The Earliest Pseudo-Isidore Manuscript?

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

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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?

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