphatic rewording of a line from Haec apostolorum, which declares that "This holy and apostolic church, the mother of all churches...which will be shown never to have erred, has not succumbed to heretical innovations...."

Anyway, that's enough for now. Someday I hope to be able to post a broader survey of these recurring passages -- there's not all that many of  and they're easy enough to find with Hinschius's apparatus fontium).

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Seventy-Fourth Letter (Item 128): Pope Mark to Athanasius and the Egyptian Bishops

Mark's reply immediately follows Athanasius's request. At first he has to clear his throat. Mark says he's sorrowed to hear Athanasius and company are having a hard time, but nonetheless consoled because the Egyptian bishops are holding fast to the faith. "You are not a reed shaken with the wind," he says, nodding at Matt. 11:7. Then Pseudo-Mark borrows from a letter of Leo the Great to say that he recognizes the strength of his correspondents' constancy, and that he is happy they're exercising their vigilance for Christ's flock; this is important so that the wolves in sheep's clothing can't get at the simplices. Athanasius and his friends should keep up the good work, for those who persevere to the end are blessed for their patience. According to the Gospel, persecution accompanies whoever desires to live piously in Christ.

With that out of the way, Pseudo-Mark hops along to the interesting bit. He says that he's investigated Athanasius's claims about the Council of Nicaea by consulting witnesses who attended the proceedings. These, of course, confirmed Athanasius's account. Mark hastens to reassure his friend that he didn't go to all this trouble because he was worried Mark was putting him on -- he just needs to keep the church united, out of trouble, free from the insult of heretics, immaculate, firm and immobile for all time. You can tell Pseudo-Isidore is writing in his own words here: Few other writers, forgers or polemicists or otherwise, get worked up enough to lay such stress on the unity and orthodoxy of the Roman church.

Only after these inquiries did Mark bother to open up his filing cabinet. Tucked away in his scrinium, he found the seventy chapters Athanasius was talking about, as directed to his predecessor Sylvester eleven years previously in 325. Sort of makes calling in those witnesses pointless, doesn't it? After all, if Mark only had to root around in the archives to verify that the Egyptians weren't full of it, why bother?

Anyway, Mark is a generous guy but he's not going to send Rome's only copy of the Nicene canons to Egypt. The document possesses great authority as a witness to the council, and it has a funky subscription list besides (from which remarks we are meant to understand that the pope hasn't just got any old copy, but is in fact looking at the original acta as promulgated at Nicaea). Thus he's had a copy made in the presence of Athanasius's messengers, who can bring it back to the land of canon-burning heretics without endangering the original. This copy, Mark hastens to confirm, has the same number of canons, the same words and the same subscription list as Mark's. Our letter does nothing if not protest too much.

The pope pinches off his epistle with a long passage on heresy (and the purity of the Apostolic Church therefrom) that we also find concluding the only letter of Lucius (blogged previously) and the third letter of Felix, both forgeries from Part I.


Recipients: Athanasius and the rest of the Egyptian episcopate

Date: 24 Oct. 336 ("Nepotiano et Fecundo viris clarissimis consulibus": the only set of consuls on offer in the Liber Pontificalis)

Sources: the Bible (Matthew), letters of Leo the Great and Celestine I (both from the Hispana, presumably), the Concilium Africanum of the Dionysio-Hadriana, the Liber Pontificalis (only for the consuls)

Words: 800

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Seventy-Third Letter (Item 127): Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria to Pope Mark

Well, a week turned into four, but I have finally risen from the dead, or at least from the greater part of my job applications. It’s time to get back to work.

I know Part I of Pseudo-Isidore has provided you with absolutely hours of entertainment, but I’ve decided to jump ahead to Part III, at least for now. We’ve been hanging out among those early popes for a while and I think we’ve gotten the feel of the place. We haven’t found all the hidden treasure, not a by a long shot – but the complexities of Part III have been beckoning for some time, and I we should at least make an exploratory foray.

Part II of Pseudo-Isidore, you’ll remember, is nothing but church councils from the HGA: Our forgers have given these texts a healthy working-over, but it doesn't look like they've added any outright forgeries. Papal decretals resume on the other side of this conciliar material, in Part III, and here everything is different. In Part I things have been pretty simple: There’s no corresponding section in the HGA and Pseudo-Isidore just makes everything up. In Part III, Pseudo-Isidore switches hats; he becomes less of an outright fabricator and more of a compiler. To be sure, a lot of the stuff he adds to the HGA is perfectly fake, but he also brings in loads of genuine stuff, including earlier forgeries that Carolingian-era clerics accepted as authentic. Part III, in other words, is a lot more complicated, because at this point Pseudo-Isidore is working to expand an existing law collection.

It also helps to keep an eye on chronology: Part I ends with a single decretal from Pope Miltiades (dated to 314, the year of Miltiades’s death: we’ll get to this someday, I promise), Sylvester’s successor; Part II starts with Nicaea (A.D. 325) and goes up to Seville II (618/9). In Part III we backtrack, following the HGA. Right after the chapter list there’s a short text (I'm not going to bother with it) that has a rubric calling it the Excerpta quaedam ex synodalibus gestis Silvestri papae. This is a fake, but it doesn't seem to be Pseudo-Isidore's fake: according to Duchesne it's of a piece with the Symmachean forgeries. Beyond this piece Pseudo-Isidore doesn’t seem all that interested in Sylvester. His own forgeries don’t pick up until the pontificate of Mark in 336. Pseudo-Isidore, in other words, lets twenty-two crucial years in the history of Christianity slip by with nary a fake decretal.

Now he’s got to make up for lost time, and we get fireworks right away: The first forged letter of Part III is written not in the name of a pope, but of the bishop Athanasius of Alexandria. Apparently Athanasius’s notorious and intractable opposition to Arianism made him an attractive figure to our forgers – as good an historical hook as any for one of their more outlandish fictions. Together with his fellow Egyptian bishops, Athanasius writes to Mark to complain about the persecution that he and the rest of the orthodox have been suffering at the hands of “heretics,” particularly Arians. The Arians are problematic because they have burned all the bishops’ stuff: They have burned their books, Athanasius says, their liturgical vestments, their church decorations and associated utensils. But mainly they have burnt all their books, utterly destroyed their libraries. Not one iota has been left intact. Naturally this includes Athanasius’s copy of the decrees enacted at Nicaea in 325.

Pseudo-Athanasius casts his mind back eleven years, when he was still a deacon serving under his predecessor, Alexander I of Alexandria. Athanasius clearly remembers that the canons enacted at Nicaea were sent to Pope Sylvester at Rome through the priests Victor and Vincentius, apocrisiarii of the Apostolic See (he gets these names and the background from the preface to the Nicene acta found in the Quesnelliana). Athanasius thus reasons that Sylvester’s successor, Mark, is sure to have the canons. Nor is that all that Pseudo-Athanasius remembers – and here he gets around to the real purpose of this letter. Eleven years ago, Athanasius maintains, the 318 holy fathers gathered at Nicaea came up with a total of eighty canons; he says that forty were proposed by the Greek contingent and drawn up in Greek, and another forty were proposed by the Latin bishops, written in Latin. This posed a problem for Alexander I of Alexandria and the Roman apocrisiarii, who thought there should only be seventy canons, to commemorate the seventy disciples and the seventy languages of the world. (Isn't it just great how Pseudo-Isidore makes the absent bishop of Rome a prime mover at Nicaea, right up there with the  Alexandrian patriarch?) Thus they decided to nix ten of the canons and merge their content with the other seventy, to yield the necessary total. It was a copy of these seventy canons, Athanasius reiterates, that the nefarious heretics have burned. He has every confidence Mark will help him out and send a copy straight away. The concluding rhetoric isn’t very interesting; it’s spliced together primarily from acta of the Roman council of 721, with a few lines from a letter of Justinian and the 418 Council of Carthage.

Now I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that the fathers gathered at Nicaea enacted only twenty canons, not seventy (though I am reminded that recensions with more than twenty canons circulated). As we saw a while ago, the preface to Pseudo-Isidore also insists that the fathers at Nicaea issued seventy canons, and before long we’ll get a forged decretal of Pope Julius I citing some of these additional decrees. Don’t hold your breath – they all turn out to be on typical Pseudo-Isidorian themes. As I speculated last time this came up, it seems our forgers weren’t feeling quite bold enough to actually interpolate Nicaea, so they took a different and more creative approach, essentially inventing a bogus indirect tradition that just happens to witness this additional (and mysteriously lost) legislation.

For those of you keeping score at home: Part II of Pseudo-Isidore’s decretals starts out with the Council of Nicaea, which Pseudo-Isidore passes on intact from the HGA. So Pseudo-Isidore invents this correspondence about seventy Nicene canons, but his own collection presents only the authentic twenty-canon version.


Recipient: Pope Mark

Date: 336, because that was the only year Mark was pope. No consuls and no dating clause, of course, because there’s no underlying Liber Pontificalis entry (though I guess, if our forgers were really committed, they could’ve just borrowed them from Mark’s biography in the LP)

Sources: the Historia Ecclesiastica Tripartita commissioned by Cassiodorus (VI.22 really forms the backbone of this letter); the Quesnel preface to Nicaea, a letter of Leo the Great (ep. 14), the preface to the council of Rome of 721, the 418 Council of Carthage; a letter form Justinian I to Pope John II

Words: 530