Six years ago, on the old blog, I began a series of posts that I called Towards a Theory of Pseudo-Isidore. What I was trying to do, with all that blathering about the interpolated Hispana and those rare forgeries that draw heavily upon it, was demarcate one small morsel of the Pseudo-Isidorian soup that I thought was indeed especially early. I wanted to do that because, at that point in 2013, I had just stumbled upon reasons to believe that probably everything else in the world of Pseudo-Isidore didn’t have the enticing early dates that Zechiel-Eckes had proposed. Indeed, the False Decretals were probably super late — every inch as late as Paul Hinschius had told us they were.
Like many things over there (and many things over here), I didn’t get as far as I wanted to. But that was not because I gave up. Instead, I decided the basic idea was important enough for an article. I was an assistant professor writing lecture after lecture on late medieval history, and the library at Williams College is an abomination, so the article took a while.
It finally appeared in 2017:
You can read it, but here’s the potted version: The decretal forgeries of Isidorus Mercator strive in very specific ways to condemn procedures used against Archbishop Ebo of Reims at the 835 Council of Thionville. Some of these same tendencies are visible in other Pseudo-Isidorian compilations, like the False Capitularies of Benedictus Levita, but they are never as clear or pronounced or repeated as often as they are in the world of the pseudopopes.
More importantly, I realized that four decretal forgeries relax ancient canonical prohibitions on episcopal translation (the movement of a bishop from one see to another see), in a way that was designed, undeniably, to justify Ebo’s transfer to Hildesheim after 845. These forgeries also deplore bishops who occupy the sees of deposed bishops while those unfortunate deposed bishops are still living. These lines are obviously about Hincmar, who took office at Reims in 845 while Ebo was still alive.
For me, there is no alternative to accepting that the decretal forgeries took shape in the years between 845 and 851, when Hincmar was at Reims and Ebo at Hildesheim. After Ebo’s death on 20 March 851, there can have been no point in making these arguments. The translation arguments are exclusive to the False Decretals: They are not in the False Capitularies or anywhere else. So as far as Ebo goes, there is a movement in the Pseudo-Isidorian corpus, from those forgeries that are not at all concerned with Ebonian matters (the interpolated Hispana) to those that are sort of peripherally here and there (the False Capitularies) to those that take up Ebo-inspired lines of argument again and again (the False Decretals). In fact, the decretals material allowing episcopal translation even cuts against some tendencies of the capitulary forger.
This dating, post-845 to 851, applies even to the decretal forgeries of the A2 recension, as in fact three of the four pseudo-decretals addressing translation occur within A2; and one of the codices with Pseudo-Isidorian notae discovered by Zechiel-Eckes even has excerpt marks around a passage that came to serve as an important source for Pseudo-Isidore’s arguments on episcopal translation and that is used in no other connection.
I think that this destroys Zechiel-Eckes’s broader theories about the date and political significance of Pseudo-Isidore. Skeptics somewhere might propose complex arguments to subvert the proofs that I have brought, but that would be a grave error. The work of placing Pseudo-Isidore’s arguments in their proper historical context, the long neglected project that scholars like Weizsäcker started over 150 years ago, is far from complete and much has been forgotten. There are other subtle political tricks and traps lurking in the forgeries. I have since found one or two more, and in the course of time others will surely extend this work. The further we are able to integrate the False Decretals with specific ecclesiastical and political events, the more adherents of early dates will have to fear, because the political backdrop will inevitably turn out to be that of the 840s or early 850s time and again.
The forgeries surely have close ties to the library of Corbie — here Zechiel-Eckes will always be right. That’s why I’ve preceded these words with a long review (not yet complete!) of Firey, which is also in its way a defense of Zechiel-Eckes where he saw further than anybody before him had.
But I now think he was mistaken as to the broader picture. Pseudo-Isidore was not Paschasius Radbertus, and the forgeries cannot be called an immediate reaction to the 835 Council of Thionville (a distant reaction to it: sure), and the False Decretals have nothing to do with political opposition to Louis the Pious.
At the end of that Speculum article, I tried to put all those reheated Wasserschleben notions aside, and think about the origins of the False Decretals in a simple and direct way, given what I now consider to be the certainty that the traditional dating of Paul Hinschius, Emil Seckel and Horst Fuhrmann is right; and given, too, that we are now certain that Pseudo-Isidore’s library was at Corbie.
I suggested that the forgeries might have something to do with the clerics Ebo ordained during his brief restoration to the see at Reims in 840/1, and that the earliest moments of their reception are bound up in the controversies surrounding the career of Wulfad, a favorite of Charles the Bald and eventual archbishop of Bourges. Vat. lat. 630, the manuscript that I am slowly editing here, is closely associated with Wulfad and also comes from Corbie. I think here we are very near to the forger himself.
So anyway, I got that article in press and then I decided to write a book about the bigger problem of Pseudo-Isidore and who he was. This was going to get the provocative title Who Was Pseudo-Isidore? My idea was to write an introduction to the forgeries (so far no such thing exists in English with the exception of Fuhrmann’s helpful article) that could also be a receptacle for some of my crazy theories. I even wrote a good part of this book at the American Academy in Rome.
But as I wrote it I began to sour on the project. For one, I had the feeling I was working at cross-purposes. It is hard to provide a neutral introduction to the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries and the theories scholars have developed about them, while at the same time arguing a particular point of view. I had to tread a fine line lest I be untrue to myself or unfair to others, and after a while that got annoying. Furthermore, I realized that my own ideas on some crucial points required more work: not ordinary book research, but very hard collation edition research, the kind that takes years. And finally, I was writing chapter after chapter under a title that posed the one question that has been on everyone’s minds since 2000 at least — Who was Pseudo-Isidore? — and I was not certain about the answer, or even clear that trying to find one was the right exercise at the moment.
I did most of this writing in the Vatican library, and as I worked on this footnote and that one, I came to wonder about Pseudo-Isidore’s manuscript source for the writings of the truly dismal sixth-century poet and bishop of Pavia known as Magnus Felix Ennodius. Unlike a lot of really terrible authors, Ennodius never produced a bestseller. Indeed, for much of the Middle Ages he was almost totally unknown. Thus Pseudo-Isidore’s use of his works, almost exclusively in the decretal forgeries, has intrigued many people for a very long time. Since the nineteenth century, Ennodius’s editors realized the close connections between Pseudo-Isidore’s text of Ennodius and one of three ninth-century copies of his collected opera: Vatican, Bibl. apost. Vat. lat. 3803. This is a Corbie codex — Corbie, where Pseudo-Isidore worked! — that Bischoff dates to 850 or shortly thereafter.
The conventional view was always that Pseudo-Isidore used the archetype of Vat. lat. 3803. With one exception, the entire medieval tradition of Ennodius also descends from Vat. lat. 3803 in some way, so this view put Pseudo-Isidore literally at the head of nearly the entire medieval Ennodius tradition.
But, I thought: Isn’t that odd? How are we to understand this little literary history? Now that we are free of the Radbert theory of Pseudo-Isidore’s identity, we no longer have to think of the forger as a Corbie monk. Maybe he just had a library card with borrowing privileges, or maybe he was some kind of episcopal dissident hiding out at the abbey, or whatever. The point is, perhaps Pseudo-Isidore had his own copy of Ennodius, which he maybe brought from his own library, wherever that was, and in the course of his other research at Corbie the scriptorium there made a copy of it because they found it interesting. I imagined other scenarios too, but this seemed the simplest way to explain how it was that Pseudo-Isidore knew the archetype of the Corbie Ennodius, rather than as you would expect either the Corbie Ennodius itself or some copy thereof.
Then I noticed another thing. This is that Ennodius’s editors have really terrible reasons for supposing that Pseudo-Isidore’s appropriations from Ennodius are prior to Vat. lat. 3803. If Pseudo-Isidore knew the archetype of this codex, then he should have an earlier text. The forger appropriates vast amounts of material from the Pavian bishop, including his entire Libellus pro synodo, so there’s an ocean of data points. Ideally, you’d want the vast indirect tradition in Pseudo-Isidore to show here and there a slightly better or less corrupt or somehow antecedent text, and Vat. lat. 3803 even in slight ways and very occasionally to have the later or worse or more corrupt text. All the Ennodius editors could do, however, was give two variants that didn’t prove anything at all. These learned philologists weren’t fools, but they were laboring under a bad manuscript date: Everyone at the time thought Vat. lat. 3803 was a tenth-century codex, but the early Pseudo-Isidorian manuscript tradition dated from the ninth century. So Pseudo-Isidore had to be earlier! And thus they found themselves scraping around for reasons that Pseudo-Isidore’s Ennodius had earlier variants than the Vatican manuscript, and not really finding anything.
These considerations drove me to consult Vat. lat. 3803 itself, which of course I should’ve done at the beginning. When I did so, I found that this precise manuscript — and not any archetype — was Pseudo-Isidore’s source for Magnus Felix Ennodius. Its margins carried the notae of a Pseudo-Isidorian excerptor, very much like those that Zechiel-Eckes discovered in the three source codices he identified. But there were also some subtle differences from Zechiel-Eckes’s annotator: The system employed was much simpler, in most cases consisting of a single note rather than a series of signs. There was the same limited knowledge of Tironian shorthand, whereby only widely known abbreviations for words like hic and et appeared. Some of the notae in Vat. lat. 3803 had been erased; in other cases, passages appropriated by Pseudo-Isidore were not marked at all. Most striking, though, were a great many notae demarcating texts that Pseudo-Isidore never seems to have used, at least not in his extant works.
I wrote an article about all of this:
Pseudo-Isidore’s Ennodius, in: Deutsches Archiv 74 (2018) p. 1–52.
Among other things, I find it important that Pseudo-Isidore used a codex from the very middle of the ninth century. This is another obstacle to the Zechiel-Eckes hypothesis of A2 decretals dating from the later 830s, because passages from Ennodius are all over the decretal forgeries, in no few instances they correspond to marginal notae in Vat. lat. 3803, and this codex was clearly not copied in the 830s. It was produced in the graphically distinctive style that Bischoff and other paleographers have associated with the librarian named Hadoard. No few Hadoard-style codices are dated, and from these we learn that the distinctive style dates no earlier than the 840s. So here is more confirmation that the False Decretals are late through and through.
But Vat. lat. 3803 also confirms another thing, which I’ll write more about in Part VII.