Even stronger evidence that you have Pseudo-Isidore in your hands

A Pseudo-Isidore Manuscript (not one I’ve seen)

Today at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, after long toil with the formerly-discussed Pseudo-Isidorian manuscript, I got my hands on another. I opened the large, hefty book, turned to the first folio of vellum parchment and smiled. My smile was not due solely to the highly-readable, fifteenth-century book hand nor the illumination in the upper left corner of the page.

There before me was his name in bold, red uncial:

ISIDORUS MERCATOR

This name — not ‘Isidorus Hispalensis’ — is the strongest evidence that you have not Isidore of Seville or any Spanish collection of canonical material but, rather, Pseudo-Isidore, the Frankish Carolingian forger/ group of forgers (about whom there is a highly readable blog by a Pseudo-Isidorian scholar).

I was happy to hold this huge book in my hands today. And happy to find Leo, Epistula JK †451. This letter is a forgery about the rights of … chorepiscopi! And sent, of all places, to all the bishops of Germania and Gaul. Hm …

Anyway, good times with forgeries today, in other words.

What are the lessons my tired mind can give you, drawn from the deep well of faked wisdom that is Pseudo-Isidore? Here are two:

1. This ms contains 56 letters attributed to Leo. Only one of them, the letter universis Germaniarum et Galliarum regionum episcopis is definitively a forgery. There is debate about at least one other letter in there. The lesson? Pseudo-Isidore, although we know compiled by a forger, is like the church. The tares and the wheat exist side by side. Therefore, when we get our hands on this influential canonical collection, we should not reject it out of hand. For the holy can be found even in the work edited by a known sinner (forger, that is).

2. Church history is messy. So is the church today. This letter about chorepiscopi was forged to help protect the rights of bishops who were being used as pawns in secular politics. True, some of them were also moving the pieces of the Carolingian chess board. This is the danger of mixing your politics and your religion. As argued by Augustine in City of God (I think; if I’m wrong, it’s ’cause I should go to bed), we should wish to have Christian rulers who seek justice, but the clergy shouldn’t seek to be the rulers themselves. If Hincmar and friends had kept these sorts of things in mind, or if Lothar and brothers hadn’t tried manipulating the church into doing what they wanted, perhaps Pseudo-Isidore would never have existed.

But I’m glad for Pseudo-Isidore. It is one of the moments when things come together. All sorts of authentic material relating to canon law is brought together in Pseudo-Isidore and then expanded and copied and recopied for centuries. This is a good thing.

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