But this isn’t Rimini, let alone 359…

This bridge, on the other hand, was in Rimini in 359

It’s Vancouver in 2019.

I’ve been thinking about my experimental thoughts concerning church councils and General Synods in these days after General Synod here in Vancouver. The thing that most seriously differentiates the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada from an ancient council (ecumenical or otherwise) is not whether the Holy Spirit turns, or whether it gets things right, or whether it is accepted immediately, or any of that, but denominations.

Writing several decades later, St Jerome said of the aftermath of Rimini, “The whole world groaned and was astonished to find itself Arian.” (Dialogue Against the Luciferians 19) The ancient church was the church. There was nowhere else to go. Sure, there were a few schismatic groups outside the imperial church in the 300s, especially the Novatianists in most provinces and the Donatists in North Africa.

For most cities, however, the bishop was the bishop. If the faithful disagreed with his stance at any major synod, there was usually nowhere else to go.

This fact, combined with the coercive force of the Roman state, is why the church was able to resolve the Arian/Nicene debates. It wasn’t just the truth of the Nicene faith or the superior theological skill of Athanasius and the Cappadocians that won the day. It was the fact that the day had to be won by someone. The church could not have Jesus as both God and not-god, with perhaps a diocesan option based on the opinion of your local bishop and his reading of the creed or something.

Those who disagreed with Rimini had no option but to stay and fight, even if that meant facing exile, imprisonment, torture, and even death. I would like to say that the unholy alliance between church and emperor would mean that, in overturning Rimini, its supporters would find themselves in a like position. I am not saying, that is, that the supporters of Rimini behaved much badly than anyone else — actually, I will.

The Emperor Constantius II, engineer and enforcer of Rimini (killer of various relatives, torturer of various bishops), was a bad dude.

Anyway, the ancient church saw itself as a single thing. Therefore, when a council claiming to represent the whole church made a ruling a bishop or theologian felt was wrong, he did not simply leave. He stayed and fought — this is why we have so much high theology running through the fourth century as the church argued over how to express the Godhead of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Before Chalcedon in 451, the only people who did leave were people who left because they believed that the hierarchy was, in fact, null and void. The Novatianists and Donatists believed that the holy orders of the rest of the church were invalid because of their treatment of the lapsed in the aftermath of persecution. They did not separate over doctrine, per se, but over canon law — if you believe that someone is unfit to be a bishop but has been selected by the church, anyway, it strikes me as a different category of separation from if you believe a council or bishop already in power has erred and separate from it or him. Donatists and Novatianists would argue that any of the unfit bishops’ actions would be invalid and inefficacious; it’s a different variety of schism from those today.

In our time, on the other hand, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada has decided that, since the bishops cannot agree on a major matter not simply of canon law but of moral theology (and therefore of biblical anthropology and the question of holiness and what sanctification looks like and the history of redemption and how we read the Bible — marriage is no small matter), that everyone can do as they please.

The result is that certain liberal/progressive/post-liberal bishops will authorise same-sex marriages within their dioceses. Others, including both traditionalists/conservatives/catholics-evangelicals and liberals/progressives/post-liberals of a certain mind on canon law and its pastoral use, will not.

Why even have a General Synod or a national church, in that case?

cut rant about canon law and remedies and church order short here

The disillusioned and weary will continue to leave, I can assure you.

Most of those who leave will be traditionalist/conservative/catholic-evangelical types. They will go where they have been going for a decade or more — the Anglican Network in Canada, the Anglican Mission in Canada, the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, maybe even the Anglican Catholic Church, as well as whatever evangelical congregation is nearest home or has the best preaching or the best outreach to the homeless or whatever other criterion one uses in choosing a church that is not actually one’s ultimate preference. (We go for the criteria: ‘closest to home with preaching we can stand and working with nap time’ ourselves.)

I know not the mind of the liberals/progressives/post-liberals who support same-sex marriage and were disappointed by the failure to change the marriage canon — especially those in dioceses with bishops who will not endorse lawlessness. I can see some finally giving up and leaving the church altogether, or others going to the United Church which seems to have a more united (ha!) front on this issue. I bet some who would have stayed to fight for a change to the marriage canon will leave now that lawlessness is the way forward.

This is the chief difference between now and 359. There is always somewhere else to go for the weary Anglican who doesn’t want to give up on church. I thought of this one Sunday sitting quietly and anonymously at a megachurch in Vancouver. How many other weary Anglicans attended that service, happy to hear a sermon about our mission as Christians, sad maybe not to have the liturgy, but somewhere inside, relieved not to continue this pestilential non-conversation, fake dialogue of people talking past each other even when they have goodwill.

All churches, whether evangelical or mainline, but especially white ones, in Canada are haemorrhaging members. This will only accelerate the Anglican Church of Canada’s decline.

Well done, General Synod.

Law and Mercy

I was looking at Cresconius, Concordia canonum, from the mid-500s today, and I see that he prefigures in some ways Ivo, Bishop of Chartres (1090-1115). Both of these men are compilers of canon law collections, taking excerpts and canons and arranging them topically to make life easier for those who have to deal with those who transgress church law.

Cresconius writes:

when an extremely fair judge has examined for himself that each and every canonical ruling of a decree concerning which a question has been stirred up at some time has been set in order in many ways, he may learn by proveable examination whether he ought to guide his judgement through severity or through leniency. (My translation)

Thus, looking at the options available, a(n episcopal) judge can make use of his own discretion, his own discernment (an ancient Christian virtue) and decide which option to choose.

The principle seems similar to that of Ivo, who believes that the variations amongst the canons are not to be explained away or one to be chosen above another as universally correct. Rather, he argues that one should follow the paths of justice or mercy based upon the case.

In this we have been led to caution the prudent reader that if perhaps he should read some things that he may not fully understand, or judge them to be contradictory, he should not immediately take offense but instead should diligently consider what pertains to rigor, to moderation, to judgment, or to mercy. For he did not perceive these things to disagree among themselves who said, ‘Mercy and judgment I will sing to you, O Lord,’ (Ps 101:1) and elsewhere, ‘All the pathways of the Lord are mercy and truth.’ (Ps 25:10) (Trans. Somerville & Brasington)

Things to ponder, I guess.

Going to church with wicked people

St Augustine, by Philippe de Champaigne

Related to Blogging Benedict: Punishment, today I read Ivo of Chartres (1040-1115), Ep. 186. In this letter, Ivo responds to a query from a monk named Laurence on questions of living with wicked (mali) people. The long and short of it, with testimonia from St Augustine and Pope Gregory VII (pope, 1073-1085), is that you must put up with them, by and large.

Receiving communion alongside a person whom you know (or think) is a sinner is not entering into communion with their wickedness but into communion with Christ. It is God who will judge such people. Our job is to love them. If their sin is privately known, you cannot refuse communication with them. If, however, they are impenitent, public sinners, then they should fall under excommunication from the proper orders within the church. Not, that is, you. Your job is to love them. Or, if they are excommunicate, to avoid them.

Remember the Augustinian line taken from the parable of the tares: If we try to pluck out the tares before the harvest, we may accidentally cut down some of wheat along with them.

Also, you shouldn’t receive gifts from the excommunicate on the grounds that, well, they are excommunicate. The earth, says Ivo (Augustine), is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. God doesn’t need their gifts. He wants their repentance.

Placing this letter in the wider context of Ivo’s thought, we need to remember that he argues for the discipline of the church as being a remedy. The goal of excommunication, as with penance, is to heal the sinner and help him’er not sin anymore.

The main point for us today is not to spend our lives sitting around in judgement of fellow churchgoers. It’s pretty easy sometimes. Perhaps you suspect someone of heresy. Or of drinking too much. Or of judgementalism due to being a teetotaller. Or of greediness. Or of any manner of personal/sinful deficiency.

It is not our role to sit in judgement on them. The merciful God is who rich in mercy, abounding in compassion whilst also perfectly just and wholly loving will do that, is doing that. Our job is to love others.

Mind you, I fear that the clergy may sometimes have to excommunicate, and I say that not just because Ivo does (for who is Ivo to me?) but because Ivo cites the apostles on the matter. Nonetheless, it is a grave thing and to be done with much prayer and for the goal of healing the broken Christian and the broken community, not in a spirit of vindictiveness and retribution.

Justice, righteousness, law

Image of an Archbishop from Anselm’s Prayers and Meditations found in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Auct. D. 2. 6 (12th c)

My current direction of research is focussed upon Latin canon law, turning between its origins in the fifth century and its manuscripts around 1100 in Durham. One of the trains of thought I find myself moving down every once in a while is the integration of canon law with wider knowledge, specifically as an element of theology.

To that end, the following passage from St Anselm of Canterbury is worth pondering:

S. So what is the evil that makes them bad and the good that makes them good?

T. We should hold that justice is the good whereby they are good or just, both angels and men, and that whereby the will itself is called his and just; and injustice is the evil that is only a privation is the good, and makes angels and men bad and makes their will bad. So we should say that injustice is nothing but the privation of justice. As long as the will originally given to a rational nature is simultaneously oriented to its rectitude by the same act with which God gives it, thus not only inclined to rectitude, but created right, that is, oriented to what it ought to do, as long as, I say, the will remains in that rectitude that we call truth or justice, it was just. But when it distanced itself from what it ought and turned itself against it, it did not remain in the original rectitude in which it was created. And when it abandoned it, it list something great, and acquired in exchange only the privation of justice we call injustice and that has no positive being. –On the Fall of the Devil, ch. 9 (trans. in Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, ed. B. Davies and G. Evans, p. 206).

The word justice here is, of course, iustitia. In other contexts, we would translate iustitia as righteousness and iustus as righteous rather than just. We see here also rectitude, which is a matter of order. In Law and Theology in the Middle Ages, G. R. Evans discusses the fact that rectitudo is about the right ordering of human relationships in light of the wider cosmos.

Canon law is the law of the church, and it is about the ordering of our human relationships rightly in line with divine principles as derived from Scripture and tradition (the Fathers, the councils, the popes). At a theoretical level, then, the canons of the church are not mere ‘dead’ regulations as perhaps people view them today. Rather, they are seen as manifestations of how we can live in accordance with divine rectitude.

In the Anselmian passage above, the more we live in line with rectitude, the more we live according to justice/righteousness, and the more we are just/righteous. In a way, this is the whole of practical theology, isn’t it? The whole of ethics? If we live justly, then we become just. Righteousness. The ius, the law, helps us do so.

But we have not remained in our ‘original rectitude’, and so we often fall into unjust living contrary to rectitude and justice and are thus bad. How we get out of this so that we can live according to justice is the subject of Cur Deus Homo.

My final thoughts are that this is a reminder of the integrated mindset of the patristic and medieval thinker. We are just because we live justly. While they would probably agree with the phrase simul iustus et peccator, they would be confused by the absolute division between us becoming just by grace and us demonstrating that we are just by our actions, a division often asserted by Protestants.

God makes us just. We thus live justly. By living in accord with justice, we become just. It is an integrated matrix of the whole. God works in us as we work ourselves. In the Greek tradition, it is called synergeia. And I, for one, am not sure that it is any worse than sixteenth-century theological maxims. It may even be better…

Dionysius Exiguus and church councils

The Council of Nicaea
Council of Nicaea, St Sozomen’s Church, Galata, Cyprus

In the introduction to his collection of canon law documents (canonical collection), Dionysius Exiguus (c. 525) discusses how the Greek canon is the same as the Latin regula, then moves on to a discussion of the (then) four main councils:

Now, the canons of the general councils begin from the times of Constantine since in the preceding years when persecution was raging, opportunity for teaching the people was least given. Then Christianity was divided into various heresies because there was no freedom for the bishops to come together into one except in the time of the abovementioned emperor. For he gave the opportunity to Christians to gather freely. Under this also the holy fathers, coming from all the globe of the lands in the Nicene Council handed down the second symbolum (henceforth ‘creed’) after the Apostles joined to the evangelical and apostolic faith. Amongst the rest of the councils, there are four venerable synods which principally embrace the whole faith just like the four Gospels and as many rivers of Paradise.

Of these, the first was the Nicene Synod of the three hundred and eighteen bishops, carried out with Constantine Augustus ruling. In this one, the blasphemy of the Arian falsehood was condemned, which concerning the inequality of the Holy Trinity that Arius indeed asserted, the holy synod defined that God the Son is consubstantial with God the Father through a creed.

The second synod of 400 fathers under Theodosius the Elder was gathered at Constantinople which, condemning Macedonius who denied that the Holy Spirit was God, demonstrated that the Holy Spirit is consubstantial with the Father and the Son, giving the shape to the creed which the entire confession of the Greeks and Latins proclaim in the churches.

The third synod is the first of Ephesus, of 200 bishops, produced under Theodosius the Younger, which justly condemned in an anathema Nestorius who was asserting that there were two persons in Christ, showing that there is one person of the Lord Jesus Christ in two natures.

The fourth synod, that of Chalcedon of 630 priests (sacerdotes), was held under the princeps Marcian. In it, one judgement of the fathers condemned Eutyches, an abbot of Constantinople who was a defender of the one nature of God the Word and the flesh, and a certain Bishop of Alexandria and Nestorius himself again with the rest of the heretics. The same synod proclaimed that Christ God was so born from the virgin that we confess in him the substance of the divine and human nature.

These are the four principal synods that proclaim most fully the teaching of the faith but also, if there are councils which the holy fathers, filled with the Spirit of God, sanctify after the authority of these four, they would remain with a sturdy strength, whose established deeds are contained in this work. (My trans. from Vat. lat. 1337, fol. 1r-v)

Dionysius’ main concern is not, of course, their doctrinal rulings, although he does include the symbolum of Nicaea amongst his texts. His concern is their canons, their regulations for church life, all of which he freshly translated out of Greek into Latin alongside the regulations from various local church councils and the document called the ‘Canons of the Apostles’. Later on he compiles a collection of papal letters (thus my interest in him). This letter collection is appended to that of the canons.

One quick reflection upon what is an intrinsically interesting document. All four councils were called by emperors, all of whom Dionysius names — Constantine, Theodosius I, Theodosius II, Marcian. Indeed, he states that such general councils would not have been possible before Constantine because of boiling persecution (persecutione feruente). This point is made elsewhere. It is worth thinking on. Today, we have no emperor to make safe the roads and compel bishops to come by edict. But back then, that was the only way to get as many together to qualify as worldwide (ecumenical). Note also that Dionysius leaves room for more councils!

It is also worth remembering that local synods are attested frequently before Constantine, such as the deposition of Paul of Samosata at an Antiochene synod in the 200s, or various local synods in Rome. Or others that escape my mind but likely happened. From the Council of Jerusalem in Acts, church leaders have always sought to gather together to discuss, pray, and debate thereby discovering what ‘seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’ (Acts 15:28).

Canon Law will save the world

I have decided that canon law will save the world.

Or, at least, having some knowledge of it and protecting the right of churches to operate within the bounds of canon law.

As opposed to secular law, of course.

The idea first came to mind when I observed the large amount of hate (or mockery or disdain or loathing) being heaped upon the Sabellian heretic Kim Davis. Davis, if you have been happily unaware, is a county clerk in the USA who decided to stop issuing marriage licences on the grounds that said licences would have her name on them, and the US gov’t considers certain couples eligible that she, a member of the (oneness) Solid Rock Apostolic Church, does not consider eligible. She resisted a court order, went to jail, was subsequently released.

I think a proper concept of canon law would give someone like Kim Davis a way out. Or she should just quit her job, if secular law and canon law have diverged to such a degree that she feels that doing her job in secular law involves too many uncanonical activities. With an understanding of the concept of canon law — that the church has certain regulations that she follows for the ordering of the body of its members — the Christian can say, ‘I may not like what the secular legislation concerning marriage says, but my church is still free to regulate and order marriage as it sees fit.’

In fact, before any thought of same-sex marriage had passed through anyone’s minds, the Roman Catholic Church (and, formerly, most Protestant denominations) already considered certain persons ineligible for marriage under canon law who were eligible under secular law — divorced people whose divorced spouse was still living and who hadn’t successfully got their previous marriage annulled.

In a world that favours pluralism, Christians should probably stop trying to enforce our regulations on everyone but seek, instead, to uphold the right to live in our peculiar way, in peace with those around us — similar, in fact, to the way Orthodox Jews and other conservative religious minorites live.

Alternatively, if one believes that same-sex marriage will completely tear apart the fabric of society (I think no-fault divorce, thoughtless marriages, and adultery are probably far worse than same-sex marriage), one should petition politicians and seek out clear and articulate and non-angry ways to express why, exactly, same-sex marriage is bad for our countries. But this is not the same as unilaterally deciding not to issue marriage licences, which results in a victory for no one.

But Christians aren’t the only people canon law can save. As this post by Scott Eric Alt demonstrates, knowing canon law can help people interpret what on earth the Roman Catholic Church and its Pope are up to. The aforementioned post is about Pope Francis’ ‘Year of Mercy’, wherein those women who are under excommunication for abortions can have the excommunication lifted by normal, auricular confession to a parish priest, rather than going through the hierarchy to a bishop.

This offer of mercy has been gravely misunderstood, largely because people have no knowledge of Roman canon law, and because they have no concept of canon law to begin with. If we accept that such a thing as canon law exists for the regulation of the church, then we have to realise that when the pope legislates any aspect of church life, he is not getting involved in American politics, but trying to find a way to order the lives of Catholics that will be consonant with the tradition and with their spiritual wellbeing.

The Roman Catholic Church believes that abortion is a sin called infanticide. Regardless of what the secular law says, this fact will never change. What can change are the regulations concerning what to do when someone has committed this sin, and — as it turns out — only some people are excommunicated. The pope is trying to extend mercy and love to people who have been excluded by the church’s current regulations. He is not lobbying western governments to change secular law; he is extending mercy through the channels of canon law.

Through coming to understand the concept of canon law, those not bound by it can find ways that they can extend mercy to their bizarre neighbours who have this other set of regulations to live by. This would be much better than the shrill nature of current Internet discourse, where both Left and Right holler at each other and seek to drown each other out and silence each other and ridicule each other.

And for those Christians who fear that I am recommending that we ‘give up’ ‘the fight’, it depends what ‘fight’. If we want to see a decrease in abortions, or a return to ‘traditional’ marriage (which goes far beyond mere heterosexual monogamy), we should be seeking to bring people to the King of Love, to the foot of the Cross, where they can be washed clean by the blood of Jesus and submit themselves to His rule. The current state of affairs just paints us as hatemongers and misogynists.

Pope Question: Why study Leo the Great?

pope clipartThis question, phrased in various ways, is a totally legitimate Pope Question that people ask, one that also falls definitively into the category of ‘Thesis Questions’. Why study Leo the Great? What makes Pope Leo I interesting?

First, I wanted to deal with the manuscripts and textual criticism of a fifth-century Latin text. So, apart from any intrinsic interest Leo holds, this was an overriding consideration when I decided to choose a topic — choose something that needs doing. And Leo I’s letters need doing, as one of my undergraduate proferssors pointed out to me.

Second, I’m also interested in the Council of Chalcedon of 451. I’ve translated its Definitio Fidei, after all. This event is a highly significant moment in the history of Christianity. To investigate Chalcedon is to end up looking not only into the history of Christology but also into the relationship between the imperial  and ecclesiastical powers, the formation of the Oriental Orthodox churches, the relationship between Eastern and Western Christianity, the development of papal power/authority, the development of canon law. Since Leo helped orchestrate the whole thing, he once again fits the bill.

From the pragmatic angle of choosing something interesting that needs doing, these are really the reasons I chose Pope Leo I’s letters as the area of my dissertation’s investigation. From today’s vantage point, after three and a half years of research into Leo and the tradition of his manuscripts, I can give a much bigger, fuller, and broader answer as to why someone should study Leo the Great.

First of all, there is still inevitably his Christology, tied up the with Chalcedon issue above. There have been some recent monographs on Leo’s Christology, and they are good; they show the integrated nature of his thinking and some of his relationship with the prior Latin tradition as well as with the Greek tradition represented by St Cyril of Alexandria. There is, however, always more to be done, new angles to be approached, new techniques to be employed. His Christology is of far-reaching importance in Latin Christianity — Leonine hardliners actually went into schism with Rome over what they perceived as an abrogation of Chalcedon in the sixth-century Three Chapters Controversy, for example.

What makes Pope Leo ‘the Great’? Precisely his Christological teaching, primarily in The Tome, but also in the ‘Second’ Tome and a variety of sermons, not to mention scattered throughout his letters, both pastoral and dogmatic. Whatever the faults in his thinking that many modern scholars have plucked at, he is a massively influential figure in western theology, probably not only because he was a pope whose teaching was enshrined at what was perceived as an ecumenical council but also because he wrote so much less than guys like Augustine and Ambrose.

Remember, Christology ties itself into the centre of all Christian theology — how you formulate the nature(s), person, and work of Christ touches upon the Trinity and salvation, and, as Leo’s sermons show, Christian ethics. Leo is worth studying for this aspect alone.

Second, Pope Reasons. Leo is worth studying not just for his Christology but how he went about promoting it as well as his views on a variety of canonical matters. Leo is one of the first bishops of Rome to articulate a theory of the papacy, the heart of which is the Petrine primacy. And not only does he articulate it, he acts on it. Not always in a heavy-handed way, and probably because he thought he was right (that is, not out of personal gain) — thus his engineering of Chalcedon, but also his wide variety of letters to western bishops on matters of canon law.

Third, he is an important source for early western canon law. Leo the Great provides us with more letters than any other Bishop of Rome before Gregory the Great (590-604), and of these, more decretals. A decretal is, in later mediaeval and modern canonistic discourse, a papal letter with a universal binding force in canon law. I doubt Leo saw his quite that way, although he would certainly not have minded. They are letters about canon law and ordering of the church. Leo’s decretals touch on issues ranging from when to baptise people and whether to rebaptise people baptised by heretics (no) to the reconciliation of heretics with the church and whether monks can join the army (no). He addresses a lot of issues in canon law, and our earliest surviving collections of canon law documents include Leo.

His letters are compiled into great collections for canon law ranging up to 102 letters in one case, and throughout the Middle Ages, people use excerpts from Leo in their canonistic compendia — over 60 such compendia, in fact.

Finally, Leo’s letters are a valuable source for the human side of some events. Many stories are left untold by the historians, but hints and traces exist in these letters. For example, the Bishop of Narbonensis wrote to Leo asking what to do about people who lost Christian parents when very young and are now, as adults, uncertain as to whether they were baptised. Narbonensis had been invaded by Goths in 436 and the city of Narbonne besieged. Leo’s response to Rusticus of Narbonne reminds us of the human face of war and the war orphans of the fifth century. That is one example — I could give many.

Leo the Great was pope for the central two decades of the fifth century. He died 25 years before the deposition of the alst western Roman Emperor. His letters are important for our understanding of the Later Roman Empire, for our understanding of the church and its theology in that age, as well as for the culture and history of the time more broadly.

Why not study Leo the Great?

As always, Canon Law gives unique insights into the ancient church

Council of Nicaea

This afternoon, I read through the Canons of the Council of Nicaea (325), the Canons of the Council of Serdica (344), and the Apostolic Canons (before 347), looking for precedents for the statements in Leo’s decretals. I found a few, and I found some other interesting things along the way.

By and large, these fourth-century canonical documents show us a concern in the Church for the behaviour of ambitious bishops. Bishops are restricted from being translated to different cities. Restrictions are placed on the elevation of small towns to bishoprics. Bishops are not allowed to treat church wealth as their own; neither are their heirs allowed to inherit church property. People aren’t allowed to enlist secular authority to get their hands on a bishopric.

Alongside the bishops, the other clergy are a concern. They can’t just up and run off into another diocese whenever they feel like it, for example. And they will be deposed for a variety of issues.

What we see in the fourth century then, as councils are gathering and people are forging documents in the apostles’ names, is a church that has a bit of disorder but which, now that it is emerging from hiding, hopes now to gain more order and curtail abuses, since things can now more easily come to the light of day.

Amidst interesting observations like that, I found the Apostolic Canons good fun at times. For example:

Canon XXVII. (XXVIII.)

If a bishop, presbyter, or deacon shall strike any of the faithful who have sinned, or of the unbelievers who have done wrong, with the intention of frightening them, we command that he be deposed. For our Lord has by no means taught us to do so, but, on the contrary, when he was smitten he smote not again, when he was reviled he reviled not again, when he suffered he threatened not.

My brother, when I posted this on Facebook a while ago, asked what would happen if a clergyman struck someone intending to do violence. Nothing, unless the person died, it seems:

Canon LXV.

If any clergyman shall strike anyone in a contest, and kill him with one blow, let him be deposed for his violence. If a layman do so, let him be excommunicated.

I am particularly struck by the emphasis on ‘kill him with one blow.’

Of course, violence is not the only concern. So is dining out:

Canon LIV.

If any of the clergy be found eating in a tavern, let him be excommunicated, unless he has been constrained by necessity, on a journey, to lodge in an inn.

We also get a sense of the general failings of ordinary clergy as less-than-shining beacons of good sense, sensitivity, and goodness:

Canon LVII.

If any of the clergy mock the lame, or the deaf, or the blind, or him who is infirm in his legs, let him be excommunicated.In like manner any of the laity.

Finally, the issue of passing on church property as inheritance. While celibacy for deacons, presbyters, and bishops was the norm in the Roman Church since an early date, the universal application and legislation of the rule during the Gregorian Reforms of the latter half of the 11th century was due in part to the issue of inheritance. Bishops and presbyters were acting like ‘feudal’ lords and passing on church property to their sons.

Canon LXXVI.

A bishop must not, out of favour to a brother or a son, or any other relation, ordain whom he will to the episcopal dignity; for it is not right to make heirs of the bishopric, giving the things of God to human affections. Neither is it fitting to subject the Church of God to heirs. But if anyone shall do so let the ordination be void, and the ordainer himself be punished with excommunication.

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.

You know your Isidore is ‘Pseudo-‘ when …

Hincmar of Reims

So I’m in Florence right now. In case you missed that. And for those who were envying the Cypriot weather, the buckets of rain falling from the heavens today as I shivered from San Lorenzo to the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze will make you less envious.

At the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale this afternoon, I was perusing a manuscript containing a large swath of papal letters from Clement I (d. 97) to Leo I (d. 461), with a few items from Constantine and Athanasius thrown in for good measure. I didn’t spend any time determining the veracity of the Constantinian and Athanasian documents. However, there was a clue that not all of these documents were above board. Some of the letters began with the phrase:

seruus seruorum Dei

Now, you’re probably thinking, ‘Isn’t “servant of the servants of God” how all popes start letters?’ And you’d be almost right — it’s how most popes after Gregory I start most of their letters.

Wait. Gregory I?

Wasn’t he pope from 590-604?

He sure was.

Of course, I knew there would be forgeries in this manuscript (see below). However, it can be difficult sometimes to spot a papal forgery. You see, popes all write the same. This is partly because of the extreme conservativism inherent with the office — the Pope’s job is largely to maintain the tradition, but also to interpret it for a new generation. They tended to repeat one another, for one thing. If another pope had said it, the current pope will repeat his official ruling on a subject.

However, they also all write the same because eventually they aren’t writing much at all. The papal chancery is. I mean, they’re composing the letters and overseeing the content, but notarii do the actual writing by some point in the 600s, and probably earlier. We even have a seventh-century papal chancery style guide.

But there are ways to tell. Like ‘seruus seruorum Dei‘ turning up in a pre-Gregorian papal letter. Or early popes who obsess about primates and chorepiscopi. Or a letter from a pope like Leo I or Gregory I, who actually does have his own style, that isn’t in his own style.

But how did I know to expect forgeries?

Well, I knew that this manuscript is from a body of canon-law literature ascribed to ‘Isidorus Mercator’, affectionately known as ‘Pseudo-Isidore’. That ‘Pseudo-‘ on the front is a dead giveaway!

The Pseudo-Isidorian canonical collections, which encompass canons from church councils as well as papal letters from as early as possible — and even earlier (forgeries!) — up to Gregory the Great. The collection is a clever mixture of genuine and false material, alongside genuine material that has been modified to suit the Pseudo-Isidorian forgers.

They emerged in 844 (if I remember correctly) in the context of the later Carolingian wars wherein a number of bishops (esp. Hincmar of Reims) got themselves mixed up in things and wanted to limit the power of the secular authorities over them as well as of their own metropolitan bishops. So the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries were contrived. What makes them intriguing is the fact that they include so much genuine material, and are therefore of great importance to the transmission of authentic canon law material.

And I got to spend some time with Pseudo-Isidore today. I’ll go visit him again on Wednesday; tomorrow, I’m returning to Collectio Vaticana at the chilly Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.