The State of the Edition

I have not forgotten that I am Pseudo-Isidore’s editor, though I’m sure it seems that way. I have been proceeding, all along, with my plan for a preliminary edition from Vat. lat. 630, the most important manuscript of the A/B or – better – the Corbie version of the False Decretals.

To be useful and inform future work, this preliminary edition should include a complete accounting of Pseudo-Isidore’s sources. There is no point in building a simplified source apparatus that will simply have to be updated later on. Reconfronting the problem of Pseudo-Isidore’s sources from the ground up has made the edition slow-going, but now it is speeding up a bit.

I am pleased to include, finally, an edition of all five Ps.-Clement forgeries, as well as all the introductory material. Download the full file here, or find individual pieces on the Edition page. Beneath my edition lurks the fundamental work that Klaus Zechiel-Eckes and Karl-Georg Schon contributed towards a draft edition of Part I (the first 60 decretal forgeries) some years ago. The Latin text is now Vat. lat. 630 rather than their composite edition, and I have also revised the punctuation in ways major and minor. The source apparatus is also largely different. But there is a clear debt throughout to their work, as there will be for all of the first sixty forgeries. Errors remain entirely my own responsibility.

There are two aspects of the edition, as it has evolved to this point, that I’d like to explain here.

1. Paragraph numbers. The decretal forgeries need a good system of reference. Towards this end, I am assigning each forgery a system of paragraph numbers. Unfortunately, these numbers will have to differ from those in the marigns of Hinschius’s edition. Please don’t kill me, I know this is terrible, but I have good reasons. The Hinschius chapter numbers are borrowed from the A2 version of the forgeries, and they have two great flaws: The post-Damasus decretal forgeries in Part III don’t have these chapter numbers at all because the A2 version does not include these items; and they were not added by Pseudo-Isidore and often insert divisions at awkward moments. Occasionally they even interrupt sentences. They are bad.

In my unfinished introduction to the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries, I explain that Pseudo-Isidore’s composition is most coherent at the level of paragraphs. Most of the False Decretals advance a series of ideas that are not necessarily that closely connected with each other, in successive sections. In each of these sections a single authentic source tends to predominate. I have tried to identify these natural units, insofar as they exist, and provide them with numbers. This is not always completely satisfactory, but I have done my best.

I would propose that each decretal forgery be referenced by its Jaffé number and paragraph number. J3 †30.5, therefore, points you to the penultimate paragraph of the fifth Ps.-Clement forgery. I have also assigned distinct numbers to the address and dating clause of each decretal, as these often have a distinct source basis and and stand apart from the rest of each document.

2. The Formulae Pseudoisidorianae. I’ve said before that the False Decretals in particular approach many issues of procedural law, and other items central to Pseudo-Isidore’s program, via verbal formulae. These formulae appear to have been developed first of all in the capitulary repositories, such as the False Capitularies of Benedictus Levita. Thereafter Pseudo-Isidore used them again and again with variations great and small. It is this phenomenon that caused Emil Seckel to write that all the forgeries appear to be verfilzt, or interwoven, with each other.

Whenever a decretal forgery resorts to one of these formulae, the source apparatus threatens to become unbelievably complex. It must account for a) the authentic, material sources behind Pseudo-Isidore’s words; b) the capitulary repository that seems to be Pseudo-Isidore’s model or most immediate source at this moment; and c) parallel passages elsewhere in the forgery corpus.

At one point, for example, Ps.-Gregory I (J3 †2467) laments that bishops shouldn’t be bothered or harassed, quia eorum vexatio sive detractio ad Christum pertinet, cuius vice in ecclesia legatione funguntur (Hinschius, Decretales p. 750). Here is what a semi-complete source apparatus accounting of this phrase looks like:

Cf. 2. Cor. 5, 20: …pro Christo ergo legationem fungimur … Also Jonas of Orléans, De institutione regia, c. 2 (Dubreucq, Sources chrétiennes 407, p. 182, 37f.): Adtedendum quod Christi sacerdotum spretio ad iniuriam Christi pertineat. Also Aachen a. 836, Capitula de honore episcopali, praef. (Werminghoff, MGH Conc. 2, 2, p. 718, 31f.): Quapropter adtendendum est, quod sacerdotum Christi spretio ad iniuriam Christi pertinent, cuius vicem et ministerium gerunt. Here used either via Ben. Lev. I, 322e–f: … quia detractio sacerdotum ad Christum pertinet, cuius vice legatione funguntur in ecclesia; or via the nearly identical Ben. Lev. II, 99 (Seckel, NA 31, p. 109; NA 34, p. 355f.). The false decretals yield many parallels: Ps.-Anacletus, J3 †2 and J3 †3; Ps.-Evaristus J3 †21; Ps.-Lucius, J3 †123; Ps.-Eusebius, J3 †165; Excerpta Sylvestri; Ps.-Damasus I, J3 †243 (Hinschius, Decretales p. 68, 77, 91, 175, 239, 450, 506).

Now, I suspect that users of the edition will find the above less than obvious. And because variations upon this ad Christum – funguntur formula occur many, many times throughout the forgeries, with all kinds of variations, some version of this entry would have to be reproduced over and over again in the apparatus fontium. What is worse, in some iterations, Pseudo-Isidore might innovate so much that all trace of the connection with Jonas is lost, save for a single word, like detractio. Normally a single word isn’t enough to demonstrate dependence on a source (a lot of people have used the word detractio), but in this case of course there is no doubt  that Jonas is in the air, given other instances of the formula. The source apparatus would have to explain all of this to a puzzled reader who merely wants to know why detractio has been italicised in the main text, and what is going on. And finally, one point that I think readers really do need to know – whether the decretals forger is using Benedictus Levita at this point, or the material sources; and how I know that – is an additional thing to explain and an additional complication on top of all the others.

My vision is that the edition should disentangle Pseudo-Isidore, rather than merely report on his entanglements. I have thought about how to do that, and I have developed a solution. The problem is that, in cases like this, Pseudo-Isidore is not really drawing on any of the sources I have listed. He is instead repeating phrases he has internalised. This world of internalised phraseology – the Formulae Pseudoisidorianae – are the actual source in passages like that from Ps.-Gregory.

To make this clear, I propose to print all formulaic words in the edited text in small caps. Like this:


Those portions of the formula that derive from some authentic source or other are also italicised. Those formulaic words that instead originate with Benedictus Levita or elsewhere, but not in an authentic source, are not italicised. I know this is fussy and looks terrible, but the overall effect is to highlight those ideas and words that Pseudo-Isidore repeats over and over again, because they are so important to him; and to make their derivation as graphically clear as I can.

The source apparatus, for its part, is radically simplified. The entry corresponding to the above passage is as follows:

55 – 59 Nullus … potest: cfr Form. Ps. Episcopus expoliatus.

Form. Ps. = Formula Pseudoisidoriana. In the side bar there is now a section, Formulae Pseudoisidorianae, where these are indexed. These are my working documents, reflect the current state of the edition, and will expand over time. There, you will find that Episcopus expoliatus has its own entry, which clarifies the material sources, adduces all occurrences in the capitulary repositories, and finally lists all related passages in the False Decretals that I have so far edited. (This final list is only complete through the Ps.-Clement forgeries, for now).

There are of course edge cases. Sometimes Pseudo-Isidore merely reuses a clause two or three times, and the associated issues do not rise to the level of a formula. I’ve demoted a few Formulae already and folded my accounting back into the apparatus fontium. By and large, however, formulaic usages are extremely clear. Already my small collection of Formulae Pseudoisidorianae reflects a good part of Pseudo-Isidore’s program. Over time, as it grows more complete, I hope it will bring more and more clarity to the forger’s most central concerns.

A Reductive and Wholly Unsourced Theory of the Carolingian Age

The Carolingian Age lasted a short time, from the middle of the eighth to just beyond the brink of the tenth century. It is a period that differs sharply from what came before and after, distinguished by abundant sources, expansive military campaigns, very bad poetry, mass public bathing, an elephant, and several failed public works projects.

Why did the Carolingian Age happen? What made the Frankish kingdoms under the Carolingians different? Why did they vanish when they did?

These are complex questions. Here I propose to give them an inadequate, reductive, unoriginal and oversimplified answer.

No small part of what makes the Carolingian Age different from prior Ages, is a  compromise the Carolingian kings achieved with the church. This compromise related to ecclesiastical property and gave rulers a new kind of access to the church’s stuff. Enforcing the terms of the compromise, however, required the Carolingians to maintain a measure of unified authority and control. When the Frankish world fragmented politically, reformers were suddenly free to defend the property of their religious institutions directly. This was bad. It hastened the decline of the Frankish kingdoms and brought an end to the era of roasted (rather than boiled) meat.

1. By the eighth century, generations of pious aristocrats had bequeathed the western church untold wealth. This wealth was an entombed resource. Kings might get at it, but only at the risk of provoking a fearsome hue and cry. This might hurt their feelings, or worse, ruin their hold on power. There was also the problem of irritating God and spending eternity in hell.

2. The Pippinids nevertheless pillaged church property as necessary, and this put them on a collision course with their clergy. Happily, they lived in an era when the Frankish church was being remade by missionary-reformers such as Boniface. People like Carloman and Pippin III had a natural interest in managing and directing this remaking. This paid dividends, in that they struck a compromise with ecclesiastical interests in the new era. This compromise was multifaceted. One important facet, was that kings won the right to grant certain church properties to their magnates in benefice, while the church remained the formally recognised owner of the leased property and was owed the nona et decima from the proceeds. Everybody knows this history, it is boring even to type it. There were other devices too. Carolingians could appoint lay abbots at royal monasteries. They might leave wealthy sees vacant for a few years now and again and attach the revenues, while a chorbishop on a modest salary saw to it that the smells and the bells maintained the usual schedule.

3. This pragmatic interest in the property of the church enmeshed Carolingian monarchin church affairs, and it enmeshed the church in governmental affairs. Thus the entire nature of our source material changes in the Carolingian Age, as the world of literate clerics and monks is allowed to gaze upon the inner-workings of power. Charlemagne finds himself presiding over a palace school where learned types gathered to assign each other flattering classical nicknames and read the emperor bedtime stories from Augustine’s City of God. The church found it easier to overlook some appropriations after it was ceded this political prominence. A generation of clerics grew up within this compromise and took charge of the wealthiest dioceses and monasteries.

4. Alas that was not enough. Thanks to fanatics and moral botherers, reform sentiments in Frankish aristocratic circles adopted a trajectory that was wholly their own. With each passing decade, the reformers found ever more impieties that called for ever more reform. Suddenly the lay abbacies made everyone uncomfortable. The vacant sees made everyone uncomfortable. And the precarial grants issued by kings – the details and the practice of these, too, began to make many people uncomfortable.

5. The Carolingians had no choice, therefore, but to control the moral apparatus. From the beginning they favoured a hierarchically organised church, and it was a happy coincidence that the reformers also wanted this. It brought the points of control at the top nearer to the king and made the means of control more legible to him. Increasing cultic focus on Rome and reverence for its bishops – a legacy of the Anglo-Saxon mission – also played into this program. To overstate matters, Charlemagne assimilated the papacy. Many individual actors throughout the church might resent the way ecclesiastical property was appropriated for foreign wars and the enrichment of favourites. Oh well. The preaching and the legislation of the Christian church was coordinated along Carolingian-friendly lines under Charlemagne and particularly under Louis the Pious. Dissenting voices were shut out. We see this particularly at the height of episcopal reform in the 820s. From the great reform councils of 829, only the Paris acta achieved circulation. These were not ordinary conciliar decrees, but an extended manifesto composed by the emperor’s close collaborator, Jonas of Orléans. This was the maximum reform Louis the Pious would permit the church, with whose resources he governed. Other views of reform have hardly survived from this period.

6. The defenders of church property are heard clearly only when Carolingian political unity begins to fall apart. The first big moment follows the failed coup of 833/834. The 836 Council of Aachen directed a long letter to Pippin of Aquitaine, deploring his appropriations of church estates. This document again represents the work of Jonas of Orléans. Crucially, the rhetoric is directed outwards, to Louis’s son, rather than towards the center of imperial power. It was but an early sign of the coming breakdown. After 840 our sources speak in defense of church property like never before. For one thing, the increasingly assertive papacy, no longer dominated by the Carolingians and newly positioned to play one ruler off against the other, could speak openly on behalf of the church and its possessions. Ecclesiastical institutions in France and Germany, now governed by weaker monarchs, also began demanding changes to the compromise. They  had long regarded many aspects of royal interference in their property as impious and abusive. Pseudo-Isidore forged many ancient decretals and capitularies defending the inviolability of church possessions. This was more fuel to the fire.

7. Thereafter a great many other things happened, most of them minutiae such as the Ottonian period, which I will not go into because this is already long enough.

Now, even though everything above this is wrong, I will write this concluding bit as if it were all set in stone and absolutely the truth of it all.

The management of the reform trajectory was central to the Carolingian program. As reform grew more insistent, the Carolingians depended on unified political power and a regularised ecclesiastical hierarchy under their control. Pseudo-Isidore’s vision of a church withdrawn from Carolingian political influence, and governed by an independent Rome – this would not have been amenable to Carolingians like Charlemagne or Louis the Pious. The idea that Pseudo-Isidore concocted his forgeries as a member of the (now -defunct) ‘Unity Party’ was always wrong. Pseudo-Isidore’s brand of reform is precisely the thing that Carolingian political unity and its associated reform-management was designed to prevent. Once Carolingian rulers lost control of reform, they had all kinds of problems. They could not even divorce their wives and marry their mistresses. This was not supposed to happen.

Towards a Theory of Pseudo-Isidore: VII

Previous part (with links, alas, to yet earlier parts) here.

Pseudo-Isidore used Vat. lat. 3803, a mid-ninth century Hadoard-codex from Corbie. It was through this codex that he knew the writings of Ennodius of Pavia, and from its folios that he incorporated bits of Ennodius’s prose into his decretal forgeries. Vat. lat. 3803, on its own, is enough to refute Zechiel-Eckes’s hypothesis that some core of the False Decretals date to the later 830s. Zechiel-Eckes claimed this early date especially for those decretals within the shorter A2 recension of Pseudo-Isidore. And yet it is precisely these decretals that are full of Ennodius extracts from Vat. lat. 3803, a manuscript that was copied a generation later than the date he envisioned.

If you add up everything in A2 that must postdate the 830s, you come up with at least 17 distinct forgeries. Fourteen decretals use Ennodius in some way or another from Vat. lat. 3803, and three further decretals discuss episcopal translation with a view towards justifying Ebo’s installation at Hildesheim after 845.

I want to insist that Pseudo-Isidore’s use of Vat. lat. 3803 is not really open to doubt. Or, maybe it is, but then you’d have to doubt the annotators discovered by Zechiel-Eckes as well and the broader association of Pseudo-Isidore with Corbie. It is necessary to be clear about this because the pattern of annotation in Vat. lat. 3803 differs somewhat from that in the annotated manuscripts that Zechiel-Eckes discovered. Nevertheless, we find here and there precisely the same notae. The colored image on the left is a Pseudo-Isidorian nota in Vat. lat. 3803. On the right we find undisputed Pseudo-Isidorian activity (the second line under nota hic is in precisely the same style) from the St. Petersburg codex of the Historia Tripartita (F.v.I.11):

Moreover, Vat. lat. 3803 carries various interlinear and marginal glosses. Their purpose is to clarify the sense of words in Ennodius’s difficult Latin.

Here is one of them:

3803 24r intentionis

In Pseudo-Isidore, these glosses tend to be misunderstood as additions and taken into the text, resulting in a long series of characteristic corruptions. Only by identifying Pseudo-Isidore’s source with Vat. lat. 3803 can we explain how these strange readings came about.

As I went over all this evidence I noticed a second thing:

Ennodius is all over the False Decretals, but he is almost nowhere in the False Capitularies of Benedictus Levita or in other Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries. Additionally, in the False Decretals, the Ennodius appropriations are associated with all manner of textual problems. The misunderstood glosses from Vat. lat. 3803 are not the half of it. In the A1 and A2 recensions, an unrelated letter of Ennodius is folded into a decretal forgery, of Ps.-Liberius, apparently by accident. There are other things too. The point is, one has the impression that Ennodius came to the decretal forger’s notice very late, and was never as fully integrated into the Pseudo-Isidorian universe as other sources. This probably also has something to do with the notae in Vat. lat. 3803 being atypical.

It seemed to me that other Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries probably do not have very much Ennodius, because they were earlier and predated the copying of Vat. lat. 3803. Now throughout the twentieth century there would have been nothing remarkable in floating this idea. A generation ago, it was standard to hold that the False Decretals are Pseudo-Isidore’s last product, and that they postdated the False Capitularies of Benedictus Levita. This was the hypothesis first put forward by Paul Hinschius in 1863. He offered pages and pages of source-critical analysis in support of it.

After 2000, however, Zechiel-Eckes turned this view on its head. For him, the False Decretals were likely Pseudo-Isidore’s earliest product. At best, they and the False Capitularies were contemporary developments. Zechiel-Eckes’s new approach did not emerge from an analysis of the False Capitularies and their many, complex textual ties to the decretal forgeries. Neither he nor his students addressed Hinschius’s old proofs at all. Instead, the drive to place Capitularies after Decretals was a consequence of Zechiel-Eckes’s arguments about dating. He wanted an early date for the False Decretals or some substantial subset of them, preferably somewhere in the later 830s. Yet the False Capitularies bear a preface that was written after 847. So Zechiel-Eckes disputed that the False Decretals postdate or depend upon the capitulary forgeries in any way.

In this he was wrong, and I have been quietly collecting evidence for a long time to show why and how. Vat. lat. 3803 provided yet another stone for this edifice. Last year, I finally put my ideas together in the form of another article:

Pseudo-Isidorus collectione Benedicti Levitae ut fonte usus est: A Defence of the Hinschius Thesis, Deutsches Archiv 75, 2 (2019). (Forthcoming still because of coronavirus.)

The pretentious Latin title is an allusion to Hinschius’s own statement of this thesis in the preface to Decretales Pseudo-Isidorianae.

This is the argument: Beyond the False Decretals, the Pseudo-Isidorian universe consists largely of compendia that gather textual snippets into various sub-collections. These snippets, or capitula, have mostly been lifted from authentic sources. Some of them have been concocted by Pseudo-Isidore himself from several different underlying authentica, and others have been invented outright. For large stretches, the False Decretals are themselves little more than textual snippets like these, the only difference being that they have been combined with one another and more heavily edited to form continuous discussions.

The False Capitularies of Benedictus Levita are merely the most massive repository of these capitula; other more minor repositories are things like the Capitula Angilramni and the Nonnullae sanctiones or Chalcedon Extracts. All of these capitula repositories, as I call them, exercise a wide-ranging priority over the False Decretals. The decretals forger turns to them frequently for help in building his pseudonymous papal letters. This is a very simple picture, and yet it is complicated by two wrinkles that have confused scholarship again and again:

1) The decretals forger often appears to know a slightly different — a slightly earlier — form of these repositories than has come down to us. This makes perfect sense, as we must imagine that the author of the False Decretals worked from internal drafts of these compendia. The Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries were not circulated piecemeal, as soon as each was finished. Rather, they were all put about at once, after the forger had ceased working, and apparently subjected to a final stage of minor redactions preparatory to this final step.

2) The decretals forger often bypasses the intermediary repositories and returns to the underlying material sources from which they were compiled. Thus, sometimes the False Decretals use the acta of Chalcedon through the Nonnullae sanctiones compiled from Paris lat. 11611, but other times they just go directly to Paris lat. 11611. This, too, makes sense, if we imagine that Pseudo-Isidore maintained access to most of his library throughout work on the project. Here, however, there are also very interesting patterns. The False Decretals almost always cite secular law through the intermediary capitula repositories, and almost never directly. Thus, for example, the vast majority of Roman law citations in the False Decretals run through the False Capitularies of Benedictus Levita or the Capitula Angilramni. When you find an exception, it is generally highly significant.

There are a lot of ways to prove the priority of the capitulary repositories. In fact, there are so many that my article could easily have been twice as long, or four times as long. I don’t want to type these proofs out here: That is what the article is for. Here, I want only to explain the relative chronology of the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries, as I see it. I’ll try to be clear about what I think is merely likely, and what I think is absolutely certain.

To begin with, it is all but certain that the False Capitularies of Benedictus Levita did not emerge en bloc, all at once. Rather, they accumulated over a long time and they form a kind of measuring stick against which to assess the relative chronology of other pieces.

Book I of Benedictus is likely among the oldest Pseudo-Isidorian products we have. The number of forged capitula is relatively low and the arrangement of the capitula is less complex. A long time ago I even dared to call Book I “quasi-Pseudo-Isidorian”, which is probably an overstatement, but I think not far wrong.

It is likely that the interpolated Hispana was produced in the course of Book I. In a few early capitula Benedictus Levita seems to cite an uninterpolated Hispana Gallica, whereas later on he appears to know only a version of the enhanced, interpolated text. Extensive excerpts from the interpolated Hispana in later sections of the False Capitularies, however, suggest here and there that work on the collection might have been underway in some form or another for a while.

Next is Book II, and here you can see the procedural sensibilities of the forgeries developing more fully. Book II, c. 381 is an important early statement of the procedural vision of the forgers. It is remarkable how complete the program is even at this early stage, and yet a keen reader of the Capitula Angilramni (the procedural vision at its most developed) will be able to spot some points that have yet to take shape.

Then comes Book III, the most complex of all, with the highest percentage of invented capitula and a greatly increased procedural anxiety. The Capitula Angilramni were certainly composed late in the development of Book III and the greater part of them are repeated there. Very late in Book III is likely also when the Nonnullae sanctiones, the excerpts from Chalcedon, were assembled.

At a still more advanced stage we have the so-called Additiones, or Appendices, to the False Capitula. In Additio III, we find an excerpt from Ennodius, at that point probably a fresh discovery on Pseudo-Isidore’s part. And then there is Additio IV, which appears to cite some of the decretal forgeries in the form of drafts that have not come down to us.

Last of all, of course, are the False Decretals. These draw on the False Capitularies of Benedictus Levita, but they do so carefully and silently. The conceit is that Benedictus is a contemporary, ninth-century compiler, which means that ancient popes could not cite his work without destroying the verisimilitude of their own pseudodecretals. Benedictus Levita, for his part, is hungry to cite canon law and especially decretals in support of his inventions, and there would be nothing anachronistic at all about him citing the False Decretals. Yet beyond the very late Additio IV, he is never able to make anything but the vaguest of gestures. This is because he worked before the False Decretals had been drafted.

It is worth asking why Pseudo-Isidore did not work in pseudo-chronological order. I think from the beginning the plan was to forge two great self-reinforcing compendia: One of canon law and one of secular law. If this was the idea, then Pseudo-Isidore should have forged the False Decretals first, so that the False Capitularies might have some decretal law to cite. Yet Pseudo-Isidore seems to have worked in the opposite direction.

In earlier days, I think it was the interpolated Hispana that was envisioned as the canon-law counterpart to the secular law of the False Capitularies. The Hispana was accordingly lightly retouched and supplemented as in Vat. lat. 1341 with the decretal forgeries in the name of Ps.-Damasus I. Much of this work happened very early on — as we have seen, parallel to Book I of the capitulary forgeries. Pseudo-Isidore, in other words, did try to develop the ancient canonical counterweight before most of his capitulary inventions.

Later on, however, the emphasis of the project shifted for some reason. It was decided not to issue the interpolated Hispana as a standalone collection to complement the False Capitularies. Instead, a new and far bolder project of canonical forgery was conceived, the creation of the False Decretals. These inventions, of course, overshadowed everything else that Pseudo-Isidore produced. Some early copies of the interpolated Hispana were perhaps dismembered to produce False Decretals manuscripts: thus we find flyleaves I and II in Vat. lat. 630 have been taken from an otherwise lost witness to this collection.

The Earliest Pseudo-Isidore Manuscript?

The dossier on chorbishops in Leiden, Voss. Lat. Q 108 and the dilemma of Pseudo-Leo, De privilegio chorepiscoporum.

76r detail

I am writing a book on what I’ll call the Pseudo-Isidorian dubiae. By this I mean a small pool of forgeries that are associated with Pseudo-Isidore, but that due to formal anomalies or strangeness in their manuscript tradition are of uncertain origins. This is obviously a fluid category, but as I see it three decretals raise particularly compelling and interesting questions worthy of extended study. These are Ps.-Leo, De privilegio chorepiscoporum (J3 †1118); the apocryphal exchange between Ps.-Felix of Sicily and Ps.-Gregory I (J3 †2466 and J3 †2467); and finally the notorious (Ps.?) Gregory IV decretal on behalf of Aldric of Le Mans (J3 †5174). The idea is to provide a decent edition of each one, along with a study of text, sources, purpose and relationship to the Pseudo-Isidorian corpus.

I went into the project thinking that it would be easy enough to lay all three items at Pseudo-Isidore’s door, but Ps.-Leo (ed. Hinschius, Decretales, p. 628) has proven uncooperative. Consider the manuscript tradition. We find the thing in four places:

    1. In A1 manuscripts of the False Decretals
    2. In C manuscripts of the False Decretals
    3. In four ninth-century manuscripts carrying canonical collections: Two Dionysio-Hadriana manuscripts, a Dacheriana manuscript (kind of: it’s complicated, wait for my book); and finally the crazy Berlin, Hamilton 132 that I have written about before.
    4. In Leiden, Voss. Lat. Q. 108, fol. 68-82: A dossier of Pseudo-Isidorian material on chorbishops copied at Fulda, perhaps for Hrabanus Maurus.

So I collated all these things, and found that by far the earliest, indeed the first, version of Ps.-Leo, is that on hand in 3), these canonical collections. In this earliest form, Ps.-Leo always comes with a brief appendix of canons that might be construed to the disadvantage of chorbishops, and the text suffers from a variety of infelicities that seem to reflect the forger’s great incompetence.

The A1 manuscripts at 1) try to fix the worst of these errors. They also omit the canonical appendix, which is why the Hinschius edition of Ps.-Leo ends abruptly with et reliqua, rather than what you might expect, namely some kind of conclusion and a dating clause. Finally, the C-version of Ps.-Leo is derived from an extant A1 codex (namely New Haven, Beinecke 442). It is not important for the early history that concerns me here but raises some issues of its own that I’ll probably post about later, when I understand them better.

Now, obviously, there is something missing from that list above. The other long version of the False Decretals, namely the A/B recension, does not have Ps.-Leo at all. Is this because the architects of A/B, at Corbie, didn’t have access to this text? Or did they instead refuse to include it in their compilation of the forgeries, perhaps because its argument was no longer relevant or, as I’ll argue in my book, even at cross-purposes to the aims of the decretal forgeries vis a vis chorbishops? If you opt for the latter view — that the A/B team had Ps.-Leo but suppressed it — you might nevertheless wonder what the A/B recension of this Ps.-Leo forgery looked like.

This is why item 4), the Leiden manuscript, is interesting.

Bernhard Bischoff has dated fols. 68-82 of VLQ 108 to the middle third of the ninth century. Klaus Zechiel-Eckes, who was anyway predisposed to believe that the decretal forgeries were very early, insisted that the script of the Leiden MS seemed to him like it must date to the earliest years of that window. His acolyte Clara Harder agrees. According to both of them, this is our earliest manuscript of the False Decretals.

A few authors have characterised the Pseudo-Isidorian items in VLQ 108 as a puzzle. Why should this little snippet of Pseuodisidoriana have gotten all the way to Mainz, and so early? A lot of questions about Pseudo-Isidore are hard, but this isn’t one of them. The Frankish chorepiscopate was especially ingrained in the German church east of the Rhine, while from the reign of Louis the Pious, reformers in the Frankish west regarded chorbishops with growing suspicion. The reasons for this are not entirely clear. Like archdeacons, chorbishops had come to be associated with a variety of abuses, but the late-stage reformers had also begun to cultivate a peculiar flavor of episcopalism that sought to set bishops as a class apart among the clergy, and chorbishops blurred the lines. The first shot across the bow of the chorepiscopate was fired by the 829 Council of Paris. The fathers who gathered there issued a canon banning chorbishops from performing confirmation.

These attitudes offended the more German sensibilities of Hrabanus Maurus, who was then abbot of Fulda. He responded to growing western anti-chorbishop sentiments with a letter to Drogo of Metz, defending the chorepiscopate as a Christian institution and chorepiscopal consecrations as surely valid. 

According to me, it is blindingly obvious that Pseudo-Isidore came across a copy of Hrabanus’s letter in defense of chorbishops. (I even have a very good idea of when and how that might have happened.) It irritated him enormously, and inspired him to produce two forgeries in response. The first is Ps.-Damasus, J3 †571: De vana superstitione corepiscoporum vitanda; the second is the lesser known and rather halfheartedly devised Ps.-John III, J3 †2022. Beyond our good friend Ps.-Leo of doubtful authorship (which does not seem to be directed against Hrabanus at all), these are the only decretal forgeries to take an explicit line against chorbishops.

The contents of the dossier in Leiden, Voss. Lat. Q. 108 fols. 68-82 are nothing but Ps.-Damasus and Ps.-John III, together our very own Ps.-Leo and two extracts from an authentic decretal of Innocent I (J3 701) that strictly speaking has nothing to do with chorbishops, but that had come to be bound up in ninth-century debate for reasons we need not explore right now. These items, copied by Fulda scribes, represent Hrabanus’s very understandable interest in these new legal texts, which struck at the heart of his argument. The collating I have done so far shows that the Leiden MS offers Ps.-Damasus and Ps.-John III in the A/B recension — that is, the version of the False Decretals assembled at Corbie, the best copy of which is Vat. lat. 630. But, as I typed just a few paragraphs above, there is no Ps.-Leo in Vat. lat. 630 or in our very few other A/B witnesses.

Is Ps.-Leo in the Leiden MS nevertheless the A/B version of Ps.-Leo, which the architects of Vat. lat. 630 and our other manuscripts set aside, for whatever reason?

Yes. Yes, it is.

I typed above that Ps.-Leo is an incompetent forgery. It abounds in moments of textual awkwardness and even grammatical misunderstandings. A subset of these textual problems are solved the same way in A1 manuscripts and in VLQ 108. But, on other matters, A1 and VLQ 108 provide their own distinct solutions. A1 and A/B handle textual corruptions in the interpolated Hispana in exactly the same way: They both draw on the same fund of fixes for the most glaring corruptions to afflict the text of the Hispana Gallica, but they apply their own independent solutions to a whole host of other issues. These and other matters are why A1 and A/B appear at many points to provide equally valid or ‘original’ readings.

The very few people who have read to this paragraph will be asking why exactly I have typed this much text on the obscure problem of Ps.-Leo, and what it means. I think it means these things:

First, the corrections of A1 and A/B to Ps.-Leo are interesting. They tend to show that this decretal wasn’t concocted by Pseudo-Isidore, mainly because it is such a mess that it requires substantial retouching, much the same as the Gallican Hispana was such a textual mess it required a bunch of conjectural revisions. Thus Ps.-Leo starts to look like one of Pseudo-Isidore’s sources, rather than one of his creations. At the same time, Ps.-Leo is not totally disconnected from Pseudo-Isidore. He also knows and uses the Gallican Hispana, a rather rare collection. He also includes an excerpt from the 829 Episcoporum relatio (BK 196), with some distinctive textual anomalies that also recur in Benedictus Levita’s extensive Relatio excerpts. Ps.-Leo, in other words, seems not to have been Pseudo-Isidore, but to have had access to some of the very same distinctive sources. He very likely helped shape Pseudo-Isidore’s own views on chorbishops, at least at the level of the False Capitularies. Who was Ps.-Leo, I wonder?

Did Pseudo-Isidore Die in 850?

Consider the following oddities.

1) We find traces of Pseudo-Isidore’s activity here and there throughout the 840s. The clearest example are the fingerprints he left on the decrees of the Council of Meaux/Paris from 845. Several capitula rehearse Pseudo-Isidorian ideas about chorbishops, the consecration of chrism, and the integrity of church property. They do so vaguely and distantly, filtered through somebody else’s prose, and qualified by other points of view. After the later 840s, traces like these, of a living breathing Pseudo-Isidore with committee assignments, evaporate and never return.

2) The picture from inside is exactly the same. The forgeries respond to events from the reign of Louis the Pious, particularly the Council of Thionville from 835. Much of their procedural law strives to exclude episcopal depositions like those enacted there. As one progresses from the earliest forgeries (the Hispana, Benedictus Levita Book I/Book II) to the later forgeries (especially the False Decretals), the emphasis shifts. Not only is Thionville to be prevented in the future; it is to be invalidated in the moment. The earlier forgeries were as abstract as possible, even if the ultimate point of their provisions was clear. With the False Decretals, Ebo comes suddenly into focus, as the forgeries angle to reinforce the legality of his installation at Hildesheim. Hincmar, too, is suddenly present. The forgeries deplore his consecration as archbishop of Reims while Ebo still lives in exile. An anti-metropolitan aspect that is clearly about Hincmar becomes more defined.

3) The latest event that the forgeries seem to know about is the death of Archbishop Otgar of Mainz in 847. The preface to the False Capitularies famously characterises Otgar as the former archbishop of that see, in such a way as to suggest that he’s been dead for a little while at least. After the False Decretals it appears that Pseudo-Isidore never forged anything else again, and no items associated with Pseudo-Isidore reveal the slightest awareness of anything that happened after about 850. The Council of Soissons from 853 leaves no impression on any Pseudo-Isidorian invention at all, and if anything were to inspire Pseudo-Isidore to take up his pen again, you’d think it would be Soissons 853.

4) There are a lot of signs that Pseudo-Isidore never put the finishing touches on his masterpiece, the False Decretals. Quite obviously, no fair copy was ever produced, and the full collection was assembled from its constituent components on at least two distinct occasions, by people who were less than fully acquainted with its intricacies. The preface of Isidorus Mercator, for example, describes a three-part collection that differs in slight but important ways from the long versions that have survived. Strange mistakes in arrangement and variations in contents plague both A1 and A/B, with independent errors occurring in both. A1, for example, messes up some Pseudo-Isidore’s corrections to the sequence of decretals in the Hispana Gallica, and includes one or two forgeries that for intriguing reasons seem not to belong, almost as if they were early, discarded efforts. A/B rightly omits these, but has errors of its own: It messes up the Symmachus dossier and puts the false Fifth and Sixth councils at the end rather than where they belong. Its architects are also confused, for example, about how the prefatory material from the Hispana is to be integrated with the prefatory material the forger has invented, and they end up including the Hispana preface right after the Isidorus Mercator preface, even though the latter is an expansion of the former. Errors and anomalies of arrangement like this are what the different recensions are made of.

5) The forgeries were not immediately circulated. In 852, Hincmar alludes to two decretal forgeries in regulations for his clergy, but it’s not clear how well he knows these documents. Perhaps also around this year, Archbishop Thietgaud of Trier begins to think that as metropolitan of Belgica Prima (Trier), he enjoys Pseudo-Isidorian primacy over Belgica Secunda (Reims). He has heard somewhere about Pseudo-Isidore’s totally novel idea of primacy. After those two hints, we have nothing until 857, and then again the first person to cite the documents is Hincmar at Quierzy, now verbatim. Only after 857 do the forgeries really seem to be out and about. Horst Fuhrmann discussed this delay with a citation from Johannes Haller: “Man fälscht nicht auf Vorrat”: You don’t forge things just to stockpile them.

To summarise: Pseudo-Isidore, whoever he was, clearly took part in the life of the Reims province in the 840s but he disappears after 850. His forgeries also belong to this decade and are aware of nothing that happens afterwards. The False Decretals in particular appear to have been assembled in their final form by people with an imperfect understanding of how they fit together. When they were finally released, after considerable delay, they came first to the eyes of Pseudo-Isidore’s greatest enemy (Hincmar), and were too late to help Ebo (who died in 851) or the clerics he had doubtfully ordained (who were deposed in 853).

Everyone has to stop writing their book sometime, but Pseudo-Isidore didn’t just come to the end. He disappeared entirely, for he was unable even to give final form to his latest and most complex creation, he never shepherded his work into the wider world, and as far as we know he never forged anything ever again.

Around 850, it seems, Pseudo-Isidore was abruptly removed from his own undertaking. Death would be the simplest assumption, but he might also have been demoted or deposed or driven out of whatever position he held. If something induced him to abandon his forgeries voluntarily, such as a promotion to higher office, we have to ask why we never find his ideas recurring beneath of the veneer of later conciliar pronouncements and the like, as we do in the years before 850.