Monday, July 15, 2013

Pseudo-Isidore's Invocatio

Jonathan Jarrett, writer of an excellent blog on Tenth-Century Europe and author of a distinguished volume on medieval Catalonia, has stumbled upon this remote and desolate corner of the intertubes and asked a very important question.

Three years ago, in a post on the First Words of Pseudo-Isidore, I noted that
Pseudo-Isidore starts off with an invocation: "In nomine domini nostri Iesu Christi incipit praefatio sancti Isidori libri huius" -- "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, here begins St. Isidore's preface to this book." Now that sounds ordinary enough, and in fact Hinschius found it so unremarkable that he left it out of his edition (even though it's in all the MSS). But it's not so innocent. In fact, it's clearly derived from the invocation used by Lothar's chancery -- the little intro formula that they used to start out their documents. Lothar and the unity party were allies, remember, so this is highly significant.
In comments, Jarrett expresses some circumspect uncertainty. I hope he will forgive me for quoting him here up top:
Firstly, I bet you could find that phrase in at least some charters of almost any Carolingian king after Charlemagne and I'd be surprised if it weren't in Louis's or even Charles the Bald's here and there. The kings tended to vary in their subscription and intitulatio more than in the structural formulae. Secondly, even if it were specific to Lothar, the invocatio is pretty basic. If you wanted to open your text with "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," which doesn't seem like a cunning or specific thing to want, it'd be hard not to hit on something very like that phrase. I think that the person who came up with that theory had been thinking about just these texts for a bit too long, myself, though if they did do the comparative work and prove it's specific, I'll humbly back down.
Some of Jarrett's concerns might have been addressed had I steered readers to Emil Seckel (as ed. Horst Fuhrmann), Die erste Zeile Pseudoisidors (Berlin, 1959), where this argument originated. As the issue is deeply important, especially given new theories (some of them of my own making!) that attach the Pseudo-Isidorians to Lothar partisans in the 830s, it's worth finally giving this particular corner of Pseudo-Isidore its due.

For various reasons that need not bother us here, Paul Hinschius printed Pseudo-Isidore's massive collection of fake laws without any invocatio. Yet his son-in-law Emil Seckel, upon reading Hinschius's extremely thorough introduction, realized that a lot of important, early manuscripts--particularly manuscripts of the A1 and A2 recensions--opened with the following words (the textual evidence here is quite strong):
In nomine domini nostri Iesu Christi. Incipit praefatio sancti Isidori libri huius.
By the time he came upon this realization, Seckel had already spent gobs and gobs of time thinking about Pseudo-Isidore's (and particularly Benedictus Levita's) sources. And he remembered that the Pseudo-Isidorians had borrowed a significant portion of their introductory material from the Collectio Dionysio-Hadriana. He was also reminded that the DH opens with its own invocatio, and he wondered whether there might be some relationship between the two introductory formulae. After surveying the textual evidence (we still have nothing approaching a critical edition of the DH), Seckel was able to establish the wording of the invocatio in the DH (again, with a fair degree of confidence), as follows:
In nomine domini. Incipit praefatio libri huius.
Should we assume that the similarity between these invocationes is not accidental (and given the broader overlap in introductory materials between the DH and Pseudo-Isidore, that point would be hard to argue), a comparison allows us to see the first twelve words of Pseudo-Isidore through new eyes:
In nomine domini nostri Iesu Christi. Incipit praefatio Sancti Isidori libri huius.
The words in bold begin to look like minor additions that Pseudo-Isidore has contributed to the invocatio he borrowed from the DH. The explanation for "Sancti Isidori," at least in Seckel's mind, was fairly clear: A) The Pseudo-Isidorian preface that follows this invocatio is, indeed, in the name of one Isidorus Mercator, and B) the underlying DH invocatio actually introduces an excerpt from Isidore's Etymologiae. Horst Fuhrmann even proposed that this latter circumstance was one of the reasons our forgers alighted on their peculiar pseudonym.

But what about "nostri Iesu Christi"? Here Seckel anticipates Jarrett's well-considered objections. "Pseudo-Isidore's inscription looks as harmless as possible, and the invocation certainly occurred hundreds of times before Pseudo-Isidore" (40). But, Seckel continues, in a catchy line that threatens to lose some its luster in translation: "...harmlos wäre, wer Pseudoisidors erste Zeile für eine Harmlosigkeit hielte." He then provides the comparative work that Jarrett asks for, from pp. 41 through 46.

Here Seckel finds strict regularity in the invocationes (if not the intitulationes and subscriptiones) as employed in documents issued by Carolingian kings and emperors from the time of Charlemagne's imperial coronation in 800 onwards. Charlemagne preferred "In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti" (apparently lifted, as Seckel notes, from the baptismal formula). Louis the Pious elected to invoke God with the words "In nomine domini dei et salvatoris nostri Iesu Christi" (in this case, apparently depending on eighth-century Roman chancery practice). Lothar I, meanwhile, chose an invocatio only slightly different from his father's: "In nomine domini nostri Iesu Christi dei aeterni," as did Louis the German between 830 and 833: "In nomine domini nostri Iesu Christi dei omnipotentis." After the Field of Lies, though, Louis the German changed his invocatio to "In nomine sanctae et individuae trinitatis," which was the same formula picked up by Charles the Bald. And Seckel follows the history still further: Two of Lothar's sons kept their father's invocatio, while Lothar II reached back to Louis the Pious with "In nomine dei et salvatoris nostri Iesu Christi."

Seckel then briefly traces the recurrence of these invocationes not through the charters, but through conciliar legsilation. Thus the acta promulgated by the council that met at Mainz in 813 invoke God with the words "In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti"--in clear dependence on Charlemagne's preferred formula. At Rome in 826, the acta employ Louis the Pious's invocatio; at Ingelheim in 840 they use Lothar I's. As Seckel notes, the invocatio of a given council could even, in the right circumstances, have partisan overtones. Thus, at Aachen in 836, the bishops slapped "In nomine sanctae Trinitatis" on the top of their acta, nodding not at Louis the Pious (against whom certain bishops presumably still harbored hard feelings), but at Louis the GermanIn this context, the Pseudo-Isidorian invocatio becomes a matter of interest.

In all of Francia, whose royal chancery would the words "In nomine domini nostri Iesu Christi" put you in mind of? If you were writing between 830 and 833, the answer would be either Louis the German or Lothar I. If you were writing between 834 and about 850, it could only be Lothar. (And if you're writing before 830 or after 850, you're probably not Pseudo-Isidore.)

Such, anyway, is Seckel's case. In conclusion, some observations: In the first place, Seckel's argument makes a great deal of sense in the broader context of Pseudo-Isidore's agenda, as we have encountered it, repeatedly, on this blog. In the second place, the invocatio heading Pseudo-Isidore's collection has a fairly undeniable chronological position in the history of royal Carolingian invocationes. This is a rarified genre into which Jesus Christ was himself only first admitted with the accession of Louis the Pious after 814, and from which he was excluded by all but Lothar I and his sons after 840. Third, though: Assuming we're reading Pseudo-Isidore correctly, he was playing a dangerous game. Seventh-century legal collections should not be giving shout-outs to ninth-century political favorites. Then again, it's just bland enough that it's perfectly possible nobody cared that much; indeed, nobody before Seckel gave these words a second thought. And, fourth, Seckel was one of the most brilliant Pseudo-Isidorian scholars this world has seen, and his brilliance lay partly in his appreciation for detail (and the great payoffs that kind of sensitivity can have for anyone working on the False Decretals). Yet anybody who has read his Benedictus-Levita Studien has learned to be wary of his tendency to see significance in even the slightest textual variants. Die erste Zeile Pseudoisidors advances a very Seckelian argument indeed.


  1. Well, that is me told! I might still try and raise the caution that practice in diplomatic invocationes was not fully consistent, but I have certainly accepted (indeed, edited) arguments that the patterns are still meaningful, and the balance of probabilities does seem dramatically shifted your way with that extra data. I will happily back down as promised! It does make one wonder, though, just how choreographed court life was, if anyone is expected to have caught and recognised the phrasing's significance. They would have needed to be at a lot of charter proclamations! Or was it perhaps also coming up in other contexts we can't straight away identify?

  2. You are far too gracious! And it's not even my argument....
    I think maybe I've placed too much stress on the reader's perspective--on what the invocatio would have put the average consumer of Pseudo-Isidore's texts in mind of. And it occurs to me that forgers (even contemporary ones) flubbed formulae like this all the time. I can't think of a specific example involving the invocatio, but the broader principle is undeniable. Invocationes cropping up in the acta of church councils, like in Mainz 813, might have less to do with the need of the participants to make a political statement, and more to do with the use of royal or imperial chancery personnel to put the decrees in order. So maybe the Pseudo-Isidorian invocatio is less a subtle nod to Lothar than it is evidence that someone behind Isidorus Mercator racked up some hours in Lothar's chancery.

  3. That seems perfectly likely to me; I must point my colleague Elina Screen, who probably knows the workings of Lothar's chancery as well as anyone, at this, but that scenario would remove some of the difficulties with the `nod to Lothar' with which you were struggling in 2010. (I'm glad to have found this blog soon after you resumed posting; very often the exact opposite is the case...) All the same, I do wonder, since privileges were presumably read out – or what is the point in sticking all this self-glorifying stuff in anyway, why not just use the formulae straight? The recipient already believes the king has power, after all – how wide the audience for an invocatio might have been and whether someone who hung around the court would have got used to hearing it more generally when the king `spoke law' of one kind or another. Just an idea I feel like playing with, really.


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