Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Eightieth Letter (Item 144): Pope Damasus I to Stephen et al.

So, it's back to the Damasus dossier, a collection of three forged letters that the Pseudo-Isidorians blended with fragments of a genuine Damasus decretal. These forgeries are particularly interesting, you may remember, because they are the only fake decretals to occur in the interpolated Hispana (my new term of art for the Hispana Gallica Augustodunensis--the peculiar Collectio Hispana recension that the forgers developed as a repository for the rest of their decretal forgeries).

In other words: Everything suggests that the Damasus dossier ought to be interesting. I am happy to report that it does not disappoint. Damasus opens his letter with a lot of flowery rhetoric; basically, he's is honored to have earned the high regard of the august prelates who wrote to him with such pressing questions. He even says, with perhaps just the faintest touch of sarcasm, that he's pretty sure his correspondents know the answer to their questions already.

And then we're off into what, at first glance, looks like the typical Pseudo-Isidorian litany of procedural prescriptions: Bishops can be neither tried nor judged absent the authority of the apostolic see. Nor can any councils promulgate acta on anything if they do not enjoy the support of apostolic authority. Those bringing accusations against bishops must be of impeccable character and meet the minimum qualifications for admission to holy orders. Synodal summons of accused parties have to occur in accordance with the "canonical decrees of the fathers"; if they don't, there's no need for the accused to respond to accusations at all. Those who have been deposed and despoiled of their possessions cannot be subjected to any judicial process until they are first restored to office and to possession as before,
 For we know that unarmed men cannot fairly fight against armed opponents, and nor can those who have been deposed or deprived of their possessions fairly litigate against those who maintain their position and enjoy their friends and possessions. 
Pseudo-Damasus complains, entirely typically, that even secular laws provide as much; at the very least, clerics should enjoy the same protections. This apparently reminds him of a few other well-trodden paths that he has neglected to embark upon: Accusers and accusations that are barred by secular laws are similarly excluded from ecclesiastical courts, he says.

So, yes, pretty much the usual, but if you've read more than a few dozen false decretals, a few points stick out as unexpected. One interesting moment, nestled the tirade summarized above, addresses a particular point of procedure that Pseudo-Isidore doesn't really go into anywhere else. This concerns the bill of indictment, or inscriptio; Pseudo-Damasus wants this document to be introduced at the start of the proceeding, "so that the calumniator might receive a like sentence, because before a bill of indictment no one should be judged or condemned." The underlying source here is an interpretatio added to Alaric's Breviary (9.1.6 = Cod. Theod. 9.1.11), and--this is the really striking bit--I know of no Benedictus Levita parallel. In every other instance I've encountered, the false decretals only incorporate points of procedure from Roman law that BL has incorporated.

It's just a little after this point that Damasus suddenly remembers he's answering a specific query about specific misbehaving bishops. He tells his correspondents to admonish "your aforementioned neighbors that they should withdraw themselves from such activities, and quickly correct those things that they have wrongly done against their brothers." Of course Damasus recognizes that legitimate complaints might indeed exist against the persecuted bishops in question, but in that case of course these grievances are to be referred to Rome for papal judgment.

Then we get a second rather interesting and unique passage--another point of procedure, elaborated by Pseudo-Damasus, without any Benedictus Levita parallels:
Bishops facing criminal accusations are to be granted a six-month stay of proceedings ( mensium), or more than that should it prove necessary; since nobody who is involved in secular affairs is unaware that this is permitted to the laity, how much more [should it pertain] to the clergy, who are doubtless superior to them? 
Still more interesting, there seems to be no Roman law reinforcing this point. I know we're dealing with forgeries and such, but typically when you have Pseudo-Isidorian popes complaining that a given legal protection available in secular courts should also be available to the clergy, there's some underlying contact with Roman law. Maybe just a horribly distorted verbal reminiscence. Here, though, Pseudo-Damasus is just making up some fake Roman procedure and then insisting that it ought to apply to priests.

Those are the highlights. The letter goes on to complain about peregrina iudicia, which is forbidden unless the pope grants an exception, states for maybe the fifth time that bishops are not to be judged absent the consent of the apostolic see, and declares that those who try to subvert this process--who try to seize for themselves those things which are not theirs to take--are doers of iniquity. Those who are able to oppose malefactors and do nothing simply further their impiety. We get some concluding rhetoric lifted from Pope Martin I's decretal announcing the conclusions of the Lateran Council of 649, then some fake consuls, and that's it for this letter.

Or almost it. There's one more nugget to discuss that's interesting enough to require a post of its own. We'll get to that soon.


Recipients: Stephen and the archiepiscopal provinces (concilia) of Africa

Words: 2600

Date: 25 October, 366-84 (with fake consuls, who can say?)

Sources:  Innocent I's decretal to Victricius of Rouen, a letter of Pope Anastasius II to the emperor of the same name,. Siricius's letter to Eumerius, and a letter of Leo I (all from the Hispana), the acta of the Lateran Council of 649, either a letter from Jerome or the acta of the Aachen council of 816 that used this letter, the acta of the Roman synod of Symmachus from 501 and some decrees from the "Concilium Africanum" (both from the Dionysio-Hadriana), at least one citation of Alaric's Breviary

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