To look into ninth-century judicial processes, as conducted against episocpal defendants in ecclesiastical courts, is to recognize the serious deficiencies of our sources. In 855, for example, a letter reports, in passing, that bishops convening in Valence for a council that year had, among their agenda items, a process against the bishop of Valence for unspecified offenses. That’s all we get, just a passing notice. Nowhere does anything tell us what the accusations were, who brought them, whether the bishop was convicted or acquitted, or whether he appealed. We don’t even know the bishop‘s name.
In other cases, we might know the bishop’s name and might even encounter the suggestion in some source that he was accused of improprieties or risked facing such accusations. Nothing in the historical record, however, reports on whether he was ever actually tried or what came of it all. One such bishop would be Aldric of Le Mans. He was installed at the behest of Louis the Pious in 833, right before all hell broke loose. Some months later, at the Field of Lies, he was one of only a few bishops to remain loyal to the deposed emperor. So remarkable was his loyalty that a contemporary reader of the Annals of Saint-Bertin supplemented the annalistic account of 833 with a brief, marginal note about Aldric’s steadfastness.
We might wonder what sort of risks Aldric and his fellow hold-outs faced for their persistence. And we might be intrigued to find that there survives an extremely strange and irregular letter, known from its opening words as Divinis praeceptis, bearing the name of Pope Gregory IV, and dated 8 July 833—just days after Louis the Pious capitulated and the greater part of the Frankish episcopate (minus Aldric) deserted him. This lengthy letter is addressed to the Frankish episcopate, and it insists that Aldric (like any bishop) enjoys the right to appeal to Gregory before he can be convicted of any crime. Over and over, Divinis praeceptis insists that Aldric is not to be convicted before Gregory or his representatives have the chance to review the case, should Aldric want them to. The letter admits that Aldric might indeed be guilty of some unspecified impropriety (conversationes…non amabiles: make of that what you will), but insists that charity is a better corrective in this instance than judicial procedure.
Since the nineteenth century, almost everyone has concluded Divinis praeceptis is a forgery. It suffers from some diplomatic irregularities, but mainly it’s suspicious because it’s full of Pseudo-Isidorian textual features. It’s basically little more than a patchwork of canonical citations, almost all of them from the Collectio Hispana—a fundamental Pseudo-Isidorian source, you may remember. It uses these sources in the same ways and in the same combinations as Pseudo-Isidore, such that I see no reasonable way to doubt the Pseudo-Isidorian authorship of this text. But that makes Divinis praeceptis a very odd document, no? In all other instances, our Pseudo-Isidorian friends forge ancient documents in the names of long-dead popes. What is going on in this case? How could a forgery that merely emphasized Aldric’s right to appeal to Gregory IV have been useful to anybody? Why would Pseudo-Isidore have forged the document for Aldric? Was Aldric supposed to head off to Rome, show up at Gregory’s court, wave around this fake letter and demand that the pope hear his case on the strength of its contents?
Considerations not dissimilar to these had already led Walter Goffart to suggest that Divinis praeceptis might be genuine after all, and in the wake of Zechiel-Eckes’s findings two further authors, Johannes Fried and Karl Ubl, expressed additional interest in revisiting the authenticity issue. I decided the whole thing was worth an article, and I punched out a few pages on “Pseudo-Isidore at the Field of Lies: Divinis praeceptis (JE †2579) as an Authentic Decretal,” coming soon to an airport newstand near you (or at least, to the latest issue of the Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law).
Basically, I took as my point of departure an ambiguous passage in the Epitaphium Arsenii, Paschasius Radbertus’s highly elliptical biography of his abbot, Wala of Corbie. In the course of the second book, Radbertus comes to describe the days leading up to Louis the Pious’s capitulation at the Field of Lies—days when Pope Gregory IV was camping with the rebels, and becoming increasingly nervous that he had taken the wrong side. Gregory, Radbertus tells us, “was terrified by the emperor and by all the people…even by the bishops,” for he had come to believe that the rebellion would fail and that the consequences for himself and his office would be dire. Radbertus therefore says that he and Wala gave the pope some sort of legal collection,
confirmed by the authority of the holy fathers and his predecessors’, which demonstrated that it was his power...and his authority to go and to send for all peoples on behalf of faith in Christ and the peace of churches and the preaching of the Gospel and the assertion of truth, [and that] there was in him all the eminent authority and the living power of the blessed Peter, by whom it was appropriate that all be judged, such that he was to be judged by nobody.
It should not come as a surprise to hear that students of Pseudo-Isidore have been fighting over the meaning of these lines for about 150 years. And while scholars of Emil Seckel’s persuasion were disinclined to see any connection between this report and the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries, Zechiel-Eckes’s results surely require us to reconsider these words. If we are to place the forgery operation (or some portion of it) at Corbie in the 830s, we must accept that Paschasius Radbertus, a leading scholar and prominent member of the Corbie community, was at least indirectly involved. As a regular user of the Corbie library, he must have known about it. Indeed, Zechiel-Eckes wanted to see in Radbertus the main actor behind the forgery complex. And here in the Epitaphium--Radbertus’s own report!--we have people from Pseudo-Isidore’s monastery giving the pope Pseudo-Isidorian legal advice on the one hand, and on the other hand we have a letter in Gregory IV’s name for Aldric of Le Mans, claiming to have been issued not long after this advice can have been dispensed, full of closely related Pseudo-Isidorian legal arguments in Aldric’s favor. Radbertus, in other words, says that he and Wala gave the pope a book full of legal arguments demonstrating that the pope exercised jurisdiction over the Frankish episcopate; and then we have Divinis praeceptis, in which Gregory insists that he has jurisdiction over Aldric’s specific case and must be consulted before any process against Aldric can pronounce judgment.
So I put all this together and argued that the letter for Aldric was probably composed by Radbertus and company for Gregory’s authorization. Not everyone buys my argument, and as I type this two further evaluations of this letter are in the post: One is forthcoming from Clara Harder (Zechiel-Eckes’s former student), the other from Claudia Scherer (who has been working on the letters of Gregory IV). Everything may change when their insights see print. In the meantime, though, I’m going to cling fast to the date of Gregory’s decretal emphasizing Aldric’s right to appeal. And that date is 8 July 833. If you buy my arguments here, then that’s the only hard-and-fast date in the entire Pseudo-Isidorian corpus. It was this date that convinced me to argue for a super-early Pseudo-Isidore, or at least to argue that certain elements of the Pseudo-Isidorian corpus predate the coup of 833/4.