Thursday, August 1, 2013

Towards a Theory of Pseudo-Isidore: Part I

For a long time, this blog has been heavy on the questions and light on the answers. We've taken tour upon tour of Pseudo-Isidore's contents, I've reviewed famous problems, and I've discussed the going theories. All the while, I've been doing my own reading and developing my own theories. These efforts have been represented here more in the delays between posts than in the content I've pounded out. After the longest such delay, corresponding to my most substantial piece of work yet on Pseudo-Isidore (more on that soon), I returned to announce that this blog would be a little different from here on out. It will incorporate more of my own ideas. It will run afoul of Wikipedian prohibitions regarding Original Research. Consider yourself warned.

For a few months now, I've been pulling together materials for a substantial article on The Date of Pseudo-Isidore. For a long time, I've become aware of a small historiographical problem: Since the mid nineteenth century, people have been noticing curious parallels between Pseudo-Isidorian concepts and theories and actual ninth-century historical events. This has encouraged more than a few historians to draw conclusions about Pseudo-Isidore’s date. Despite all of these keen observations, enduring consensus on dating has been hard to establish, in part (I would argue) because nobody has attempted a systematic survey of contemporary events and Pseudo-Isidore’s contents. It seemed to me that such a survey promised not only to bring out positive parallels, but to indicate where parallels did not exist. That is, once all the necessary homework had been done, one could not only say—hey look, Pseudo-Isidore condemns coerced episcopal confessions, and that’s what some people complained happened to Ebo of Reims in 835! One could also say: Hey look, Pseudo-Isidore loves to complain about coerced episcopal confessions, and the only attested case between 800 and 870 involves Ebo of Reims. The latter sort of statement strikes me as a great deal more powerful, and more important for trying to understand what Pseudo-Isidore is all about.
The original plan was therefore to develop a systematic approach to what Pseudo-Isidore says and what was happening in Pseudo-Isidore’s world (broadly speaking), with a view towards comparing the two. I’ve been collecting all the information I can on all judicial processes initiated against bishops from the later eighth century to around 870 (when the long form of Pseudo-Isidore is cited for the first time, our first long-form manuscripts appear, and we can be absolutely certain that all work on the forgery had ceased). This has turned out to be relatively easy, because our sources don’t attest to very many processes, and for most of them our information is very thin. Also since the beginning of last month, I’ve been (re-)reading every last Pseudo-Isidorian decretal forgery and synthesizing all the material on judicial process to be found in each one: Everything on who can accuse, whether and when accusations are to be brought before judges, how appeals are to occur, every last statement on the exceptio spolii and peregrina iudicia—you get the idea. This has naturally turned out to be a great deal more work. Now, however, I’m nearing the end of the collection phase, and I have systematic notes on what is actually happening, at a judicial level, in Pseudo-Isidore’s world (as far as we can tell); and I also have rather more copious (and thus messier) but still more or less systematic notes on Pseudo-Isidore’s judicial prescriptions.

Gradually, in the midst of all this reading and note-taking, a basic theory of Pseudo-Isidore and his purpose began to take root in my mind. It is not a new theory. Others have had versions of this idea before. Nevertheless, it cuts against some of the recent post-Zechiel-Eckes consensus—a consensus that I have, myself, subscribed to and furthered. And I have uncovered additional (and I believe, fairly conclusive) points in its favor, while learning to appreciate its explanatory power. It’s now looking like my article on The Date of Pseudo-Isidore will need more attention than I can give it in the remaining month of summer. In the meantime, I thought I'd slap up an outline of my thought here on teh blog.

We might as well begin at the beginning, with Pseudo-Isidore’s date.

Until the last decade, Paul Hinschius was responsible for the reigning orthodoxy on the date of the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries. The Hinschian argument, repeated by Emil Seckel and later Horst Fuhrmann, is the sort of thing that looks airtight at first: The false capitularies of Benedictus Levita carry a preface that mentions Archbishop Otgar and calls him the former bishop of Mainz. We know that Otgar died in office in 847, so suddenly we have a terminus post quem for the false capitularies in their final form. And, according to Hinschius, the forged decretals of Isidorus Mercator use the false capitularies of Benedictus Levita as a source. So Pseudo-Isidore must postdate 847. And then when you start looking at reception, you find that the first direct Pseudo-Isidorian citations occur possibly in 852, certainly in 857. Thus the conventional date for the forged decretals is given in many an article as 847–852/7.

As I said, airtight at first, but porous upon closer inspection. First of all, the contents of Benedictus Levita need not postdate 847 just because the preface does. Second of all, it’s not at all clear that Pseudo-Isidore used Benedictus Levita as a source. At least not exactly. It’s perhaps more accurate to say that the two collections have a fair amount of material—much of it genuine, a few little bits and pieces of it forged—in common. After long and tedious investigations, I’ve begun to think of  Benedictus Levita, at base, as something like a thinly disguised florilegium of mostly-genuine legal material. It has some Pseudo-Isidorian elements, but for long stretches it’s just somebody’s enormous pile of random legal flotsam and jetsam. It certainly seems that Pseudo-Isidore availed himself of some portions of this monumental collection of favorite quotations. Genuine sources, in particular, recur in Pseudo-Isidore, complete with Benedictus Levita’s alterations and truncations. It also seems that the Pseudo-Isidorians, at some point, took this enormous legal florilegium, slapped on a preface, and did some light editing to make the whole thing look, however superficially, like a collection of capitulary legislation. So I would date the thin capitulary veneer after 847. The contents, though—who knows?

Now we saw a long time ago that much of the recent discussion of Pseudo-Isidore has been guided, in manners direct and indirect, by several articles that Klaus Zechiel-Eckes published about a decade ago. In these articles, Zechiel-Eckes proved that the Pseudo-Isidorian forgers used Corbie’s library, and he argued that work on the forgeries took place in the wake of Ebo of Reims’s deposition; an initial batch of forged decretals, he argued, was drafted between 836 and 838.

To place Pseudo-Isidore in the 830s, he first turned to Florus of Lyons, the mischievous deacon and loyal Agobard partisan on whom he’d written his learned Habilitationschrift (published in 1998, and highly recommended reading). Florus was instrumental in getting the liturgist, scholar and sometime bishop Amalarius accused of heresy at the Council of Quierzy in 838. In the months before this council convened, Florus dashed off a letter to key participants complaining that Amalarius sought to support his heretical teachings “through the forged authority of many pontiffs.” Zechiel-Eckes also noted Hincmar of Reims’s famous remark to his namesake and nephew, Hincmar of Laon, around the year 869. When the latter quoted Pseudo-Isidore to his uncle, the elder Hincmar claimed that he was already familiar with the texts, and had been since before the younger Hincmar was even conceived. Zechiel-Eckes notes that Hincmar of Laon was most likely born between 835 and 838, and certainly before 840. Some portion of the forged decretals, he argues, were thus already in circulation by 838; two independent sources attest to this fact. Since Zechiel-Eckes accepted (following Hinschius), that the latest source used in the decretal forgers were the acta of the 836 council of Aachen, the date range seemed clear: The forgery workshop produced an initial installment of decretal forgeries between 836 and 838.

Unfortunately, nobody has been willing to lean on Zechiel-Eckes’s terminus ante quem of 838. Florus’s letter is suggestive, but the forgeries he's talking about could really be anything--including objects of Florus's own imagination (or dishonesty). There is, moreover, very little in Pseudo-Isidore to support or defend Amalarius’s controversial teachings. Also notably lacking is any widespread willingness to see Hincmar’s statement to his nephew as anything but rhetorical exaggeration. Hincmar’s remarks also have to be read in the context of similar statements made by Pope Nicholas I in 864/5.  Confronted by Pseudo-Isidorian texts in the course of the controversy over Hincmar of Laon, Nicholas declared that these statutes had been conserved in the archives of the Roman church since antiquity. Such statements do indeed suggest volumes about the early reception of Pseudo-Isidore. I hope to say more about them and what they mean at some point in the not-too-distant future. But I don’t think they’re helpful for the matter of dating.

As if that weren't enough, the terminus post quem of 836 has also collapsed, since Gerhard Schmitz pointed out that there is little reason, if any, to assume that the Pseudo-Isidorians ever saw the acta of the 836 Council of Aachen. The bishops gathered at Aachen just repeated a lot of points articulated at the 829 Council of Paris, which our forgers also knew. This pushes the terminus back a full seven years, to 829—or perhaps only six years, as there is some indication that our forgers were also acquainted with a letter that Hrabanus Maurus wrote on the subject of chorbishops, in response to the 829 council, no earlier than 830.

So, some of Zechiel-Eckes’s arguments on the dating front have faced problems. Nevertheless, the general re-dating from ca. 850 to ca. 835 has been widely accepted. In part, this testifies to the weakness of the older Hinschian dating scheme, but it also indicates the strength of Zechiel-Eckes’s arguments in another arena. Certain aspects of Pseudo-Isidore’s forgery program, Zechiel-Eckes showed, appear to address the plight of Ebo of Reims after his deposition at Thionville in 835. My own reading over the past few years has turned up much more evidence in favor of this point. In subsequent posts, we will see that it is simply undeniable that the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries reference again and again, in ways sometimes strikingly explicit and sometimes studiously indirect, the deposition of Ebo from his see at Reims in 835, with a view towards rendering the conclusions of the council invalid and thus (it would seem) compelling Ebo’s reinstatement. And more recently, another scholar, Steffen Patzold, has emphasized the degree to which the Pseudo-Isidorian agenda is indebted to the reform ideology promulgated at the 829 Council of Paris. Indeed, the more reading I’ve done, the more I’ve come to appreciate that Pseudo-Isidore may not have used the 836 Council of Aachen, but that our favorite forgers and the bishops gathered at Aachen in 836 were engaged in quite similar projects: To varying degrees, both were trying to pick up the threads of church reform that had been abandoned in the political turmoil of the early 830s.

It was in the midst of considerations and developments along these lines that Karl Ubl, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Cologne, convened a two-day conference on Pseudo-Isidore this past February, which your humble blogger attended. At Cologne, the author of these remarks was surprised to find several presenters arguing for a super-early Pseudo-Isidore--earlier even than Zechiel-Eckes had proposed, predating the coup of 833/4. Such arguments fell on favorable ears, for the writer of these few posts had himself just published an article full of similar ideas.

But that's a matter for Part II.

On to Part III, Part IV, Part V (with one Addendum on the nature of the Hispana, and another Addendum on the priority of the Hispana)

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