Monday, July 15, 2013

Ansgar and Rimbert Revisited, Part III: The Bitter End, With Gifs

Another unsolvable problem that emerges with Knibbs’ interpretative model is found in the formulation of Nicholas [I]’s privilege for Ansgar of 31 May 864. Knibbs claims that the brief response in the negotiations that Nicolaus I gave in his letter to Solomon of Constance in May 864 reflects the genuine document for Ansgar, which Nicholas promulgated later. According to [the letter to Solomon], Nicholas claims – after praising Emperor Louis the Pious’s zeal and declaring himself prepared to follow in the footprints of what his predecessor Gregory IV had done earlier – to ...allow...Bremen to be independent of the archbishop of Cologne, and to be promoted to an archiepiscopal see over Danes and “swevi” [i.e., Swedes]. It is peculiar that important parts of these rights are missing in the preserved privilege itself, which Rimbert according to Knibbs basically composed entirely himself. [In the Nicholas privilege], Hamburg and Bremen are, to be sure, joined to each other, but Ansgar, who is here called “the first archbishop of the Nordalbingians,” does not become archbishop over Danes and “swevi”, but only over the Nordalbingians, and instead, he is allowed to continue in his role as legate over Danes, “sveones,” and Slavs. The latter is a formulation that is recognized from the privilege of Gregory IV for Ansgar. If Rimbert had made these changes, they are entirely incomprehensible. He would, in other words, have had a document that made him into archbishop of great swaths of northern Europe, but instead worked out a version that made him into archbishop over the Nordalbingians, and that is content to make Ansgar a papal legate among Danes, sveones, and Slavs, and this without ascribing these rights to Ansgar’s successors, i.e. himself [Rimbert]. Exactly because this document, which, according to Knibbs’s thesis, [Rimbert] had himself written, did not contain suitable formulations, he had during his entire time in office to fight for claiming this assignment as an “inheritance” which he had from Ansgar “by right of succession.” This is unreasonable, and in its place there is an entirely reasonable explanation.
Wolfgang Seegrün has pointed out that there is a decisive difference between the preliminary message to Solomon and the fully worked-out privilege to Ansgar. The former had no legal force. Against this background, the undersigned [i.e., Janson] has always claimed that what happened between the preliminary message and the issuing of [Nicholas’s privilege for Ansgar] was that the curia carefully worked through the case. In particular, they studied Gregory IV’s earlier privilege for Ansgar, and there they found that things were considerably more complex than the German delegation had portrayed them. I will not enter into detail here, but it ought in fact to be emphasized that a clear sign that it in fact was Gregory IV’s document that had come up is that Nicholas now no longer talks about “swevi”, which more likely is usage from the northern European area, but instead, along the lines of Gregory IV and general usage, about “sveones”, and from Gregory’s letter also the Slavs [enter] the legatine area. Things are thus clear as glass. The report to Solomon was...determined by the presentation of the royal delegation, while the privilege for Ansgar [was determined] by Gregory IV’s earlier privilege.
I know, dear reader, I know: That’s hard going, but we’ll take our time. Let’s start with a stroll through the documents Janson and I are fighting about. There are two of them:

1) Nicholas I’s 864 response to various petitions from Louis the German as brought to his notice by Bishop Solomon of Constance (which I refer to, in my book, as Nicholas’s report to Solomon). This document survives fully independently of the Hamburg-Bremen tradition and is of unimpeachable authenticity. In it, Nicholas notes that he has received Louis the German’s petition regarding Ansgar, and describes the actions he has taken. 

2) A charter that is quoted (or "quoted") in Chapter 23 of Rimbert’s Vita Anskarii. In this lengthy chapter, Rimbert purports to reproduce the privilege that Nicholas I actually issued for Ansgar in 864. This is the privilege that we are supposed to believe item 1) summarizes.

Scholars who peruse these two pieces of evidence find themselves confronted by a pair of interrelated problems: Item 2) is plagued by formal irregularities so serious as to call its authenticity into question. Even committed defenders of the traditionalist narrative have been forced to pen lengthy apologiae for its defects. And the contents of item 2) are moreover flatly contradicted by the contents of item 1)—the only unprobelmatic and independent scrap of evidence in this dark and dusty corner of medieval history. According to me, this anomaly lends itself to a simple explanation: Item 1) reflects what Nicholas actually did, while item 2) reflects what Rimbert wishes Nicholas had done. Item 1), in other words, comes from the pope; item 2) comes from Rimbert.

Janson and other traditionalist historians, however, need item 2) to be authentic, so this simple explanation is unavailable to them. Instead, Janson and co. have to somehow bridge the gap between 1) and 2). And my goodness does Janson believe he has bridged this gap. You might even say he believes he has laid nineteen lanes of Los Angeles expressway right over the top of it.


Janson accomplishes this remarkable feet of engineering by beginning with the premise that everything is genuine, and then trying to imagine what sort of circumstances could have resulted in our contradictory texts. This strikes him as an acceptable way to proceed, because many scholars have found that imaginary scenarios have the weight of evidence if they are conceived with enough fervor, outfitted with weak arguments that have no probative force (i.e., swevi and sueones--more on that in a bit) and committed to print. In this case, Janson finds his imaginary scenario to be as “clear as glass,” and in his mind it therefore constitutes an “unsolvable problem” for my argument.

To see why (or why not), we begin with the relevant passage from item 1):
We [that is, Nicholas I speaking in pluralis maiestatis] praise the zeal of the emperor Louis the Pious of blessed memory, and are prepared to follow in the footsteps of our predecessor Gregory of holy memory. Although license for this could not be given by Gunthar [of Cologne], and should not have been sought, nevertheless for the love of the king...[we declare] that the bishop of  Bremen, with our authority, should have the power and honor of an archiepiscopate over the Danes and the Swedes, in the aforementioned place of Bremen, and that his successors in future times should also hold and possess this power forever.
Note, dear reader, that Janson has not been completely accurate in his summary of this passage. Item 1) neither explicitly withdraws Bremen from Cologne’s jurisdiction nor elevates the see of Bremen to archiepiscopal status. Instead, it declares that “the bishop of Bremen” (i.e., Ansgar) is to enjoy the power and honor of an archiepiscopate over the Danes and the Swedes.

Let us now turn to item 2), which you can find online here, and translated here (scroll down to CHAPTER XXIII). As quoted by Rimbert, this document characterizes Ansgar as “the first bishop of the Nordalbingi,” grants him status as papal legate, and declares that Hamburg, the see of the Nordalbingi, is henceforth to be an archiepiscopal see. It also proclaims that, after Ansgar’s death, a successor in the form of a vigorous preacher, suited for such a magnificent position, is to always be elected.
A minor point: I’m not quite sure what Janson means when he complains that this document does not  “ascribe these rights to Ansgar’s successors.” Isn’t that exactly the force of Nicholas’s statement that Hamburg is to henceforth (deinceps) be an archiepiscopate and that successors to Ansgar’s offices are always (semper) to be elected? Divine judgment is even called to witness the election of later officeholders. Despite these lines, there is no evidence that Rimbert or his successors received anything from the pope except the pallium. To the extent that Rimbert “had...to fight for claiming [the legateship] as an ‘inheritance’ which he had from Ansgar ‘by the right of succession’” (Janson, as above: and this statement comes from the much later Vita Rimberti, so it’s unclear whether Rimbert even cared about the legateship, much less that he fought for it), his case could only have been bolstered by this passage. Perhaps nobody took it seriously, though? We digress....
Item 2) then proceeds with a secondary narratio complaining that Ansgar lost his monastery at Turholt to Charles the Bald after the Carolingian civil war, and that the northern mission endured serious hardship as a result. Hamburg in particular was left “nearly deserted.” Meanwhile, the bishop of Bremen was considerate enough to die, leaving Louis the German to wonder whether the church of Bremen might be joined and subjected to the new archiepiscopal see at Hamburg. A petition along these lines was therefore submitted to Nicholas through Solomon of Constance. In accordance with this petition, Nicholas therefore merges the dioceses of Hamburg and Bremen and declares that they are henceforth to be and to be called a single diocese under the see at Hamburg. Henceforth no archbishop of Cologne is to enjoy any power in the new diocesan territory. Anyone who opposes these arrangements is to be struck with the sword of anathema.

Now that we have had our leisurely walk through items 1) and 2), we get to the fun part. Can you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, see any point of contact—any point of resonance whatsoever, however minuscule—between the short but fairly straightforward remarks in item 1) and the many provisions outlined by item 2)? Remember that item 1) is supposed to be describing the contents of item 2) for Louis the German’s benefit. Both items mention Louis the Pious and Louis the German, I guess. They both mention Cologne. Otherwise any relationship is pretty thin. Item 1) is all about Ansgar as Bishop of Bremen, while item 2) is all about Ansgar as Bishop of the Nordalbingi. Item 1) gives the bishop of Bremen archiepiscopal honor and authority over the Danes and the Swedes. Item 2) makes the bishop of the Nordalbingi Nicholas’s legate, declares Hamburg to be an archiepiscopal see, and then proceeds to characterize Bremen as a replacement for the lost monastery at Turholt, and therefore to merge the diocesan territory of Bremen with that of Hamburg, and to make Hamburg the new (archiepiscopal!) see of the enlarged archdiocese. In other words, item 1) expands the authority of the bishop of Bremen over the Danes and the Swedes, while item 2) dissolves the diocese of Bremen entirely and subjects all of its territory to Hamburg.

Maybe item 2) is a forgery?

Janson thinks not, because he has a story that sorts all this out for us. Nicholas’s secretaries just got a bit ahead of themselves when they were composing item 1). They met Louis’s delegation and they were like yeah, sure, whatever you say, and they dashed off a quick summary of what they intended to do.
Then later they were like,
This is all so much more complicated than we thought!
So after carefully reading Gregory’s privilege for Ansgar...
...they composed item 2).
But like a lot of administratively assertive types, Nicholas I was a tightwad. No way he was going to rewrite item 1) and waste all that precious papyrus.
So he was like...
Item 1) doesn’t matter! It “has no legal force”! Yo, why did we even write dat shit!? 
Solomon, tell Louis that if he has any questions about what we did here, he should drop Ansgar a line. Sorry about that screwed up paragraph. See you around!
I will be the first to admit it: Janson is right! Something like that could have happened!

Here are some other things that could have happened!
-On their way back north after getting all the requisite privileges from Nicholas I, Solomon and the German delegation were crossing a stream when Nordfrid, Ansgar’s representative, stepped on a mossy rock and fell into the water. Sadly, he was carrying the privilege for Ansgar in his pocket, and it was destroyed (papyrus and water do not mix). He was too embarrassed to tell anyone. That night he snuck into Solomon’s tent, absconded with a quill, some ink, and one of the less important documents that Nicholas had sent north with them. He carefully erased the papyrus to make way for a hastily composed replacement privilege for Ansgar. Nordfrid was a little fuzzy on some of the finer points, but he did his best. Nobody was ever the wiser.
-Instead of succumbing to the waters of an Alpine stream, the privilege in Nordfrid’s pocket attracted the attention of Solomon’s horse, who waited until nobody was looking before deftly removing it from Nordfrid’s pocket with his horsey teeth and eating it. To spare Solomon any embarrassment, Nordfrid proceeded as above.
-After the delegation had their audience with Nicholas, the pope went to his secretaries and was like: You guys over there, draw up a reply to Louis the German. And you guys over there, draw up the privilege for Ansgar. And before clarifying the finer points, he and Solomon went out for a beer. Team 1 and team 2 came up with different stuff. Nicholas and Solomon came back from the bar a little tipsy, the documents were already sealed, and nobody was in the mood to double check anything. Everyone was careful to keep the papyrus away from Solomon’s acquisitive steed.
-Louis the German really wanted Nicholas I to make Ansgar an archbishop at Bremen. But Ansgar hated his drafty Bremen apartment (slow WIFI, and every five minutes Willehad’s bones were healing some tedious pilgrim and dragging him out of bed) and really wanted to move to Hamburg (no Willehad, great Döner kebaps). He shot the pope an email (with a CC to Solomon) just as the delegation was arriving in Rome. Nicholas was like, shit, what do we do? And Solomon was like, let’s just tell everyone what they want to hear and hit the bar. And Nicholas was like, Word. They even remembered to give Solomon’s horse some extra barley after stumbling back.
-Nicholas and Solomon spent all afternoon working on Ansgar’s privilege as carried in item 2), then hit the bar with Solomon, the librarian Anastasius, and Cletus, Anastasius’s Bichon frise. After pint number five, Nicholas was getting worked up about Gunthar’s role in the whole Lothar divorce thing. He complained about it all the way back to the Lateran. Cologne was a serious pain in the ass. He was still feeling pretty awake when he got back to his apartment and thought he might as well do a bit of work. So he went to his study, grabbed a piece of papyrus, and pounded out the report for Louis the German, all in one go, complete with the paragraph making Ansgar an archbishop at Bremen as in item 1). Nicholas as a badass Latinist so this was no sweat for him, even after all that beer. It wasn’t quite accurate, but sticking it to Cologne sure felt good. Then he took Cletus for a walk in the stables, fed Solomon’s horse an apple, and had a cigarette.
These fantasies lack gifs, it is true, but that makes them no less probable! And there are other possibilities too! Perhaps you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, can use your own flourishing imaginations to further advance our understanding of the origins of Hamburg-Bremen! In the meantime, I’m getting a bit tired, and I imagine I’ve made my point

Nevertheless, this is a blog, the intertubes will be fed, and there’s no reason we can’t afford Janson’s particular scenario the courtesy of closer scrutiny. Three points, in particular, conspire to muddy the clear glass of Janson's solution.

Point the First: Nicholas’s letter to Louis the German survives without its dating clause, so there is no evidence that item 1) must have been composed before item 2). Indeed, we can only say that whatever privilege Nicholas issued for Ansgar must have been contemporaenous with his report to Louis the German. Janson asks that we imagine a progression in the approach of the papal chancery from item 1) to item 2), but it is important to remember that Nicholas did not simply receive the German delegation, send them back across the Alps with 1), and then drop 2) in the post later on after their ideas and understanding had progressed. Ansgar’s representative, Nordfrid, traveled with Solomon. Insisting on the authenticity of the privilege quoted in chapter 23 of the Vita Anskarii requries you, dear reader, to imagine that the delegation returned with both 1) and 2) in their saddle bags. Janson’s scenario, in other words, posits that Nicholas knowingly sent an inaccurate report to Louis the German because...he was lazy? He was confused? He wrote his letters in the wrong order? 

Point the Second: In this connection it is useful to note, once again, that items 1) and 2) flatly contradict each other. Item 1) is not a vaguely phrased summary of item 2). Item 1) is not an informal description of a technical document. Item 1) simply describes a completely different and wholly unrelated papal provision. The distance between 1) and 2) is so great  that not even Janson’s imagination can unite the two. Consider, for example, Louis the German’s petition. What did Louis ask the pope to do? Item 1) strongly implies that Louis asked the pope to confer archiepiscopal rank on the bishop of Bremen. Item 2) all but says that Louis asked Nicholas to merge the diocese of Bremen with the archiepiscopal see at Hamburg. Could a closer study of Gregory IV’s privilege have changed how Nicholas chose to portray Louis’s request?

Point the Third: Since Seegrün, we have been reading that Nicholas’s report to Louis somehow “had no legal force.” Such is your blogger's impatience with this statement that he is driven to inflict a final gif upon the straining computers of his readership:
Naturally, the actual privilege issued to Ansgar is what Ansgar (and his successors) would have used to defend the position and privileges of the (arch)diocese. But Nicholas’s report to Louis the German was no less crucial; it informed Solomon and the king of papal decisions with respect not only to Ansgar, but also to a variety of other cases that the delegation had brought to the pope’s attention. Its significance was both legal and administrative, to the extent that Nicholas hoped that Louis would adhere to, observe and when necessary further the papal decisions it outlined. That is why he wrote it.

The rest of Janson’s aforequoted statements seem oddly oblivious to my actual argument. I don’t buy his theory about the regional significance of swevi and sueones (alternative second- and third-declension forms for “Swedes”), but had he read Chapter 5 more carefully, he’d have seen that I suggest that Rimbert used Gregory IV's privilege to assist in his composition of item 2). I even provide some evidence for this point. So Janson’s swevi/sueones point is...dare I type it...consistent with my argument?

Otherwise, Janson asks why Rimbert would have suppressed a privilege that made Ansgar archbishop over the Danes and the Swedes, only to forge a replacement that made him archbishop of the Nordalbingi and legate to the Danes, Swedes and Slavs. Why cede archiepiscopal jurisdiction over “great swaths” of northern Europe in favor Hamburg, Bremen and little else? Janson’s statements puzzle your blogger deeply, especially as this precise point is addressed, at length, in Chapter 6 of my book. In brief, dear reader: Would you rather be Emperor of Antarctica or Mayor of Cleveland? Take your time. Given that Denmark and Sweden had no Christians and no ecclesiastical infrastructure, and the Frankish emperors exerted no direct authority over either region, the analogy is very apt. Rimbert needed to be archbishop of the Danes and the Swedes about as much as he needed metropolitan jurisdiction over the moon; the tithe income would have been about the same. And Rimbert’s problems were still deeper: Nicholas’s report (item 1) concedes archiepiscopal status on Ansgar as the bishop of Bremen, but an authentic pallium privilege calls Rimbert archbishop of Hamburg. Would it have been at all clear to anybody that a privilege for Ansgar as (arch)bishop at Bremen meant anything for the status of Rimbert as archbishop at Hamburg? In fact it’s clear enough what Rimbert and his successors at Hamburg needed. They needed Bremen, both for its security and its income, and they were willing to fight tooth and nail—and even risk subjection to Cologne—to keep it.

Back to Part I
Back to Part II
Back to Intro

2 comments: