Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pseudo-Isidore In His Own Words

Now that the rain has stopped, I'm feeling ambitious. I'm going to try adding a new feature: Pseudo-Isidore In His Own Words.

On this page I plan to collect all the Latin passages that our forgers seem to have composed themselves -- passages that nobody can tie down to any sources. What exactly to do with all these passages, I'm not sure. But they seem potentially useful.

For now, you'll see that Pseudo-Isidore freely composes large chunks of the prefatory material. These passages will get rarer as we go on, though.

Secondary Preface (Items 2 and 3): Wherein We Discover a Forged Collection Within a Forged Collection

Right, so this is interesting.

After the Isidore/Merchant preface we get a fictive exchange of letters between "Archbishop" Aurelius of Carthage (who assumed office in the early 390s) and Pope Damasus (d. 384). You see the problem here.

The first letter is quite short. In it Aurelius asks for papal letters from the time of St. Peter's successor (Clement I) up through Damasus's own pontificate. He wants these letters "so that we might know what was times past, and so that those who act contrary to the institutes of the sacred canons might be recognized." Pseudo-Isidore misses no opportunity to sharpen his knives, that's for sure.

In the rescript we have Damasus claiming to be sending all of the letters issued from the end of Peter's pontificate through Damasus's own time, and also (predictably) complaining about the "violators of the canons" who are "gravely judged by the holy fathers and by the Holy Spirit." And that's it.

The significance of this? Well, remember that Part 1 of Pseudo-Isidore (forged decretals from Clement I through Melchiades) is the most blatantly fictional bit of the entire collection. Part 2 (councils) is interpolated but firmly grounded in genuine material; Part 3, though it contains a higher concentration of the fictional, also has hefty doses of the perfectly genuine. This little epistolary exchange marks off the clearest forgeries and claims that they're a separate canonical collection assembled by Pope Damasus. Within the decretals of Pseudo-Isidore, in other words, we have the decretals of Pseudo-Damasus.

Note that Pseudo-Damasus doesn't fit neatly within Part 1 of Pseudo-Isidore, which has decretals only through Melchiades. To get decretals through Damasus we have to turn to the beginning of Part 3. So it looks like Pseudo-Isidore has split up his Pseudo-Damasus, at least in the A/B and A1 recensions.

Now look at the A2 recension: It has no Part 2 and lacks all decretals after Damasus (in fact it only has the first two Damasus letters). A2, in other words, is the Pseudo-Damasus -- it's exactly the collection described by this letter exchange. The only problem is that A2 also carries the general preface that we described last time -- the preface that promises councils in Part 2 (which A2 lacks) and decretals through the time of St. Gregory in Part 3 (most of which A2 lacks).

I'll leave you to ponder that.


Recipients: Aurelius, Damasus

Dates: Aurelius letter, given on 22 February and "read at Rome" on 3 May (no year); Damasus letter given on 17 May, during the consulates of Gratianus and Siricius (invented consuls, and hence no year once again).

Two months, in other words, for Aurelius's fictional letter to make it from Carthage to Damasus's desk at Rome. Does that seem a bit long to you?

: None for the very short Aurelius letter; for Damasus, Leo the Great, Ep. 44; also a letter of Pope Felix III to the bishops of Sicily (from the Hispana, also in Part III of Pseudo-Isidore)

Lines (in Schon's edition): 10 (for Aurelius's request); 27 (Damasus's response)

Cross References: To forged decretals from Clement to Damasus

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Forged Decretals Described (or The Preface, Part II)

Weather has me down, so I fear today's post will be a little meager. But I want to take a closer look at how our good merchant describes his collection in the preface. Here’s a (very loose!) translation. I’ve bolded/italicized the material that comes out of the Hispana:
Now at the beginning of this volume we have described how we conduct councils, so that if anyone wants to follow our practice, he will know how to do it. Those who choose to follow the best practice should do things as they were done at the that just, canonical and wisest of councils. And so, because of their authority, we have placed the so-called “Canons of the Apostles” before the other councils, even though some call them apocryphal – for many accept their authenticy and the holy fathers have affirmed their pronouncements by synodal authority and have placed them among the received councils. Then we have included decrees from various apostolic letters – namely from Clement, Anacletus, Evaristus, and the rest of the popes – however many we have been able to find – up until Pope Sylvester. And afterwards we have included the Nicene synod, because of the great authority of this council. Then we have placed [the acta] of various Greek and Latin synods in the appropriate chronological order, also adding the remaining decrees of the Roman bishops up to St. Gregory, [including] some of his letters [as well]. Because of the great authority of the apostolic see, all of these letters enjoy an authority not unequal to that of the councils. [We have done] all this so that the teachings of the ecclesiastical order might be collected and digested by us into one volume, and so that the obedient ministers and people of the church might be supplied with spiritual examples and might not be deceived by the depravities of evil men.
A few points:

1) All that rumbling about the relative authority of canons is straight from the Hispana.

2) Isidore entertains doubts about the authority of the Canons of the Apostles entirely on his own. Though this pre-Pseudo-Isidorian forgery occurs in the HGA, the canons are not part of the ordinary Hispana tradition, and so the Hispana preface has nothing to say about them. (It looks like Pseudo-Isidore got them from the Dionysio-Hadriana).

3) The Hispana preface says that it's sticking Nicaea I first because of its great authority. Isidore keeps this language even though, in his collection, Nicaea has been buried behind 59 forged decretals. This leads to that odd sentence explaining that he has placed Nicaea after the decretals because of its great authority.

4) Isidore also departs from the Hispana to say that Part 3 of his collection extends up to “St. Gregory” – that is, Gregory the Great (right?). Both the HGA and Part 3 of Pseudo-Isidore, though, conclude with a synod convened under Gregory II. So, strictly speaking, the preface is in error. Not such a small point either; the synod in question comes with a rubric that mentions Gregorius Iunior right up front.

5) Look at that complaint about "evil men," slipped in right at the end.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Preface (Item 1)

Finally, on to the preface (also available in more readable .pdf). If the invocation and address were the gates, now we're into some sort of foyer. And the first thing to note is that this house is pretty much the same all over. A lot of the things we see here, we'll keep encountering again and again, and the most striking of them is the manner of composition.

Only rarely will we run into any documents in Pseudo-Isidore that exhibit clear, cohesive construction. Any search for coherency above the level of the paragraph will be pretty much doomed, and the reason is that Pseudo-Isidore is in thrall to his sources. This paragraph or that group of sentences will seem to advance a coherent argument, but as soon as you go on to the next bit you're in completely different territory. Suddenly our puppet pope is talking about something completely different, with only the most occasional and barest of apologies to account for the break. The preface is no exception.

Isidore the Merchant starts out with some conventional throat clearing: A bunch of bishops and other "servants of God" have urged him to put to together a collection of canons. He claims that "diverse interpretations" have resulted in divergent texts of the same laws. He's particularly uptight about the Greek councils, which exist in multiple translations. This is a problem that he says he's going to solve by producing his own authoritative translation. Remember what we said about the canonical portion (Part 2) of the HGA? How our forgers revised and interpolated a lot of the councils? Well here's how they account for any differences between their (falsified) version and the previous (authentic) versions they know their readers will be familiar with.

Suddenly, Isidore shifts gears and we get an etymological paragraph pulled out of the Hispana preface. "Canon" is Greek; the Latin is "rule." "Synod" is Greek; the Latin is "comitatum vel coetum." The word "council" indicates the common intention of those who gather together. And so on and so forth.

About ten lines of that, and he's ready to describe the shape of the collection before us. This description, too, comes from the Hispana, but Isidore has had to revise it significantly because he needs to account for all the changes he's made. At the beginning of this collection he's stuck a list of instructions for celebrating councils (from the Hispana); then the "Canons of the Apostles" (a pre-Pseudo-Isidore forgery), here following the Hispana again. Then, he says, he's added decretals from early papal letters -- namely, "of Clement, Anacletus, Evaristus, and of the rest of the popes that we were able to find, up until pope Sylvester." Then he's included the canons of Nicaea I, then of the other councils he knows of, and finally decrees of the post-Constantinian popes "up to St. Gregory." That's the three parts of Pseudo-Isidore, more or less.

Isidore's impatience with these niceties is almost palpable. As soon as the outline is over he wades right into his favored theme -- accusations against prelates -- with nary a transition. It was apprently to defend members of the priesthood from unjust accusations that the "holy fathers composed laws, which they called holy canons." A lot of people accuse others to cover their own asses or to enrich themselves from the goods of the accused, we read. On from there to one of Isidore's key legal contentions: No bishop who has been expelled or expoliated can be judged before he's been restored to his see and all his possessions. Then, interestingly, Isidore goes on to try to buttress this point by citing a genuine authority, namely Leo the Great. He closes this little excursus with the coy remark that he could cite more canons (i.e., all the forged decretals in his collection), but just as the soldier needs only one shield from his vast armory for his defense, so too will these words alone suffice.

Isidore dances on to another favored theme, only distantly related: No synod can gather without the authority of the apostolic see. Here we don't get any direct citations, though, aside from the general gesture in the direction of Isidore's collection: "Canonical authority attests to this; ecclesiastical history affirms this; the holy fathers confirm this."

Change of topics once more! Isidore assures us that no less than eighty bishops (!) commissioned his canonical collection. He especially wants everyone to know that the first council of Nicaea originally included many more than the standard twenty chapters; in fact, the letters of Pope Julius prove that it had seventy chapters! The reference is to none other than JK +196 (online here), one of the forged decretals, where we find Julius citing all kinds of capitula from Nicaea I beyond no. 20. (There is a bit of a disconnect though: He cites up through a "chapter 66," but never actually says there are seventy chapters.)

Note that the Pseudo-Isidorian text of Nicaea is perfectly legit (excepting the various prefaces) and contains nothing beyond the twenty authentic canons (none of which have been enhanced). Our forgers obviously wanted very much to fiddle with this famous, ancient and highly authoritative text. But they might as well have tried to circulate a falsified Gospel: the authentic version was widely cited and deeply familiar. So they opted for an indirect approach, getting one of the post-Nicene popes to cite canons not in Nicaea.

This is one of our forgers' boldest moves, and they're clearly nervous about it. About a quarter of the entire preface is devoted to demonstrating that most of Nicaea I has been lost. Isidore does this by noting that the First Council of Constantinople, Innocent I, and Theophilus of Alexandria, all appear to cite provisions in Nicaea that do not occur in the received text. Once again, a real argument citing genuine texts. (That sort of thing will get pretty rare from here on out.)

On the other side of this discussion is another passage pulled from the Hispana about the quattuor principalia concilia -- the four most authoritative councils: Nicaea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus I, and Chalcedon.

And that brings us to the end. We won't be going over all the decretals in such detail, but I did want to give you a sense of the flavor of this collection. I will, however, be drawing up a scorecard for each piece, so we can keep sources, relative length, and cross references straight (for the decretals I'll also add purported date and purported recipients).


Sources: Hispana (as in the HGA); Cassiodorus, Historia Tripartita; Augustine, sermon 351; Benedictus Levita; Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica; Leo the Great, Ep. 93; Liber Pontificalis

Lines (in Schon's edition): 166

Cross References: To JK +196 (last letter of Julius); also broad gestures to the entire collection.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Final thoughts on invocation and address

Sorry to keep beating this horse, but I've also been wondering about the still more obvious question: From the perspective of the forgers, what kind of sense does it make to give a shout-out to Lothar in your prefatory invocation? The fiction is that Pseudo-Isidore predates the Carolingian period, after all. How was this supposed to work? Was it a deliberate declaration of allegiance? Or is this better explained as a mistake? Has one of the forgers been trained in Lothar's chancery, and is this him screwing up and letting his slip show?

The same goes for the Isidorus Mercator of the address. Yeah, Isidore of Seville was an authoritative church father from Spain (significant because of the relationship between the decretals and the Hispana) and Marius Mercator was a widely known translator of Greek texts (significant because the Pseudo-Isidore claims to be presenting new translations of some of the Greek church councils, as we'll see shortly). But what kind of sense does it make to blend the two figures together? Wouldn't that just seem like a stupid joke -- and a clear fiction -- to anybody who knew both authors?

Forging the decretals was obviously deadly serious business for all involved. I guess it's just odd to find our team playing funny games like this.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A further thought on the invocation and address

The invocation ascribes our book to "Saint Isidore," which to me sounds a lot like Isidore of Seville. As we've said twice now, though, Isidorus Mercator -- the name given in the address -- is definitely not Isidore of Seville, but a conflation of the Spanish encyclopedist and Marius Mercator.

So is there then some tension between the invocation and the address? Do they contradict one another?

The First Words of Pseudo-Isidore

No posting for a week: the Medieval Academy and preparation for class have forced me to think about other things. But now we're back to work.

All those long intro posts have brought us to the gates of the castle -- Pseudo-Isidore's first words. It should be no surprise that there's a lot to say about these: For one thing, they're the first thing scholars see when they open the Pseudo-Isidore, and so there's been a lot of thought about them. And, for another thing, we might imagine that our forgers also anticipated that they'd have the biggest audience with their opening lines, and filled them with hidden meaning. So goes the theory anyway.

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.

Then we have the address: "Isidorus Mercator servus Christi lectori conservo suo et parenti in domino fidei salutem" (Isidore the Merchant and servant of Christ to his reader, fellow-servant and adherent to the faith in the Lord -- good health.) Lots to say about this too. First of all, this exact address occurs in one of the letters of Marius Mercator -- the guy who gave Pseudo-Isidore his by-name. The only difference is that our forgers have changed out "Marius" for "Isidorus." If nothing else, this shores up our earlier observation that "Isidorus Mercator" is a conflation of Isidore of Seville and Marius Mercator.

But things get more mysterious when we wade into the work of Nißl, some German guy who published a short five-page article way back in 1890 that everybody cites but nobody really knows quite what to do with. He suggested that the address was an anagram, and pointed out that by rearranging the letters one could arrive at a hidden message. Namely, this hidden message:

"Rottadus vero civitatis Suessionensis rector Incmaro Remensi foedo archipresuli dolum."

Which we might translate as follows:

"But Rothad, [bishop] of the city of Soissons -- a trick for the foul Hincmar, archbishop of Reims."

Rothad, bishop of Soissons from ca. 835 until the early 860s, was -- as Schon points out -- one of the only Reims suffragans to occupy a see throughout the entire period of forgery. He and Hincmar were also at each other's throats from around 850 onward, and Rothad is the very first character we can catch using the forgeries.

So is this anagram an illusion? Is it the Pseudo-Isidore unmasked? How to know?

Emil Seckel, famous German legal historian and Pseudoisidorian expert from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, has a few thoughts. He points out, first of all, that the address is borrowed word-for-word from Marius Mercator, save for the substitution of Isidorus for Marius. Which either deflates this crazy theory straight out or makes Rothad one clever dude, who perceived that within an address authored by Marius Mercator he could build an anagram, giving Hincmar the finger, by sticking in Isidorus in place of Marius. Not impossible, to be sure, but still troubling.

Seckel is also nervous about what he calls the slightly unusual orthography of the names, Rottadus and Incmarus , though a) it's always possible the forger was willing to let the spelling slide to get his joke to work, and b) it's not clear to me how much ninth-century variation there is in the spelling of these names, and Seckel doesn't say. The omission of an initial H in Hincmar doesn't strike me as all that important. Rothad is a different story. I'm assuming the difference between "Rott-" and "Roth-" in Rothad's name bears on the length of that first vowel, right? That is, a short o in Rottadus and a long one in Rothadus? Correct me if I'm wrong. But then what are our sources like for Rothad anyway? Hincmar's name is doubtless all over the place in ninth-century documents, but I'm thinking Rothad's doesn't occur all that often. I'll poke around for a bit and let you know what I find out.

Anyway, so much for the names. The other problem with Nißl's theory, as Seckel sees it, is the word archipresuli (for archbishop). This is an unusual term, and he can only find one other ninth-century author who uses it. Which would also seem to be a serious problem, except that this other author is Ebbo of Reims. The very Ebbo who preceded Hincmar in the archdiocese, and whom the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries seem designed to defend. I'll let you think about whether that's really a problem at all, or something more like a coincidence, or maybe something even more like an argument in favor. Incidentally, the word archipresuli also made Nißl nervous, because in the ninth-century they were sticklers about the ae-diphthong, and thus a well-educated cleric like Rothad would've wanted to write archipraesuli. Not the worst wrinkle, but there you go.

My verdict? I'd be much closer to thinking there was something to Nißl's anagram if the address weren't borrowed from Marius. But I might still be willing to consider it if someone can find a way to place Rothad at Corbie for any significant length of time following his installation at Soissons. I also want some clearly defined link between Rothad and Ebbo, because the Hincmar/Rothad quarrel just isn't enough. It's clear that significant stretches of the forged decretals were compiled with Ebbo in mind, and there are good reasons to believe that work began in the later 830s. Rothad and Hincmar didn't have their falling out until around 853.

More on the preface later today, I hope.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Minor Levity

Congratulations, nonexistent readers! You have slogged through four long introductory posts on fine points of early medieval legal history, and you're still alive. Most of you anyway.

You deserve a break. It's always fun to ask the interwebs about whatever you're working on, right?

Google "Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals" and this nonsense is actually hit number 5 (from some clumsy aggregator called Infoplease). It's remarkable for sheer density of erroneousness.

Apparently, all our problems are solved. The Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries were assembled by some dude named Mentz, who lived during the middle of the ninth century and whose aim was "either to exalt the Papacy or enforce some law assuming the existence of such exaltation." I leave it to you to parse that. Then suddenly the article lapses into French: "St. Nicholas," by which I guess they mean Pope Nicholas, "adopted the Pseudo-Isidorian reform" in 865 (he would be very surprised to learn that!); the Fourth Council of Constantinople "confirmed" this "reform" in 870 (the bishops at Constantinople would be still more surprised), and the Council of Trent confirmed the confirmation in 1564. (Maybe the guys at Trent would be the most surprised of all, as they finished doing all their legislating in 1563).

Where does this crap come from? Nobody knows.

Introductory IV: The Varieties of Pseudo-Isidore

Last intro post I swear. Next time we start reading the decretals.

This is just to fill you in on the different versions of the forged decretals floating around out there -- the different recensions, as the jargon has it. It looks like the forgers didn't just draw up one version of their forged decretal collection. Instead, throughout the first half of the ninth century, they circulated the same basic texts in a variety of different arrangements.

Now it's perfectly ordinary for various recensions of a text to develop over time, randomly and with nobody's say-so. It's just what happens when you have a lot of careless clumsy scribes making manuscript copies from manuscript copies from manuscript copies as the centuries tick by. And some of the later recensions of Pseudo-Isidore appear to be just that -- recensions that arose through later scribal fiddling or accident or whatever.

But there are four versions that we can trace right back to the time of forgery -- four recensions, in other words, that we're not so sure reflect nothing more than random processes of textual development. Four recensions that maybe, just maybe, might tell us something about the aims of our forgers, the process and/or progress of their work -- four recensions that we'll have to keep in mind as we go along.

Their names come from Paul Hinschius, the nineteenth-century editor of Pseudo-Isidore who first identified and described them all. To wit:

A1: The longest and most elaborate recension -- the one that Hinschius thought was most original and that he edited, and the one that to this day people have in mind when they think of the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals.

A/B: Pretty much like A1 in Parts 1 (forged decretals from Clement to Melchiades) and 2 (conciliar stuff from the HGA), but notably shorter in Part 3 (the later papal decretals, corresponding to HGA Part 2). Its Part 3 has everything that derives from Part 2 of the HGA, and it also has all the additional forged decretals that we also find in A1 -- but it doesn't have some of the extra genuine material that we find in Part 3 of A1. Basically, A1/Part3 is expanded with some additional letters from genuine ninth-century legal collections, the Dionysio-Hadriana and the Quesnelliana. A/B has far less of this stuff. And one other point: as Horst Fuhrmann discovered, A/B seems to be textually closer to the HGA than the other early recensions. That is, in some places, when HGA has a minor error or omission or something else, A/B also has it, though this problem is corrected away in all the other early recensions. This has led some people to speculate that A/B is particularly early.

A2: The shortest of the lot -- it lacks almost everything taken from the HGA. It has Part 1 (Clement to Melchiades), but no Part 2 at all, and only the first few letters of Part 3, through Damasus. An early version before Pseudo-Isidore decided to drag the HGA into the ensemble? Or a later, stripped-down recension? Both are serious possibilities. But Zechiel-Eckes has said that A2 appears to be closer to the readings of the source manuscripts he discovered than any of the other recensions. So that's one vote in favor of earlier, rather than later.

Cluny: Until the 1970s, everyone thought that this was one of the later, unimportant versions. But then New Haven, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Ms. 442 turned up (images of the whole manuscript are online here -- just search for 'MS 442'; and full description here). It now looks like this manuscript, from the mid-ninth century, gave rise to all the later medieval copies of the so-called Cluny recension (some of which ended up at Cluny, which is why we have this daft name for it). This book is exciting because it looks like it was assembled in the Pseudo-Isidore's workshop, perhaps even at Corbie. Karl Georg Schon argued as much years ago when he first came across it. It has Part 1 and Part 3 of the Pseudo-Isidore, but no Part 2. The manuscript, full of later additions, erasures and corrections, has obviously been rearranged several times. As Paul Meyvaert first recognized, it looks like it was originally much shorter, and consisted only of Part 3.

So those are the early recensions. On this blog we're going to start digesting the material common to all the recensions (at least at first) -- that is, the papal decretals from Clement to Melchiades, and then (in Part 3), from Sylvester to (part of) Damasus (which is all that A2 has). Later on we'll progress to the later forged decretals that A2 lacks.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Introductory III: Zechiel-Eckes's Revolutionary Discovery

Intrepid readers, your crash course continues. In this installment: the biggest event in the last century of that hopping, happening field of Pseudo-Isidore Studies.

About ten years ago, Klaus Zechiel-Eckes discovered that our forgers likely did their work at the monastery of Corbie. He found two Corbie manuscripts -- St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, Ms. F. v. I. 11, and Paris, BNF, Ms. lat. 11611 -- with curious marks and letters in the margins. Both manuscripts contain texts that Pseudo-Isidore used as sources -- The Petersburg codex has the Historia Tripartita of Cassiodorus; the Paris book has the acts of the Council of Chalcedon. In both cases, the marginal notes mark off passages that later on appear as part of that mosiac of sources constituting Pseudo-Isidore's forged decretals, and also the forged capitulary collection of Benedictus Levita.

So it looks like a secretarial team was going through manuscripts of key works in the Corbie library (one of the best appointed in all of Carolingian Europe), highlighting relevant passages. Later on, somebody else took all of these highlighted excerpts and stitched them together, yielding the forgeries as we have them today. So far we only know of several manuscripts with the source marks. If this was how Pseudo-Isidore did all of his research, though, poking about should yield some more.

Zechiel-Eckes argues that the forgery team was likely headed by Paschasius Radbertus, abbot of Corbie at the time. He also argues that it was done in the later 830s -- significant because scholars before Zechiel-Eckes wanted to stick the forgeries much later, in the 840s. His arguments on this front are not quite as airtight, and in some ways they hark back to the earlier ideas of a nineteenth-century scholar named Wasserschleben.

So, setting Paschasius Radbertus and the 830s aside for the moment -- what are the implications of Corbie? Well it's in the archiepiscopal province of Reims, long thought to be the Pseudo-Isidore's center of operations. And Zechiel-Eckes's discovery ties in with other evidence associating Pseudo-Isidore with Corbie as well. So none of this is entirely unexpected, though it is nevertheless odd to find a forgery primarily about the status and privilege of bishops coming out of a monastic center.

While we certainly have to reckon with the Corbie library as Pseudo-Isidore's workshop, the staff of that workshop remains mysterious.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Name!

I nearly forgot. Why do we call him the Pseudo-Isidore?

Because of the preface, where someone who calls himself "Isidorus Mercator" -- Isidore the Merchant! -- claims to have assembled the whole collection.

Obviously there is no such person; he's a figment of our forgers' imagination. The temptation has been to associate this fictional Isidore with Isidore of Seville, and this does make a certain amount of sense. The Pseudo-Isidore is just an enlarged Hispana, as we said last time, and the name "Isidore" obviously adds to the Hispanic aura of the collection. Yet Isidore of Seville was never called a "merchant." The best thinking on this front is that our forgers borrowed the by-name from Marius Mercator.Our Pseudo-Isidore is thus an odd conflation of two historical characters: the Spanish church father/encyclopedist Isidore, and the translator/anti-Pelagianist Marius.

More on the preface soon.

Oh yes, and picture related. It's from fol. 3v of New Haven, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Ms. 442 -- a mid-ninth-century copy of Pseudo-Isidore (one of a few Pseudo-Isidore manuscripts with full reproductions available online -- to see other pictures from the same book, search for "MS 442" here).

This picture shows the beginning of the preface. Click to enlarge and you'll see the first two words of the entire collection, Isidorus Mercator, right under the rubric. Some later reader has even underlined them for you.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Introductory II: Pseudo-Isidore Under the Lights

Right, so a few days ago I talked about the other forgeries produced in Pseudo-Isidore's orbit -- Benedictus Levita, the interpolated Hispana, other fun stuff. But I'm reading the forged decretals, which lie at the center of this rat's nest. So it's time to give you the rest of the story.

At 700 pages in the current print edition (though now we have helpful online edition-in-progress), the decretals are easily the longest medieval ecclesiastical forgery ever, and certainly the largest piece of this fictive complex. On this blog we're reading the decretals and not all that other stuff because they are the biggest, hairiest beast in this particular zoo. It's the vehicle our forgers put the most spit and polish into. If we want to understand what they're up to, it seems the best place to start.

For at least 100 years anyway, it's been standard to call the forged decratals an "enlarged Hispana." Remember the interpolated Hispana I described last time? That Gallican edition of a Spanish lawbook that Pseudo-Isidore's minions had revised and fixed up? Well, the Pseudo Isidore is basically the interpolated Hispana with a lot of stuff added.

The Hispana, and thus the Hispana Gallica (French version) and the interpolated Hispana has two parts. Part 1 is legislation from church councils. Part 2 is papal decretals. Pseudo-Isidore adds a big chunk of completely forged material onto the beginning of the interpolated Hispana -- letters in the names of early popes from Clement to Melchiades. Those become the new Part 1, and Parts 1 and 2 of the interpolated Hispana go on to become Parts 2 and 3 of the Pseudo-Isidore. Pseudo-Isidore takes over the church councils from the interpolated Hispana more or less unaltered, but he adds loads of stuff to the decretals that originally formed Part 2. Some of the stuff he adds are more forged decretals, but some versions of Pseudo-Isidore also add genuine decretals and other stuff besides.

Like most eary medieval law books, Pseudo-Isidore arranges all this material chronologically, rather than systematically. And there are some wrinkles in his chronology. Parts 1 and 2 of the Hispana (=Parts 2 and 3 of Pseudo-Isidore) presented concurrent chronologies. Part 1 (Part 2 of Pseudo-Isidore) had councils from Nicaea I to Seville II (A.D. 325 - 618/9), and Part 2 (Part 3 of Pseudo-Isidore) had decretals from Pope Damasus I (d. 384) to Gregory II (d. 731). The forged decretals that form Part I of Pseudo-Isidore purport to represent the pre-Constantinian church, in effect providing the backstory to the HGA (which begins in the early fourth century). In other words, the forged decretals, from Clement to Melchiades fill what must have looked, in the ninth century, like a big historical gap. Part 1 of the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals are basically our forgers putting words in the mouths of the early popes. Most of these early popes had left left very few writings behind, if any. They gave the forgers a great big blank slate to write on.

Put yet another way, Pseudo-Isidore basically just invents rafts and rafts of papal letters -- over ninety in all. Most of these letters are pretty long, and most of them hammer away with unbelievable montony on the Pseudo-Isidore's key issues: accusations against bishops, despoilment of bishops, judgment of bishops, on and on and on. For the most part, these are the same issues covered by the other forgeries from the Pseudo-Isidore's circle, described in the last post.

But the Pseudo-Isidore hasn't just freely composed hundreds of pages of Latin. Each letter is a complicated mosaic of snippets from all kinds of other sources -- patristic letters and treatises; the bible; other law collections like the Hispana, the Dionysio-Hadriana; Carolingian-era conciliar legislation; and loads of other stuff that I'm forgetting right now. Very little of the material actually appears to have been written by Pseudo-Isidore himself. At the same time, though, the forgers feel free to adjust their sources however they see fit, often twisting their words to say exactly the opposite of what the original authors intended. Exactly why the Pseudo-Isidore was so interested in speaking through others' words, and why he avoids composing text himself as much as possible, will go on our list of things to look into.

That's enough for now. I still haven't given you all the intro information you'll need, but it's a start. There'll have to be one or two more background posts, and of course I'll fill you in on the rest as we go along.

Update (21 Aug. 2013): Terminology slightly revised, a few points corrected.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Yeah, so I don't know who you are but you've stumbled upon this blog, and I think you need an introduction.

Our project here is reading the Pseudo-Isidore. Regular posting is how I plan to keep my head straight and my notes in order as I digest this 700-page Latin document.

Who is Pseudo-Isidore, you ask? This is a good intro. But I'll break it down for you.

Basically, Pseudo-Isidore was the name adopted by a group of more or less unidentified Carolingian-era clerics who worked for nearly twenty years, from the 830s to the 850s, to concoct a vast web of interrelated legal forgeries. There are various theories about the identity of the forgers, though current orthodoxy would place them among the ecclesiastical supporters of the claims of Lothar I to succeed his father as overall head guy of the Frankish kingdom. Their forgeries, unbelievably complex, ridiculously long, went unsuspected for centuries afterwards.

These are the details: Lothar was the oldest son of Louis the Pious and had been the primary heir apparent since 817. But then Louis's wife died and he married the inconvenient and tedious Judith, who before too long bore him a favored son named Charles. Louis's efforts to find Charles a subkingdom threatened to split the empire apart. Opponents of this plan rallied around Lothar, in the interests of maintaining a united empire with one alpha king. In 833 Lothar, his other brothers (not including Charles) and assorted clerical allies, including Pope Gregory IV, deposed Louis the Pious, placing Lothar and his brothers in charge. This coup, one of the most memorable events in Carolingian history, took place at the "Field of Lies" (can you believe that doesn't have a Wikipedia article?) in Alsace. This state of affairs lasted for only a few months, until Lothar succeeded in pissing everyone off. Louis the Pious emerged from captivity; Lothar fled to northern Italy; key members of the unity party were imprisoned, deposed, or both.

It was in the aftermath of this disaster that most people think Pseudo-Isidore took up his proverbial pen. His goal was not so much to protect Lothar's interests -- after the coup that must have seemed like quite the lost cause -- but rather to defend Frankish bishops. Episcopal rebels had a pretty hard time after 834, and obviously a lot of people thought that Louis had gone too far in squeezing his adversaries. Especially his clerical adversaries.

One way to explain Pseudo-Isidore would be to imagine the poor benighted bishops heading to their cathedral libraries, as imperial soldiers cart their colleagues off to prison, dragging the big forbidding tomes of canon law off their shelves, and searching through them, trying to find some canon or other, just some authoritative text here or there, that they could use to show that their friends had been unlawfully deposed. They did find the odd text, but it was slim pickings, let me tell you.

So, the theory goes, some enterprising guys with well-appointed academic libraries and decent secretarial resources set out to rectify the situation. The only thing to do was draw up new, fake laws and pass them off as ancient, authentic laws -- fake laws that ranted and raved and sweated and mourned and spat and puked and shat about proceedings against bishops, accusers of bishops, the despoilment and deposition and imprisonment of bishops. On and on and on.

On this blog I'll be reading the Pseudo-Isidore's Decretals, but in fact that's only one component of the broader Pseudo-Isidorian universe. Beyond the Decretals, our forgers drew up absolute rafts of material; the bookworms probably haven't even found all of it yet. But the forgery complex, as we know it today, comprises the following pieces:

1. Capitularies collected by the fictional Benedictus Levita (Benedict the Deacon). Now online. These masquerade as royal legislation. The fiction is that they constitute books five through seven of an earlier (and perfectly unfishy) lawbook put together by Ansegis of Fontenelle (in four books!). Over 200 pages long in the printed edition, and here's the wrinkle: Many capitula clearly forged by people with Pseudo-Isidorian opinions, but Pseudo-Isidore seems to use Benedictus Levita as a source [update as of Aug. 2013: this latter point is actually debatable; for a bit more on the complex textual relationship between Benedictus Levita and Pseudo-Isidore, see Part I of my Theory of Pseudo-Isidore series] . Except at the very end of the Benedictus Levita collection, when the exact opposite happens, and Benedict starts to use Isidore as a source. Oh, and one final point: We can actually date Benedict in his final form. He got his finishing touches between 847 and 857, and I can rehearse the arguments for anyone who's interested.

2. The Hispana Gallica Augustodunensis, which I prefer to call the interpolated Hispana. A fancy Latin title, but the idea is pretty simple. Basically, there's a genuine Latin law book, used all over Carolingian Europe, known as the Hispana (because it comes from Spain). Then there's a local, Gallican version of this lawbook -- the Hispana Gallica. FINALLY, there's Pseudo-Isidore's personal edition of the Frenchy version of this Spanish law book, the interpolated Hispana. The Hispana Gallica is an ordinary, honest collection of laws; the interpolated Hispana has been retouched -- presumably by people in Pseudo-Isidore's orbit -- with various revisions and changes. Pseudo-Isidore then used this interpolated book as a foundation for his own broader forgery collection.

Those are the two big ones you'll have to remember. But there's at least two others:

3. The Capitula Angilramni, online here. Another document, like the stuff by Benedictus Levita, masquerading as royal legislation. This is full of laws dealing with legal proceedings against bishops. If you've been paying any attention you can guess what this collection is all about: Almost nobody can ever accuse a bishop of anything, if any bishop is ever accused it's almost impossible for any court ever to convict him, and so forth.

4. A newly discovered forgery, the Collectio Danieliana. Online here.

Anyway. Sorry to cut it short but that's about all I have time for now.

Tomorrow: The Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals in frightening detail. Also, why we're reading Pseudo-Isidore and not any of these other peachy inventions. And maybe even an initial reader's report.

I know, it all sounds so enticing.

P.S. Beware the links to Wikipedia. The article on Pseudo-Isidore is a gem, assembled in its foundations by Karl Georg Schon (expert on all things pseudoisidorian); most of the other WP articles on Carolingian history are ripped from crickety sources like the Catholic Encyclopedia and old editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Even Schon's article has regressed to the mean, as ignorant editors have added various minor confusions. Caveat lector is all I'm saying.

Update (21 Aug. 2013): I've revised this post to make its historical claims a bit more tentative, updated some terminology, and corrected a few points that I got wrong. The above lines still articulate (more or less) the scholarly consensus about Pseudo-Isidore's historical background, but my own ideas have changed considerably in the three years since I started writing, as my ongoing Theory of Pseudo-Isidore series (linked in the sidebar) should make clear.