Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ansgar and Rimbert Revisited, Part I: In Which Henrik Janson Mistakes a King for a Bishop

Henrik Janson’s opening salvo, translated. I add versification in bold:
1) It can in general be said that the entire [argument of Ansgar, Rimbert and the Forged Foundations of Hamburg Bremen] presupposes forgeries so substantial, in what to contemporaries must have been well known circumstances, that the argument often just for that reason (but also for being farfetched—yes, he is even forced to assume that Rimbert forged against what he himself had written [p. 166]) carries the telltale sign of unlikelihood. It often creates more problems than it solves. 2) It would, for example, be extremely surprising if contemporaries, even the papal see, had accepted a new archbishopric like Hamburg and a new archiepiscopate like Nordalbingia in a disputed region between the dioceses of Bremen and Verden, only on the basis of forgeries without any concrete foundation. Nobody ever questioned Ansgar’s and Rimbert’s position as archbishops of Hamburg. Not even Cologne; rather, their objection was at every point simply that these archbishops should not be allowed to invade and take over the diocese of Bremen, a suffragan obedient to the Cologne church. 3) Moreover, Knibbs exaggerates the strength of the argument that is foundational for his entire exposition—that the apostolic see’s use of filius would exclude the possibility that the addressee was, or through the document in question would become, an (arch)bishop. He himself refers to—and is forced to attempt to explain away—two occasions (cf. also MGH Epp. 6, p. 723, n. 1) where the term in fact is used.  In both cases, archbishops north of the Alps are, tellingly, concerned, and [filius] is therefore not used, as Knibbs writes (p. 87 n. 35), to “express affection,” but to indicate supremacy and power, a claim not least against royal and imperial power. Knibbs often rejects points of view by saying that they are based on arguments from silence, but here and in other instances, he himself actually uses that kind of argument. It seems to me to be a substantially stronger argument in this context that it appears unlikely that the curia would have used a legate who did not have the rank of bishop.
We will go in order.

1): You, dear reader, can decide for yourself how likely a forger might be to a) develop a more convenient but inauthentic privilege, while b) striving to mitigate the appearance of conflict between said inauthentic privilege and independent, contemporary knowledge of recent events. Otherwise, I will say only that my book addresses three documents: One purportedly issued by Pope Gregory IV, another purportedly issued by Pope Nicholas I, and a third purportedly issued by the Carolingian emperor Louis the Pious. It argues that all three have been falsified. Now most scholars had already agreed that the Louis privilege was not wholly genuine, and serious doubts have accompanied the papal privileges since the later nineteenth century. So, from the perspective of discrimen veri et falsi, you could at most say that my book aims to take two documents out of the “wholly genuine” column (where they have always resided uncomfortably) and stick them into the “partly genuine” column, where indeed rafts and rafts of early medieval privileges for monasteries and dioceses are to be found. Whether or not that amounts to forgery so substantial that it places undue burdens on our credulity, or whether it aligns with the sort of documentary tinkering scholars of medieval institutions (including Hamburg-Bremen) have long learned to live with, is yet another determination that you, dear reader, will have to make.

Janson is completely right about point 2). It would be deeply surprising if the contemporaries of Ansgar and Rimbert had accepted the existence of an archbishopric solely on the basis of forgeries that the two had drafted. Happily, my book argues no such thing. Instead, I posit that Ansgar was made a missionary archbishop in 864 for reasons that had nothing to do with his documentary tinkering. And Rimbert really did become the first archbishop of Hamburg in 865, because it was the most politically expedient place to stick him; here some of Ansgar’s earlier fictions may have given the powers-that-be a fig leaf, but there was no deception involved. Because the Archdiocese of Hamburg was a real honest-to-God institution from 865, nobody—not even the rather dour and humorless archbishops of Cologne—objected to the existence of archbishops at Hamburg. What they did get uptight about—as Janson notes!—was Bremen, which they felt had been unjustly withdrawn from the jurisdiction of Cologne. And I argue that the principal object of Rimbert’s historical manipulation was...to withdraw Bremen from the jurisdiction of Cologne.

But the real reason I’m writing this post is point 3). Gregory IV’s privilege for Ansgar calls the latter a filius, whereas popes were accustomed to refer to fellow bishops as their brothers, or fratres. I take this as evidence that Gregory issued his original privilege before Ansgar had been made a bishop. According to me, Gregory IV only made the non-bishop Ansgar a papal legate in the North, alongside Ebo of Reims (who was really in charge of the whole operation). Later, for various reasons, Gregory’s privilege was revised to look like a foundation privilege for an (arch)diocese at Hamburg, and to make it seem that Ansgar was an (arch)bishop when it was issued. A few telltale references to Ansgar as filius, however, escaped these alterations. My argument here is not quite as simplistic as Janson suggests: I argue that if you exclude all provisions from Gregory’s privilege that require Ansgar to have been a bishop (that is, if you take the filius references as a sign of authenticity, and get rid of everything that contradicts their import), you end up with a document that aligns rather well with Rimbert’s report about Gregory’s document in chapter 13 of his Vita Anskarii (save for some provisions regarding the pallium, which I deal with separately). In other words: There’s a lot of suspicious crap in the Gregory document. Rimbert does not attest to most of this suspicious crap. The filius references suggest that this suspicious crap does not belong.

One could put this curious coincidence to work for some argument or other, but Janson would prefer not. For him, the whole filius thing is a non-problem. This is, inter alia, because two papal privileges, one issued by Pope John XV in 993 to Bishop Hartwig of Salzburg, the other issued by Pope Leo IX in 1052 to Liutpold I of Mainz, call their archiepiscopal addressees filii. This singular fact was first noted many generations ago, when gods walked among men, in Ernst Ludwig Dümmler’s classic study on  Bishop Pilgrim of Passau. The good Pilgrim is best known for forging a bunch of documents designed to turn his diocese into an archdiocese. Alas, he did not succeed. He did, however, leave behind some curious forgeries, rather more ambitious and substantial than those of Ansgar and Rimbert (but of course rather less ambitious and substantial than the august products of our good Pseudo-Isidorian friends). And one of these forgeries addresses itself to a purported archbishop and calls him a son, or filius—a strange slip-up that in Dümmler’s time had long been puzzled over. In a footnote, Dümmler further discussed the rule, observed since the papacy of Innocent I, according to which popes addressed their episcopal colleagues as brothers, and acknowledged the two exceptions in my note. Because Dümmler enjoyed deep experience with the practices of the papal chancery and was no stranger to the large number of papal documents that survive even for the early medieval period, these two exceptions did not move him: “These two privileges cannot, as the only exceptions, overturn the rule; and the reference in both of them, which moves from ‘son’ to ‘brother,’ was perhaps only meant to express particular affection” (Dümmler, Piligrim von Passau und das Erzbisthum Lorsch [Leipzig, 1854], 172-3).

Such wise and considered remarks did not, however, prevent Hermann Joachim from bringing these dubious precedents to bear on our evidence for Hamburg-Bremen, and they have been fixtures of the debate ever since. Yet the most recent diplomatic defenders of our Hamburg-Bremen forgeries seem to have understood that they are weak tea. Theodor Schieffer was more interested in blaming errant copyists for this anomaly, while Wolfgang Seegrün developed  a more complex hypothesis that I’m not going to type out. (Follow the references on p. 88 of my book, note 36 if you’re that curious.) But then again, both authors, like Dümmler, enjoyed some experience with the formal aspects of medieval documentary evidence, and knew that the filial Ansgar was a problem too large for the Pilgrim footnote alone.

Janson, in other words, is mistaken in detecting among my humble pages a need to “explain away” these precedents. Both could be perfectly solid and have very little effect on my argument. That one of them (John XV for Hartwig of Salzburg) occurs in a privilege long acknowledged to suffer from severe textual corruption, if not falsification, is nevertheless rather curious and certainly worth noting. That the other (Leo IX for Liutpold I of Mainz) addresses its recipient as “son and spiritual brother,” and then goes on to clarify that Leo loves Liutpold “in the place of a son,” should at least encourage us to spraypaint a large, orange question mark around Janson’s contention that filius, in this instance, is all about Leo’s need to advertise his “supremacy and power.” And we have still not quoted Leo IX in full. Were we to do so, it would become clear that Leo is expressing his affection for Liutpold as a son only to explain why he is granting Liutpold some additional pallium days. So, to recap: Janson believes that Leo IX is expressing his “supremacy and power... against the...imperial power” when Leo addresses Emperor Henry III’s candidate for the archdiocese of Mainz as his “son and spiritual brother,” and when he explains that, because he loves this candidate “in the place of a son,”  he is granting him two additional pallium days. Your blogger finds this very opaque and convoluted.

But we forge on.

Astute readers of my fierce critic will have noticed that he attempts to confront this blogger with yet a third exception to the filius/frater rule; we are to find this exception, he implies, at MGH Epp. 6, page 723, note 1. Readers who betake themselves to that page, whether physically or virtually, will find themselves confronted by a very long and complicated footnote. Perhaps, in the course of hacking a path through this note, the good Janson became fatigued and disoriented, because the word filius occurs only once, when our remarkably intrepid footnoter (Ernst Perels) is driven to cite a few lines from a letter that Charles the Bald sent to Pope Hadrian II. The letter in question is actually edited in full at MGH Conc. 4, p. 528; this means that you, dear reader, can climb out of that footnote and into a more civilized text should you wish. The relevant portion, at the beginning of the letter, reads as follows:
Karolus gratia dei rex. Vestra veneranda paternitas nobis epistolam pro Hincmaro Laudunensi quondam episcopo misit. Cuius primorida ita se habent: “Initium nostrae locutionis ad te, fili carissime, cum propheta est....”
Which we might translate:
Charles [that is, Charles the Bald], king by the grace of God. Your venerable paternity [that is, Pope Hadrian II] sent us a letter on behalf of the former bishop Hincmar of Lyon. It began in this way: “The beginning of our statement to you, dearest son, is with the prophet...”
In other words, Charles the Bald says that the pope sent him (Charles) a letter, in which the pope called him (Charles) “dearest son.” My uncommonly perceptive critic has indeed, then, found the pope referring to someone as his filius. For that he deserves our congratulations. Perhaps, though, the awkward fact that this someone was not a bishop reduces the significance of the find?

Only a few more sentences, and then I will have concluded my first installment. Janson tilts at the entire diplomatic windmill when he complains that the use of precedent to evaluate charter evidence amounts to an argument from silence. Presumably, he is worried that finding unprecedented features in a suspect text amounts to saying that these features do not occur in genuine documents. Hence silence. But the genuine documents adduced for diplomatic proof are emphatically not silent. They have their own features. In this case, genuine documents issued to bishops call their episcopal addressees fratres and not filii. I am sure even Janson can be brought to appreciate that the argument here, as in so many other philological and diplomatic exercises, depends not on absence, but on the presence of differences between the features of the text subjected to evaluation, and the features of genuine comparative evidence.

And in conclusion, on non-bishops as papal legates, I am honored to turn to an old friend, Paul Hinschius, who discussed exactly this matter in his august Kirchenrecht der Katholiken and Protestanten in Deutschland (Berlin, 1869), vol. 1, p. 507. After surveying a wide variety of evidence regarding papal legates in the early medieval period, he summarizes his findings:
The people entrusted with papal legateships were, in most cases and especially since the eighth century, bishops. But there were also priests, deacons, subdeacons, various court officials, librarians, scriniarii, abbots and others in the position of legate.
Ansgar, of course, was included in Ebo’s legation, but apparently not consecrated, because he did not need to be; Ebo was already a bishop, and the mission to Denmark therefore enjoyed access to episcopal faculties. As soon as Ebo was out of the picture in early 834, Ansgar received episcopal consecration.

Forward to Part II
Forward to Part III
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