Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Damasus Dossier: An Introduction

Long time, no updates. I have not, however, been neglecting the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries. Far from it -- I’ve spent the last sixth months distilling some of my more original thoughts on the subject, supplying these distilled thoughts with footnotes, and sending them out for publication. That sort of thing takes ages, but in the process I’ve learned a lot, and believe it or not I actually have a fair amount of content lined up. In my head, anyway. I’ve still got to type it all up.

When I started this blog the idea was to write up the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries one by one. After imbibing a large sample of Part I, I thought we needed a change and skipped ahead to Part III, which poses much more complex problems. The forgers are blending genuine with fictitious material in Part III, for starters. They’re also trying their hand at new kinds of forgeries (they fake two church councils [this one and this one], for example), and they're adding extra genuine material from different sources and mixing it up with the fake stuff. More on some of the odd results soon – maybe next week.

Anyway, during my absence I realized that if you subtract a lot of the Hispana-derived material from Part III, what you’re left with (minus a few exceptions) are really three or four separate dossiers of fake and/or worked-over material that the forgers have constructed. So we can divide and conquer, and in the process get a better picture of what our forgers are up to than we might if we just plod along, item by item, which is a tactic that really only makes sense for Part I.

We’ve encountered one of these dossiers already. Before I disappeared we’d started reading the spate of forged decretals in the names of Popes Mark, Julius, Liberius and Felix II. These are the items that Part III opens with; Arianism and the woes of Athanasius are big themes. I think there’s reason to read these decretals alongside Part I, as a kind of climax and culmination to the story told there. Remember the Pseudo-Damasus preface? We discussed it ages ago. Basically, after the preface of Isidorus Mercator, there’s a separate, smaller preface in the name of Pope Damasus I, in which “Damasus” takes responsibility for putting together a collection of his own and his predecessors’ decretals. We’re thus presumably supposed to regard the Pseudo-Isidorian decretal forgeries from Clement I through Damasus I as constituting an earlier collection assembled not by Isidore but by Damasus himself. And you could argue that these decretals are guided, loosely, by a kind of narrative: The early, pre-Nicene popes stridently condemn heresies and insist repeatedly that bishops are all manner of wonderful. They also, rather anachronistically, condemn Arian doctrines with regularity (though they do not refer explicitly to Arianism, because that would be stupid). Then of course Arianism happens, and suddenly we’re in the world of Athanasius and his papal correspondents. We’ve gone from the largely imaginary (for our forgers anyway) early history of the church in Part I to actual historical events in Part III. Suddenly our forgers are using the Historia Tripartita (please, somebody, write a Wikipedia article on that so I can link to it) to organize their content. And we get the Mark/Julius/Liberius/Felix dossier to sort of cap off the story of the entire pre-Damasan church.

That's a key story for our forgers, and I want to get back to it soon. At the moment, though, I'm distracted by what comes next. The following dossier – and the one I want to start looking at now – is associated with Pope Damasus, the guy our forgers (fictitiously) associate with the early papal decretals collection.

Part of what makes Damasus interesting is that his dossier involves material from three different sources. For reasons that we can only speculate about, the Pseudo-Isidorians in charge of preparing and enhancing the Hispana (aka the HGA: sroll down a bit, it's number 2 in that list) forged three of their own letters – the only three Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries that occur in the entire interpolated Hispana – and associated them all with Damasus. This is rather unusual because the Hispana already contains a genuine Damasus decretal, and we remarked ages ago that our forgers tend, by and large, to avoid forging decretals in the names of popes who are lucky enough to have genuine decretals in the Hispana. (Probably they were nervous that their fake stuff would look rather odd juxtaposed with genuine decretals under the same name.) Finally, as if that were not enough, Damasus gets an additional forged decretal and some extra genuine materials at the level of Pseudo-Isidore.

And that’s not all. As I just typed, the genuine, untampered Hispana carries a single epistle of Pope Damasus I. In this epistle (JK 235 for all the Jaffé fans out there), Damasus tells Bishop Paulinus of Antioch not to associate with a priest named Vitalis (an associate of the perfidious Apollinaris of Laodicea) unless said Vitalis and his friends agree sign off on the creed promulgated at Nicaea and put their names to a list of anathemas directed against a series of heresies (the Apollinarists of course, but then also the Sabellianists, Eunomians, Macedonianists, etc). A long list of anathemas then, very tediously, follows. A lot of mysteries surround Pseudo-Isidore, but his opinions on heretics are not among them. He's very big into orthodoxy, so you can see how this letter might have gotten his attention. It’s a convenient hook to hang his hat on.

Now the ordinary Hispana -- the genuine lawbook that our forgers used as the foundation of their forgery -- does something mildly odd with Damasus’s letter. It splits it in two, treating the list of anathemas as if it were a separate epistle, and dividing the anathemas and following provisions into three chapters. This apparently gave Pseudo-Isidore, or at least his pals responsible for producing the HGA (which is just a revised an enhanced Hispana) ideas. In the HGA, the Pseudo-Isidorians split this letter up still further. They leave the first half of JK 235 (the “first” Damasus decretal, according to the Hispana) unmolested, but they treat the three anathema chapters as if they were each separate decretals, and they supplement them with three forgeries. The resulting six-piece sequence is as follows; I’ve put the genuine pieces in bold. Links go to these items in Schon's online edition:
1. Damasus to Paulinus, c. 1 of second part (containing the anathemas) 
2. Archbishop Stephan of Mauritania to Damasus.  
3. Damasus's rather lengthy reply to Stephan.
4. Damasus to Paulinus, c. 2 of second part.
5. Damasus to various bishops, complaining at length about chorbishops.  
6. Damasus to Paulinus, c. 3 of second part.
It’s like the guys tasked with fixing up the Hispana were still warming to the task of outright forgery. It was early days, remember. They were a little nervous about the three pieces they made up for Damasus, and so they sought to surround them with genuine Damasus texts. They put one unit (Stephen to Damasus and Damasus’s reply) in between chapters 1 and 2, and another unit (Damasus’s anti-chorbishop screed) in between chapters 2 and 3.

I’m not just making this up or overinterpreting the lay of the land either. It’s clear that our forgers also thought of this sequence of letters as a literary unity. In the A/B recension, and also in the interpolated Hispana, they add a capitulatio, or list of items, right at the head of these six pieces. That means they also conceive of these pieces as parts of a whole. In almost every case this capitulatio just repeats the rubrics, or titles, that actually head these pieces. So there's a title in the table of contents, and then in the actual text you find that title repeated. Not at all remarkable. In the case of the fifth item, though – Damasus’s chorbishop rant – the capitulatio title differs completely from the actual rubric that heads the decretal.

All our Pseudo-Isidore mansucripts, including A/B and the Hispana, entitle this item “De vana superstitione chorepiscoporum vitanda,” or in English: “On avoiding the empty superstition of chorbishops.” Nice and snappy. But in the captiulatio/table of contents that precedes these Damasus items in A/B and the worked-over Hispana, the title is a little more awkward: “De chorepiscopis, et qui idem sint, aut si aliquid sint aut nihil.” Which is to say: “On chorbishops, and who they are and whether they are something or nothing.” The sort of thing your editor might advise you to rethink, no? And indeed you’d be well advised to go with the punchier phrasing that all our manuscripts have indeed adopted. But perhaps, after making that change, you’d forget to update your table of contents as well, leaving you with that awkward disagreement in some of our Pseudo-Isidore manuscripts.

Anyway, something to chew on for now. Next time we’ll start digesting the Damasus dossier piece by piece.

1 comment:

  1. 2 things. I don't understand why you ojbect to the title "whether they are something or nothing". I love it. Earlier, "superstition": you should tell us what the word means in that context. I couldn't imagine how to translate it, but you know the stuff well enough to provide a helpful gloss.

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