False Decretals (Pseudoisidorian Forgeries)

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The False, or Pseudo-Isidorian, Decretals form the principal work among the so-called Pseudo-Isidorian Forgeries, namely, a group of canonical collections that are intimately connected in origin and tendency and that appeared about mid-9th century. The name Pseudo-Isidore

(hereinafter Ps.) can be traced back to the 17th century; in the late 19th century B. Simson extended it to the entire group of writings. It is taken from the supposed author of the False Decretals, Isidore Mercator (according to later tradition, Mercatus, Peccator), the name of the collator of generally spurious papal briefs from Clement I until Gregory II. The Middle Ages often took him for St. Isidore of Seville. Among the Ps. Forgeries are numbered: the Hispana Gallica Augustodunensis (hereinafter HGA), the Capitula Angilramni (hereinafter Cap. Angilr.), the collection of capitularies of benedict the levite (hereinafter Ben. Lev.), and the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals (hereinafter Ps. Decretals). But the group of forgeries cannot yet be limited merely to these.

Circumstances and Character of the Forgeries. The four above-named works can be understood in part as representing a reaction to the state of the Church under Louis the Pious (814840) and his successors: the harmony between Church and State that had existed under Charlemagne had been disturbed by rivalries and attacks by secular leaders on the ecclesiastical establishment and church holdings. Between 818 and 845, several bishops had been deposed or exiled from their sees; reform synods had tried in vain to better the situation (such as Paris, 829; Aachen, 836; Meaux-Paris, 845846); and there had been all the less reason to hope for any improvement after the definitive fragmentation of the Carolingian Empire in 843.

Tendencies. It would not suffice to consider the Ps. Forgeries simply from the point of view of ecclesiastical politics and jurisprudence: they are more than fabricated legal sources. Attention has been drawn to the plethora of their regulations on the liturgy, doctrine of the Sacraments, the Vita apostolica (Möhler), marriage law (Von Scherer), and the hagiographical character of the False Decretals (Davenport); the picture of the Church sketched in the Forgeries has been called "a vision of a Church in the Golden Age" (Williams). Judging by the relative amount of time and energy devoted to the various points, the conclusion could be drawn that the principal aim of the Forgeries was to protect the suffragan bishops from the clutches of the metropolitans, provincial synods, and the secular power. The Forgeries complicate immeasurably the procedural rules and the possibility of depositions of bishops who are described panegyrically as oculi, columnae, throni dei, dii, etc. To strengthen the position of the bishops, the chorepiscopi, considered as rivals, are relegated to the status of the simple priesthood; and the metropolitans, who are to make decisions only in collaboration with their coprovincials, are jurisdictionally constricted by a newly invented office, that of the primas, or patriarcha. Accusations against bishops are subtracted from the jurisdiction of the provincial and national synods by being declared causae maiores, reserved to the pope, to whom alone belongs likewise the right to ratify the councils. Papal rights are stressed to the extent to which they favor the suffragan bishops.

Unity of the Forgeries. The Ps. Forgeries show evidences, both in tendency and in composition, of a common literary origin, no matter how divergent they may be in their use of sources and in the treatment of specific points. The scope of the sources, the interconnections, and the basic attitude are so uniform that there can be no doubt that the whole group of writings came from the same sort of mind, all the more since the differences between the individual forgeries are partly conditioned by the degree of proficiency of the individual composer and the species of source used in each case. The sequence of the forgeries and the degree of mutual influence have not yet been entirely clarified, but it is probable that the HGA was the earliest product, and that it was used in the Ps. Decretals and the False Capitularies; the Decretals presuppose also the Cap. Angilr. and some at least of the perhaps still unfinished capitularies of Ben. Lev., although Additio IV of the capitularies presupposes the False Decretals.

Individual Forgeries. The HGA, still unedited, is named after the place of origin of the only complete manuscript (Cod. vat. lat. 1341, 10th century; cf. G. Le-Bras, "Autumn dans l'histoire du droit canonique" in Mémoires de la Société Éduenne 48, autumn 1939). This manuscript is to be treated in the new Hispana edition of G. Martinez Diez (cf. Miscelánea Comillas 41 [1964]). The same version is contained in a Carolingian addition to Cod. Hamilton 132 (10th century) of the former Prussian State Library (cf. E. A. Lowe, Codices Latini antiquiores 8, no. 1047 [1959] 8, 61). It represents a reworking of the Hispana Gallica, i.e., the Spanish collection of canons (Patrologia Latina v. 84) current in Gaul (of which the only other surviving text is in Cod. Vindobonensis 411). The HGA corrects many meaningless passages in the Hispana Gallica; the revision is based in part on genuine sources (Dionysio-Hadriana, Irish collection of canons), but there are also typically Ps. additions. The HGA is today generally accepted as a Ps. preliminary work; this contention was initiated by F. Maassen (Pseudoisidor-Studien III, Sitzungsberichte [Vienna 188485] 108109), after earlier research had taken the HGA to be a Hispana with subsequent Ps. interpolations. The period from 845 to 847 is thought to have been the date of composition, 847 being the more probable of the two, although the possibility cannot be excluded of a stratified composition extending beyond even 847.

Capitula Angilramni. The Cap. Angilr. contained 71 (another tradition says 72) brief and relatively moderately falsified laws, almost all dealing with prosecution of clerics, especially bishops (cf. G. May, "Zu den Anklagebeschränkungen in den capitula Angilramni" in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 72 [1961]). They have come down in manuscript for the most part together with the A1 version of the Ps. Decretals and have been edited together with these latter by Hinschius. They claim to have been sent by Pope Adrian I (772795) to Bp. Angilram of Metz (768791), hence on occasion the title Capitula Hadriani or in Cap. Angilr. 4: synodus Romana; in many manuscripts, Pope Adrian is the addressee, but the capitularies have nothing to do with either man. The forger drew heavily upon Roman Law, and used extensively the Dionysio-Hadriana. The Cap. Angilr. have been compiled from the sources without any mediation via the Ps. Decretals and at times yield a text that is meaningless for the practice of the Western Church. There are cross-references between the Cap. Angilr. and the capitularies of Ben. Lev., but the priority has not been clarified in all cases. In the Ps. Decretals of Popes Julius and Felix II, the Cap. Angilr. are to a large extent presented as canons of the Council of Nicaea (325).

Capitularies of Benedict the Levite. The Ben. Lev. consists of three books and four additions and claims to be a supplementation of the Capitularium collectio of Abbot ansegis of Fontanelle (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Capitularia 1:394450), together with which it has often been transmitted and whose numbering of books (14, Ansegis; 58, Ben. Lev.) it continues (cf. E. Seckel, "Ben. Lev. decurtatus et excerptus" in Festschrift H. Brunner [Munich-Leipzig 1914]; K. Christ, "Die Schlossbibliothek von Nikolsburg und die Überlieferung der Kapitularien-Sammlung des Ansegis" in Deutsches Archiv 1 [1937]; W. A. Eckhardt, "Die von Baluze benutzten Handschriften der Kapitularien-Sammlungen" in Mélanges Charles Braibant [Brussels 1959]). The author claims to have initiated the collection at the order of Abp. Otgar of Mainz (826847; cf. A. Gerlich, Rheinische Viertel-jahresblätter 19 [1954]) and to have found the material mainly in the archives of the Mainz church. The forger clearly wants to insinuate a Mainz origin to the reader: at the beginning of the first book are three genuine fragments from the correspondence of Boniface; and he tries to picture himself to the reader as writing from the right bank of the Rhine (cf. J. Haller, Nikolaus I. und Pseudoisidor [Stuttgart 1936]170). Some authors have given credence to the prologue, and the possibility has been weighed of a Mainz author for the entire forgery as well as for a part of it. But the many cross-references within the forgeries indicate an origin in a single locality and with a single group of persons; and here the West Frankish Kingdom and the opponents of Hincmar of Reims, the partisans of Ebbo of Reims, would be a more reasonable supposition.

The terminus post quem that must be accepted is April 21, 847, date of the death of Otgar of Mainz, who is mentioned in the perfect tense in the introductory poem (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Poetae 2:672.2.56); the terminus ante quem is determined by the date of the capitulary of Quierzy (Feb. 14, 857), which cites false capitularies in its "capitula domni Karoli et domni Hludowici imperatorum" (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Capitularia 2:289291). Although Ben. Lev. calls his product capitularies, he had recourse to a set of sources similar to those used by Ps.; his set of original sources is smaller, but he often goes beyond those of the Ps. Decretals. In the combination of his originals, Ben. Lev. has been diffident; he does not fuse the excerpts as drastically as does Ps. and so is more brittle and less prolix, doing a reasonably good job at imitating the sober style of the Frankish royal chancery.

Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals. The Ps. Decretals include papal briefs and councils from Clement I, who died c. 90 (or from Anacletus I, who died c. 79 and is here listed as following Clement I) to Gregory II (716731). The manuscripts, of which almost 100 are known today, have been divided into five classes by Hinschius, the last editor. Class A1 comprises three parts: (1) after a few introductory fragments, 60 false decretals from Clement to Melchiades (d. 314); (2) councils, beginning with Nicaea I (325) and ending with the Second Council of Seville (619), although Toletanum XIII (683) is latest in point of time; (3) decretals and councils from Sylvester (d. 335) to Gregory II (d. 731)the second part includes the first part of the Hispana Gallica, and the third part includes its second part. Class A2 contains no portion on the councils and only those decretals from Clement to Damasus (d. 384). Class A/B, wrongly assessed by Hinschius because of the mistake in dating Codex Vat. lat. 630, is close to the genuine Hispana and is probably one of the first of the series of forgeries. The later classes, B and C, are derived from A/B. A class C manuscript was the original for J. Merlin's first edition (1524); it is No. 27 of the Bibliothèque de l'Assemblée Nationale and is late 12th century. Ps. avoided any free rendition over large portions of his forgery; rather he put it together in mosaic form out of various, often drastically edited, excerpts (about 10,000). His original sources are: the Bible (in a version diverging from the Vulgate, often not noted by Hinschius); conciliar decisions; decretals; Roman legal sources; common law; capitularies; penitentials; hibernensis collectio; writings of the Church Fathers, bishops, and private individuals; the Creed of Emperor Justinian I; the Constitutum Constantini; the Liber pontificalis; and rules of religious orders. Most of the fragments he took from the HGA or its preliminary forms. Among the general collections, most use is made of the Quesnelliana (Patrologia Latina 56:359747) and the Dionysio-Hadriana, which was the most widespread collection of canon law in Carolingian days and seems to have been imitated in the invocation and the conclusion of the Ps. Decretals.

Location and Identity of the Forger. The question of the identity and location of the forger centers around the authorship of the False Decretals. The period of composition of the False Decretals has been presumed to lie between 847 and 852, since they included the capitularies of Ben. Lev. finished after April 847 and are cited in writings of Hincmar of Reims, perhaps in 852 and certainly in 857; a material influence of Ps. can be felt in the primacy claim of Thietgaud of Trier, about 852. Of the many, often fantastic, suggestions as to location and identity of the author (e.g., the papal chancery, Pope Joan, someone in Mainz), only the latest will be mentioned. (1) The Diocese of Le Mans in the ecclesiastical province of Tours (first Simson, recently especially Fournier, LeBras, Grand). The forgeries would have provided the bishop of Le Mans with a shield against the attacks of the Breton Duke Nominoe. A main argument is the linguistic similarity of the Ps. Decretals and the contemporary Gesta Domni Aldrici and the Actus pontificum Cenomannis in urbe degentium, a similarity that Lot (194041) chooses to explain in terms of a common schooling. (2) The royal chapel of Charles the Bald, more exactly Hilduin the Younger, Lupus of Ferrières, Wenilo of Sens, and Wulfhad of Bourges. This suggestion, however, offered by Buchner (1937) and approved by Oesterle (1938) has found no partisans. (3) The opponents of Hincmar of Reims and partisans of Ebbo of Reims. Abstracting from the fate of Ebbo, the description of the province fits just as well the ecclesiastical province of Reims, as does the campaign against the chorepiscopi and the solid front of the suffragans against their metropolitans. The question of place and author has stalled on a Non liquet, and there is scant hope of giving a conclusive solution simply by suggesting an author or team of authors who were of the same mind as evidenced in the Ps. forgeries. Greater hope of success would attend to a search for the Ps. library, the actual originals used.

Influence and Exposure of the Forgeries. Of all the Ps. Forgeries, the False Decretals gained greatest influence, as can be seen from the manuscript tradition. In the West Frankish Kingdom, Hincmar of Reims was the first to cite them in his writings (852?, 857, 859); in 858, Abbot Lupus of Ferrières inquired in Rome, on the part of several bishops, concerning a Ps. Decretal (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Epistolae 6:114), but a forceful advocate of Ps. Law appeared only in the late 860s in the person of Bp. Hincmar of Laon, nephew and suffragan of Hincmar of Reims (845882). The battle ended in 871 with the deposition of the bishop of Laon; his defeat was also that of the Ps. party, and the acceptance of the Ps. Decretals made only halting progress in the immediately subsequent decades.

In the kingdom of Lothair II, Thietgaud of Trier (847863), a bitter opponent of Hincmar of Reims, was the first known to have taken cognizance of them; in the East Frankish Kingdom, the Acts of the Synods of Worms (868), Cologne (887), Metz (893), and Tribur (895) contained Ps. material. Although there was a widespread early tradition of the Ps. Decretals in Italy, signs of cognizance of Ps. appeared only slowly in papal briefs. Perhaps Rothard of Soissons brought Ps. Decretals to Rome in 864; in January 865 Pope Nicholas I presented the decretals of the martyr popes (i.e., the Ps. Decretals) as Roman archive material (P. Jaffé, Regesta pontificum romanorum, ed. P. Ewald, v. 2; 2785), without, however, quoting them verbatim. Explicit references to the Ps. Laws are found in the works of his successors Adrian II (867872), John VIII (872882), Stephen V (885891), and John IX (898900) and in writings connected with the Formosus dispute.

The reform popes made more intensive use of the Ps. Decretals; but it is a mistaken assumption that Leo IX (104954) brought the Ps. Forgeries with him from Lorraine, for even his predecessors John XIX (102432) and Benedict IX (103244) had appealed to Ps. The letters of the early reform popes cited the Ps. Decretals only sparingly, and it was only with Urban II (108899) that more intensive use of them began. It is an error to suppose (e.g., Haller) that Gregory VII (107386) eagerly sought after Ps. writings. The chief channel of influence was not the papacy but rather the collections of canons.

The broadest stream stemmed from the Collectio anselmo dedicata (c. 890); of 1,980 capitula, 507 are Ps. Dissemination proceeded via the Decretum of burchard of worms (1,785 capitula, of which 141 are Ps.), and the Decretum and the Panormia of ivo of chartres to the Decretum of gratian (having 3,500 capitula, of which 375 are Ps.). Of the more important collections of canons of the Gregorian reform, the Diversorum patrum sententiae have the largest percentage of Ps. (124 out of 315), but Ps. is represented to no inconsiderable extent in the canon law collection of Bp. anselm of lucca (264 out of 1150) and the Collection of deusdedit (143 out of 1173). The Ps. Laws that found their way into all these documents cover many fields: they deal predominantly with questions of trial procedure and accusations, hierarchy and councils. The Ps. Decretals brought no advantages to the suffragan bishops; on the contrary, the reformers included laws that corresponded with their own ideas of the rank and dignity of the papacy and did not always agree with the aspirations of the bishops.

History of Criticism. Already Hincmar of Reims rejected and rebutted some of the Ps. Decretals material (pseudo-Nicene canons); and the spuriousness of certain fragments was wholeheartedly admitted, apart from anonymous writers, by bernold of constance (d.1100), Peter Comestor (d. c. 1179), marsilius of padua (d. 1342 or 1343), Gobelinus Persona (d. 1421), nicholas of cusa (d. 1464), and Heinrich Kalteisen (d. 1465). But the discovery of the forgery did not affect their being used. The Magdeburg centuriatores under Flacius Illyricus (1559) devoted themselves to proving that the entire body of the pre-Siricius decretals were forgeries; complete success in this endeavor was attained only by the reformed theologian Blondel, who made a meticulous analysis of sources (1628). But the genuinity was still often seriously considered as a possibility, most recently by Dumont (186667).

Editions. There is no edition of the HGA. The Ben. Lev. has been edited by G. H. Pertz and F. H. Knust (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Leges 2.2:39158); a new edition prepared by E. Seckel (d. 1924) for the Monumenta Germaniae did not appear, but the question of sources (with the exception of the four additions) has been collated with superlative thoroughness in Seckel's "Studien zu Benedictus Levita IVIII," Neues Archiv 26 (1900); 29 (1904); 31 (1905); 34 (1908); 35 (1909); 39 (1914); 40 (1915); 41 (191719) and in his posthumous works published by J. Juncker in Zeitschrift für Rechtsgeschichte 23 (1934) and 24 (1935).

The Decretales Pseudo-Isidorianae et capitula Angilramni have been edited by Hinschius (Leipzig 1863). This edition is unsatisfactory; its chief shortcoming is that in the council portions it reprints to a large extent the Madrid Hispana edition of F. A. Gonzáles. Although Merlin reproduces a later manuscript, his edition is truer to the tradition. And Hinschius's paleographic dating is so faulty that to correct it might involve a shift in the relationship of the classes.

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[h. fuhrmann]