The canons of the African councils – hand me the painkillers now!

I’ve continued to work on the canons of the African councils, and I’m not sure that I am making progress.  What I want to do is to understand those canons which deal with the canon of scripture, and to do so in the context of the full text to which they belong.  Usually these canons are quoted in entire isolation; as stray gobbets of text, ripped out of context, and thereby likely misunderstood.  People often say that these councils “decided” the canon of the scripture.  I can already see that this is quite improbable.

It should not be impossible to work with the full texts.  But it is considerably harder, than I had ever supposed, even to work out what the actual text units are.  Let me give a small example of the difficulties, not as a complaint but in case I come this way again and need a reminder!

There is an edition of the canons of the African councils by the excellent Charles Munier in the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, vol. 249.  But it has no table of contents.  There is a list of contents on the publisher, Brepols, site here.  But this is useless.  Some of the items appear nowhere in the book; the items that do appear are not in that order.  However the website does at least contain the Clavis Patrum Latinorum numbers for the texts, unlike the book itself.  I spent some time today with my PDF of the Munier book, adding as bookmarks whatever I could make out.  The book itself is divided in an impenetrable way.  Is the material for the council of 419 part of the “code of Apiarius”?  Or something separate?

I found a translation of canons of the council of 419 in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, here.  It is subtitled “The Code of Canons of the African Church“, i.e. the Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africae. Brepols think that this text (CPL 1765) is in the Munier volume.  Well, if it is, I cannot see it!  Looking at the introduction to the NPNF, the canons were translated from the reprint of “Labbe-Cossart”, i.e. Labbe’s Sacrosancta Concilia, in the 1728 edition, volume 2, col. 1251.  I’ve found that online via, with great gratitude.

But when I compare the NPNF to the material from Joannou’s edition and French translation of what seems to be (but is, of course, carefully not labelled as) the Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africae, I immediately see material missing in the NPNF after canon 33.  It’s in the Labbe volume (col. 1277)  but not in the NPNF.  Labbe indeed carefully gives the impression that a different text is involved to the canons, which resume with canon 34 over the page.  And so it goes on and on.

The editions show a definite tendency to ignore the actual texts that are transmitted to us, and to instead assemble all material relating to council 3, council 6, or whatever, from whatever source.  They show a definite tendency to treat the transmission units as mere raw material, to be used to (re)create hypothetical canons, letters, whatever.  But these things are passed down to us, in manuscripts, on parchment.  What is actually transmitted?  Indeed I have found that the Patrologia Latina editions of texts are more intelligible than any of the others.  So that’s something.

Of course I am entirely new to this genre of literature, and probably if I were more experienced then I would understand better.  But as a newcomer, my impression is simply one of confusion.  We need a simple orientation guide in English which assumes nothing.  Maybe there is one, for all I know.  But it is troubling that sources tend to refer to a 1961 article by F. L. Cross, “History and Fiction in the African Canons”, which was intended for other purposes.

I suspect that I shall have to adopt a more modest approach than I had originally thought.  Maybe I shall come back to the issue one day.

Update.  After posting those words, I went to my shelves.  The Clavis Patrum Latinorum is one of the few handbooks that I possess in hard copy form.  Maybe, I thought, it would give some guidance.  So I turned off my computer, and retired to bed with the CPL.

And … as ever with the CPL, clarity ensues.  The CPL has a section on the canons of the African councils.  This it bases on Munier.  On two pages it indicates clearly exactly which pages of Munier belong to which text, and references them to the Patrologia Latina, any other relevant texts, and also to a guide to the sources (in German!) by someone called Maassen, Geschichte der Quellen und der Literatur des canonischen Rechts, vol. 1 (1870).  Tomorrow I shall look into this.

Update (25/2/21, 15:00): I have just spent some time with my copy of Munier, adding into the bookmarks the CPL information. Blessedly the CPL gives the page numbers of each text, so it is, for the first time, possible to work out what is what.  In this way I learn that the “Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africanae”, a title for the chunk of material used by every previous edition – but nowhere mentioned in Munier – is the same as what he calls the “Codex Apiarii Causae”.  Dr Munier decided to invent his own title, it seems.

The CPL also gives a reference to Maassen.  A google search gives page after page of links to vendors of some modern reprint, but the volume is online and may be found here.  Thankfully Maassen’s publisher used a Roman typeface – I was fully prepared for Fraktur!  So far so good.  I download the book, renumber the PDF pages to match the pages of the book, and add a couple of bookmarks.

But when you enter the reference from the CPL – “139-140” for the Breviarium Hipponense – you find yourself nowhere.  It turns out that Maassen’s book is divided into numbered sections.  The CPL reference is not to the page number, but to the section number.  Of course.  It would be clearer if the CPL used §139-140, I think.

The PDF from Google turns out not to be OCR’ed.  Thanks, guys!  Out with the OCR software.

Update (16:00).  I OCR’d it all with Adobe Acrobat Pro 9.  But the Google download of Massen is defective.  The images slope into the spine on precisely the pages that I want to read.  Joy.  There’s a better  version here.  Time to OCR that instead.

I did copy out section 136, on the Council of Hippo in 393, which reads as follows via Google Translate:

Mit dem Concil von Hippo vom Jahre 393 beginnt die Sammlung des carthagischen Concils vom Jahre 419. Es findet sich aber in der uns ueberlieferten Gestalt dieser Sammlung nur eine kurze historische Erwahnung desselben ohne die Canonen. Rücksichtlich dieser wird auf die unmittelbar vorhergehenden Canonen der ersten Sitzung des Concils vom Jahre 419 verwiesen. Allerdings ist unter diesen eine grössere Zahl von Canonen, die Wiederholungen von Beschlüssen des Concils von Hippo sind. Sie erscheinen hier aber nicht als solche und in veränderter Fassung. Eine ergiebigere Quelle ist das carthagische Concil vom Jahre 397, dem ein Auszug der Canonen von Hippo einverleibt wurde. Von diesem Auszug soll in Verbindung mit dem genannten Concil gehandelt werden. Ferrandus citirt die Canonen von Hippo nur nach dem Auszuge als Canonen des carthagischen Concils vom Jahre 397; ebenso das Concil unter Bonifacius vom Jahre 525, mit Ausnahme von zwei Canonen, die als solche von Hippo und vollständig angeführt werden.

136. The collection of the Carthaginian Council of 419 begins with the Council of Hippo of 393. However, in the form of this collection that has been handed down to us there is only a brief historical mention of it without the canons. Regarding this, reference is made to the immediately preceding canons of the first session of the Council of 419. However, among these are a large number of canons which are repetitions of the decisions of the Council of Hippo. However, they do not appear here as such and in a modified version. A more abundant source is the Carthaginian Council of 397, to which an extract from the canons of Hippo was incorporated. This extract should be dealt with in connection with the aforementioned Council. Ferrandus quotes the canons of Hippo only after the excerpt as canons of the Carthaginian Council of 397; likewise the council under Bonifacius of the year 525, with the exception of two canons which are quoted as such by Hippo and in full.

That’s actually quite useful.  Maassen is saying what the information is, and where it is from.  Now back to the new PDF.

Rats.  I find that the new PDF has some unrecognised pages.  I know what that means.  It means that Google couldn’t OCR those pages and left hidden crud behind in the PDF, so you can’t OCR them.   Luckily I know the solution, thanks to Abbyy Support.  You open the file in PDF Editor, click on Edit> Delete Objects and Data, tick all the options, and click on Apply.  This gets rid of everything except the raw page images, and you can then OCR it all again.  Pity it’s a 1060 page file.  Just deleting the “objects and data” takes a good long while.  Waiting …. packet of crisps time.

OK, it’s done.  I save the new PDF.  Let’s try OCRing it in PDF Editor – not tried that before, so why not.  “20 of 1060 pages processed”….  Urg.

16:44 – “563 of 1060 pages processed”.  So it’s going to take a while.  I’d forgotten that, while Adobe Acrobat Pro 9 essentially single-threads any use of PDFs, I’m here using Abbyy Finereader.  So I can still look at PDF’s.  I’ve just been looking back at Munier’s proemium, which makes more sense now I have read the CPL, and now that I know that the “Apiarius” material is the “Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africanae”.  On p.vii we find what is, to all intents and purposes, the list of contents.  He says (translation mine):

For this reason the documents of this sort, as they exist today, I have edited here, in chronological order to the extent that they have been preserved in it, so that the knowledge and use of canon law in the African churches may appear.  For although much remains obscure about the author, sources, origin and scope of this collection, the succession of documents is not in doubt, namely:

a) the Breviarium Hipponense (p.22-53), assembled in August 397, and expanded a little after 401.

b) the Gesta de nomine Apiarii (p. 79-172) exists in two recensions, the first issued at Rome at the end of May 419, the other in November in the same year, and completed in 424 AD.

c) the excerpts from the Register ecclesiae Carthaginensis assembled by a private individual at the end of the 5th century in Carthage itself (p. 173-247).

d) the Breviatio canonum of Fulgentius Ferrandus (p. 283-311) deacon of the church of Carthage, abbreviated before 546, with the text of Cresconius in the preface of his book (cf. Maassen, “Geschichte”, p.800).

So far so good.  But he continues over the page, and brevity vanishes!

e) Cresconius, Concordia canonum (Maassen, n. 842) … [rambles at length about the possibly date of Cresconius, who is an African refugee drawing on Dionysius Exiguus; but no mention of page numbers]

f) the Brevatio canonum, “From a synod of Carthage in Africa”, … [long ramble, but seems to be from a Spanish epitome of canons]

g) the Sylloge africanorum concliorum…. [maddening rambling … another collection of canons of Spanish origin]

Humpf.  But most of this won’t matter to us, interested as we are in the canon of scripture.

“989 pf 1060 pages processed”…


13 thoughts on “The canons of the African councils – hand me the painkillers now!

  1. The 1961 article by F. L. Cross, “History and Fiction in the African Canons” looks like it would be an interesting read. I read the first part of it in the available preview. I am very interested in modern and ancient assessment of forgeries and their influence in Christianity through the centuries. There was big money, I’m guessing, for forged “ancient” documents just like there was for forged relics, to help in the prestige and influence of ecclesiastical or monastic strongholds.

  2. For those of us in the US, it’s amusing that an alternate spelling for Cresconius is Crisconius. Crisco!

    The old Catholic Encyclopedia is occasionally very very good about page numbers. Copying it over… It says, probably mostly from your sources:

    “The content is taken from the collection of Dionysius Exiguus, but the division into titles is copied from the “breviatio canonum” of Fulgentius Ferrandus… In many manuscripts the text of Cresconius is preceded by an index or table of contents (breviarium) of the titles, first edited in 1588 by Pithou. In its entirety the work was first published by Voellus and Justellus in the appendix (33-112) to their “bibliotheca Juris canonici” (Paris, 1661), and is in P.L., LXXXVIII, 829 sqq. One of its best manuscripts, the tenth-century “Vallicellianus” (Rome), has a note in which Cresconius is declared the author of a metrical account of the “bella et victorias” of the “Patricius” Johannes in Africa over the Saracens. This was formerly interpreted to mean the African victory of the Byzantine “Patricius Johannes” in 697, hence the usual date of Cresconius. Some, however, hold that the poem in question is the “Johannis” of Flavius Cresconius Corippus, a Latin poet of about 550….”

    Voellus and Justellus, Bibliotheca juris canonici veteris in duos tomos distributa, 1661. It’s got a second volume called Collectores Graeci, and one (the first one) that is in Latin. There’s a nice table of contents (including the ms in some cases) in the Latin volume, right after a big foreword in Latin about the mss. In addition to your guys, it’s got Martin of Braga copying and translating over Greek stuff from various councils. And the sections have forewords explaining their marginal notes.

  3. Cresconius’ Concordia Canonum has tons of material that I’ve never seen. Canon 266 says it’s a good idea to celebrate the manumission of slaves in church, for example!

    Anyhoo, Canon 299 is Council of Carthage titulus 24, on page 112 (cxii) of the Appendix. It says nothing outside the canonical writings should be read in church “under the name of the divine writings.” It lists:

    Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua Nave, Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings, the two books of Chronicles, Job, the Psalter, the five books of Solomon, the book of the twelve Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Tobias (Tobit), Judith, Hester, the two books of Ezra. The four books of the Evangelists of the New Covenant, one book of the Acts of the Apostles, 14 epistles of Paul, two epistles of the Apostle Peter, three of the Apostle John, one of the Apostle James, one of the Apostle Jude, one book of the Apocalypse of John.

    Sorry, I get amused by calling the book of Esther “Hester.” Cracks me up, probably because we had to read The Scarlet Letter in school.

  4. Forgot to say that Canon 299 is the very very last page of the appendix, which was included in the scan of the Latin volume, tome One. (At least in the Google copy I found.)

    Also, Breviatio Canonum is on pp. 448-455 of the first volume, and Breviarium Canonicum is on pp. 456-466. (They are both just the canon title headings and numbers.) Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africae starts on p. 321; there’s a lot of preface material before that, and there’s Greek and Latin all through it.

    There’s an Index Rerum of Ferrandus and Crisco on pp. 467-486, as well as a chart (pp. 486-492) of which canons in Ferrandus and Crisco come from which councils. (Confusing to me, but probably useful.)

    Ferrandus has the “only canonical scriptures” thing at Canon 228, and something about hearing Scripture at Canon 168.

    This actual book’s index (Index Rerum et Verborum) is toward the front of the book. Divine Scripture: p. 336; canonical Scriptures, pp. 342, 147; 343; 201.

    On page 147, it’s the same list except with “2 books of the Maccabees.” There’s an explanatory note at the end. And it is Carthage, Canon 24.

    Page 201 is Decretals of Pope Innocent, #27. Same books, more detail. Sixteen books of the Prophets. Maccabees comes before Ezra and Chronicles. Various apocrypha are repudiated and should be gotten rid of: the one under the name of Matthias (not the Gospel) or James the Less, and the one under the names of Peter and John which were written by Leucius; the one under the name of Andrew which was written by Nexocharides and Leonidas the Philosopher; or those written under the name of Thomas; and others. Heh, I didn’t know we had author names for this stuff.

  5. Quick question – Were the headings of each canon original or added in later editions? For example –

    CANON CX. (Greek cxii. bis) That infants are baptized for the remission of sins.
    LIKEWISE it seemed good that whosoever denies that infants newly from their mother’s wombs should be baptized….

    Did the original start with “That infants are baptized…” or with “LIKEWISE it seemed good…”? Thanks.

  6. Thank SB… So would you believe they were on the original council documents or added in later editions? Are there any earlier editions or any mss editions without those headings or with different headings? Thanks.

  7. Your guess is as good as anybody’s. You can look back to the earliest manuscripts, and you can check there, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they were or were not there in the earliest stuff. A lot of times, “Charlemagne funding monks and nuns to copy old Roman books” is the oldest we have.

    That said, “caputs” were finding aids, and so usually the original author did include a bunch of chapter headings. Roger has posts about all kinds of funky margin signs and symbols that date back to classical civilization, or before the birth of Christ, or were part of Tyronian shorthand (invented by Cicero’s secretary/slave/bestie/college roommate, Tyro).

  8. Roger, again, this is fascinating. Trying to digest it all 🙂

    I came across a post a while back concerning the Book of Esdras, canon, and Carthage/Hippo. I don’t know how accurate it is, if it’s information you have seen before, or if it is of any interest. It makes my head spin trying to understand and sort it all out. Anyway, sharing the link. BTW, thanks for the insight into your processes in handling these documents.

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