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:
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.