Monday, August 29, 2011

Johannes Fried, Donation of Constantine and Constitutum Constantini: A Book Review (Part IV)

Last time we saw that Fried’s attempt to reinterpret the Constitutum Constantini was less than successful. There really is no way to read the document in purely ecclesiastical terms. Pseduo-Constantine is interested in giving Pope Sylvester something beyond purely episcopal jurisdiction in the Western Empire. The Constitutum Constantini is as much a description of the present as an argument about it. It describes (as Erich Caspar once put it) a world with an emperor in the East and a pope in the West. And that’s the main reason I’ve always felt that it likely predates 800.

Fried, of course, would object – and not just on the grounds of his proposed reinterpretation. There is clear evidence, he argues, that the Constitutum dates from after the year 800 and that it was composed north of the Alps. In this installment I’ll begin to look at Fried’s approach on the origins front. Once again, I fear, I have a lot of problems.

As I said before, Fried is right to question the strength of the evidence for ascribing the Constitutum to the Roman chancery. The arguments on that front have always been lacking. And as Fried says, the tendency among some scholars to cite accurate “Roman” details in the Constitutum as evidence for its origins could be problematic; many early medieval Frankish authors would have known a great deal about Rome. “On the other hand,” Fried writes, “deviations from Roman practices would be particularly significant, and a compelling indication of a non-Roman origin of Pseudo-Constantine’s deed”  (57).

Thus Fried embarks on a lengthy, and sometimes confusing, effort to find errors of detail in the Constitutum. At some point, somebody with more patience and more interest in such matters should really attempt a comprehensive review of Fried’s arguments here, as his analysis does, at points, raise interesting questions about the world imagined by whoever wrote the Constitutum and about its specific argument. Whether the matters that he uncovers betray faults in the knowledge or imagination of a Frankish author trying to impersonate a Roman emperor is another matter entirely. In every instance that I’ve done my homework, followed Fried's references and given the matter a bit of thought, I’ve come away with the feeling that he's all too quick diagnose error and ignorance.

Three examples:

1) On p. 63, Fried notes an interesting anomaly in the text of the Constitutum. One passage purports to grant the pope primacy over the patriarchs at “Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem” -- an abnormally ordered list, for Alexandria ought to come before Antioch. For Fried, this means that “Whoever invented the Constitutum Constantini cannot have been a particular profound or sensitive expert on the church hierarchy that was followed at Rome, and was certainly no Roman.” Yet Fried himself suggests that this incorrect order can be traced back to the biography of Constantine in the Liber Pontificalis, which lists Constantine’s donations to the various sees in this same abnormal order. So could this be a Roman forger who thinks this detail will look authoritative or old? Or could he be a Roman with a simple difference of opinion about the relative dignity of the patriarchal sees (as Horst Fuhrmann, who discovered this anomaly in the first place, seems at one point to imply)? And is this really the sort of "error" that a Frank is more likely to make than a Roman? Hard to say, but I’m unwilling to call ignorance on these grounds.

2) On p. 57, Fried brings up a small matter of vocabulary: In the Constitutum, Constantine’s headwear is called a frygium, while according to Fried Roman sources refer to the same object as a regnum or corona. “This suggests that the author of the relevant passage was Frankish rather than Roman; because in ‘Francia’ the word [frygium] seems to have been common” (58). Powerful point, right? Except that in the footnote (note 183) we discover that “References to papal headwear of the period in question are confined to the vita of Pope Constanine in the Liber Pontificalis, the Constitutum Constantini and the Ordo Romanus 36.” Three data points, in other words, including the Constitutum -- and all of them use a different word: Reference 1 calls this thing a camelaucum, reference two as we have seen uses frygium, and reference 3 uses regnum. Three early texts, three different words. A little deeper into the footnote Fried explains that a Frankish trend in favor of frygium emerges when you take the “later tradition” into account -- meaning texts from the eleventh century and beyond.

3) In Appendix A (pp. 114-27), Wolfram Brandes similarly complains that the use of the word “satrapa,” or satrap, by Pseudo-Constantine to refer to unspecified important people (in parallel with senators and optimates) surrounding the emperor indicates an “ignorance of the titles of the highest dignitaries of the court of the Byzantine emperors, the immediate successors of Constantine the Great” that would be hard to explain if it came from an early medieval Roman. This is because “until the end of the tenth century ... the Roman Empire possess[ed] no satraps” (117). I’ll grant the point – satrapa is an odd term and Brandes is right to draw attention to it. But is it really an error – something indicative of “ignorance”? Given that a) in the period in question there was no officially designated body of “satraps” associated with the empire, and b) the term occurs in the Vulgate in the same general sense as it does in the Constitutum to mean something vague like “nobles” (a point that Brandes acknowledges), I fail to see how this is an error at all. Why not instead call it a strange choice of words? Perhaps aware of this weakness, Brandes embarks upon a second, more ambitious argument. In Italy, he asserts, satrapa had negative implications, while north of the Alps it was a more neutral term. The Constitutum appears to use the word in a neutral sense – ergo it was probably set down in Francia rather than Italy. Here again, the argument would be compelling if the data underlying it weren’t so completely inadequate. Two sources from eighth-century Rome – two – mention satraps.* Both do so in order to describe Lombard nobility; neither passage has an even remotely pejorative tone. Brandes appears to recogniye this, but he goes on to insist that the term must be pejorative because eighth-century popes and Lombards did not typically get along. He then cites a string of texts from north of the Alps that use satrapa in a similarly neutral fashion. This leaves us with 1) neutral usage of satrapa in the Constitutum, 2) neutral usage of satrapa in eighth-century Roman texts, and 3) neutral usage of satrapa north of the Alps.

This is not, I want to stress, a complete accounting of the errors that Fried purports (with Brandes) to find – but I haven’t cherry-picked his three weakest arguments either. It’s just an honest sample of stuff that caught my interest.

Anyway, Fried has mostly different tactics on the dating front. Scholars have searched long and hard for early Constitutum reception – that is, early indications that the text was being read or cited. Early on the pickings are slim indeed. There’s a letter from Pope Hadrian I that refers to Constantine’s gifts to the church and appears to gesture vaguely towards the Constitutum, but Fried denies that it's any reference at all. Fair enough, I’m not convinced it’s a reference either. Elsewhere his argument becomes more problematic, though. The most significant instance of possible early reception is the Divisio regnorum of 806, which, as Walter Schlesinger argued back in 1958, appears to borrow titulature from the Constititum Constantini and apply it to Charlemagne. According to Fried (55ff), it’s actually the Constitutum that depends upon the Divisio, and thus the Divisio – far from being an instance of early reception – provides an important terminus post quem for the development of the Constitutum.

I would be happy to admit the possibility if it weren’t for two points. In the first place, Schlesinger’s argument was always weakened by the fact that the titulature in question ultimately derives from late imperial letters preserved in the Collectio Avellana; the Constitutum and the Divisio could thus each be using common sources and may have no specific relationship to one another. Fried’s bald assertion that “there is no proof that the forger was interested in ... the Collectio Avellana” (56) fails to overcome this problem (especially as by asserting this Fried seeks to discount possible ‘proof’ of this very point in favor of his preferred interpretation, thus risking circularity). In the second place, Fried’s scenario would seem to require that we posit rather reckless forgers. Would it not be more than a little risky for someone trying to forge a fourth-century document in ninth-century Carolingian Francia to borrow distinctive and unusual titulature from a widely circulated ninth-century document? Remember that this scenario is posited by the same author who seeks to explain the linguistic correspondence between the forgery and eighth-century papal letters by arguing that the forger(s) in question consciously imitated “‘old’ ‘Roman’ style” (194), presumably for purposes of verisimilitude.

Again, that’s not a complete accounting of Fried’s arguments on this front, just a sample intended to illustrate how he tends to work. I have to say, though, that in reading his book I find myself over and over again encountering apparently convincing arguments that upon second glance don’t really hold water -- and that don't fit the evidence better than the older analyses of scholars like Horst Fuhrmann. The Constitutum Constantini is an enigmatic document, no doubt, and the evidence for placing it in eighth-century Rome is indeed weak. The evidence for putting it in Pseudo-Isidore’s circles in ninth-century Francia, though, strikes me as even weaker.

*One of these is a letter issued by Pope Paul I in 758; the other is the biography of Pope Zachary in the Liber Pontificalis. A few scholars – among them Paul Scheffer-Boichorst – have thus used the word’s occurrence in these two texts to further buttress the case for authorship of the Constitutum at Rome, perhaps within Paul’s chancery. Obviously that’s a pretty weak approach – especially because, as Brandes shows, both Paul and the Liber Pontificalis use the word to describe not imperial officials but Lombard nobility. Neither passage provides a good parallel for the Constitutum.

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