Canons 1-4 of the breviarium of the Council of Hippo (393)

The first act of the Council of Carthage in 397 was to draw up a summary (breviarium) of the decisions of the Council of Hippo in 393, as many clergy claimed that they had never heard of them.  Let’s have a look at them.


1. Vt lectores populum non salutent. Vt ante xxv aetatis annos nec clerici ordinentur nec uirgines consecrentur. Vt primum scripturis diuinis instructi uel ab infantia eruditi, propter fidei professionem et assertionem, clerici promoneantur.

2. Vt ordinatis episcopis uel clericis prius placita concilii conculcentur ab ordinatoribus eorum, ne se aliquid aduersus statuta concilii fecisse adserant.

3. Vt etiam per sollemnissimos paschales dies sacramentum catechumenis non detur, nisi solitum salis ; quia, si fideles per illos dies sacramenta non mutant, nec catechumenos oportet mutare.

4. Vt corporibus defunctis eucharistia non detur ; dictum est enim a Domino : Accipite et edite ; cadauera autem nec accipere possunt nec edere. Deinde canuendum est ne mortuos etiam baptizari posse fratrum infirmitas credat, cum eucharistiam non dari mor­tuis animaduertit.


1. That the readers shall not salute the people.  That clergy shall not be ordained, nor virgins consecrated, before the age of 25.

2. That, prior to ordaining bishops or clergy, the decisions of the council are impressed upon them by those ordaining them, lest they profess (later) that something was done contrary to the statutes of the council.

2. That for bishops and clerics who have been ordained, the decisions of the council first be thoroughly inculcated by those ordaining them, lest they declare (later) that they have done something contrary to the council’s statutes.

3. That also during the most solemn paschal days the sacrament shall not be given to catechumens, except for health reasons the custom of salt; because if the faithful do not receive change the sacraments during those days, it is not right that for catechumens to receive change (them).

4. That the eucharist shall not be given to the bodies of the deceased; for it was said by the Lord, “Take and eat”; but a cadaver cannot “take” or “eat”.  Then itshould be celebratedthat the weakness of the brother will not believe that it is possible to baptise the dead either, when he notices that the eucharist is not being given to the death.  Then care must be taken also that the weakness of the brothers shall not believe that it is possible to baptise the dead, when he notices that the eucharist is not being given to the dead..

Let me highlight a few funnies in this.

In canon 2, Munier (CCSL 149, p.32) prints “conculcentur”, which means that the decisions of the council “are trampled under foot” by those conducting the ordinations.  A solid search reveals only “despise” as the other meaning.

This makes little sense.  A look at the English NPNF translation of the Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africanae here, canon 18, reveals this obviously parallel canon:

It seemed good that before bishops, or clerics were ordained, the provisions of the canons should be brought to their notice, lest, they might afterwards repent of having through ignorance acted contrary to law.

But how on earth does “conculcentur” fit in?

Then I happened to look at the old Mansi edition.  It reads “inculcentur”, the decisions of the council “are impressed upon them” by those conducting the ordinations.  A look at Munier’s apparatus reveals no sign of “conculcentur”.  Naturally at first I inferred a typo.  But in fact, if we look at one of the manuscripts that Munier used, the Vatican manuscript, Barberini 679, fol. 46v, we find exactly that reading:

Is this a medievalism?  I do not know.  It once again impresses on me that it helps to look at older editions where the editors could read and wrire Latin fluently and would have been ashamed to print meaningless rubbish.  (Update: see discussion in the comments)

The text of the canon is not that easy to follow.  It starts with “ordinatis episcopis uel clericis prius” – an obvious ablative absolute, which in fact cannot be one.  Here the NPNF gives the clue.  It might be some dative of time, but not one that I have come across.  “Prior to the bishops or the clergy having been ordained”, perhaps. (Update: probably not – see discussion in comments).

What is the canon all about, anyway?  It looks as if it was about compulsory ordinations, when men were forced to be ordained.

These did occur.  I remember reading somewhere, in Augustine, how a rich and truly devout man, coming to Africa, was seized by the mob and forcibly made bishop of their church.  Their motive was not piety.  It was money.  For a bishop would be expected to give his property to the church, which inevitably would benefit the congregation.  However their victim escaped, and asked Augustine to be excused his ordination.  Shockingly Augustine, while recognising the injustice, thought that the ordination was still valid.  The case dragged on.  But then the man came to lose his riches in the disorders of the times, and then the “ordination” was quietly forgotten by everyone.

In canon 3 we find “mutare” used, not with the classical meaning of “move”, “change”, but with the medieval meaning of “receive”.  Update: it seems not!

It’s quite hard work, but of course this is how you learn a language; working with the real thing.

Update: some modifications based on the comments.


15 thoughts on “Canons 1-4 of the breviarium of the Council of Hippo (393)

  1. Dear Mr. Pearse,
    greetings. For #2, I might propose a slightly different rendering: “That for bishops and clerics who have been ordained, the decisions of the council first be thoroughly inculcated by their ordainers lest they declare that they have done something contrary to the council’s statutes.” “con” as a prefix is frequently used to intensify the verbal action “sumo” to take; consumo–> to take completely/fully.

    For #3, I think mutare means “to change” and is part of a phrase “mutare sacramenta” which maintains the sense of sacramenta as things involving transformation. It is not employing a new medieval definition. We are still solidly in classical (but Christian) Latin land I think. I also think that the “solitum salis” is not “except for health reasons” but a reference to the “datio salis” which was given to catechumens. Johann Mayer, Geschichte des Katechumenats und der Katechese in den ersten sechs Jahrhunderten, nebst einer Erklärung des jetzigen römischen Taufritus aus der alten Katechumenatspraxis has helpful comments on 63ff.

    hope these comments are helpful,
    bill north

  2. Thank you. Let me think about these a bit. I had never heard before of the “datio salis”, but this must be the right interpretation. Likewise “dont give the catechumens a sacrament” … meaning any sacrament.

    But I don’t follow how mutare can mean change here. However I have just learned of another translation of this canon, also using “change”… will look at this tomorrow.

  3. On conculcentur: The confusion between the two verbs can also be found in Tertullian, De paenitentia VII.5 (only the other way around): ‘formidant uideri inculcare’ “they fear to appear to trample” and the editor (Borleffs, CCSL 1) notes ‘inculcare = conculcare’. I can’t find anything about this in dictionaries. But at any rate it’s not an isolated scribe’s slip, and there’s probably other examples.
    Munier does mention conculcentur as a lectio corrupta on p. 25; and it is also found in the apparatus to the Causa Apiarii 187-8, p. 139 (a version of this same canon, with cross-reference).
    On salis: I agree that this refers to the giving of salt to catechumens. But my first impression was that mutare was used in its plain sense “change, replace, substitute”: since the faithful do not change (replace) their sacraments at that time, the catechumens should not change their custom either.

  4. That’s very interesting, isn’t it.

    I don’t understand the concept of changing a sacrament. Can you say more? You either take the eucharist or you don’t, surely? Is this perhaps a Catholic thing?

  5. Pignot, “The catechumenate in Late Antique Africa”, Brill (2020), p.103 says:

    Augustine’s reference to the giving salt to catechumens at their admission, together with a mention of the same rite in a canon from the council of Hippo of 393—explored in Chapter 5—provide the earliest evidence for this rite in the West, which is never mentioned in Eastern sources. …


    “That as well during the especially solemn days of Easter the rite (sacramentum) should not be given to catechumens (catechumenis), except the customary salt (salis). Because, as the faithful ( fideles) do not change rites (sacramenta) during those days, catechumens too should not change [rites].”

    Many conjectures have been made regarding the forbidden sacramentum: some scholars have suggested that it refers to honey and milk—given to newly baptised as is clear from Canon 23b—, salted bread or Eulogia, while many point to the Eucharist without providing compelling arguments.10 … As in the case of the mention of a sacramentum in the De catechizandis rudibus, modern scholarly interpretations of the canon are all based on the idea that sacramentum alludes to a single rite performed on its own, either the equivalent of a modern sacrament or more specifically the administration of some edible item in contrast with salt. However, the other canons in the Breviarium which refer to a specific rite usually identify it by its name or add an explanatory sentence. … It is relevant here to recall that in Augustine’s writings, sacramentum is often applied to the Eucharist or baptism but also employed more broadly to refer to other rites or sets of rites. In the case of catechumens it refers to the rites performed by them as a sort of counterpart to those of the baptised.12 The canon itself implies that sacramentum entails the broader meaning of “rite” rather than “sacrament”, since it is opposed to the reception of salt “only” and refers, in the plural, to the sacramenta of the faithful.13 It is clear that this canon aims at ruling on the correct calendar for initiation, since rites for catechumens are compared with those for the faithful to highlight that no changes should happen “as well (etiam)” during the Easter period. “The solemn days of Easter” most probably point to the period from Lent until after Easter, at least the first week and perhaps until Pentecost.14

    It seems plausible to argue for a new hypothesis: sacramentum in Canon 3 would refer broadly to the full initiation cycle to become a fidelis, in particular the learning and recitation of the creed perhaps with other texts, baptism, the Eucharist, anointment and other associated rites. …

    It’s plainly a matter of obscure meaning. But the sense of mutare is “change”, somehow.

    On “mutare”, I went back to the DMLBS entry, and I think that I misread it: the idea is of exchange, rather than receiving.

    mutare [CL]
    1 to give and receive, to exchange (esp. in trade); b (abstr. & fig.).
    pecora aequali pretio possunt ~ari Theod. Pen. II 14. 6; diu ~andis mercibus studuit Map NC IV 16 f. 58; 1288 quando ~avit duas pernas pro juvinca in foro CourtR A. Stratton 161; 1406 de nil in pecunia rec. pro quinque equis ‥ quia ~abantur pro iiijxx bidentibus Ac. Durh. 400.  b ibique, ~ato in sacrum velum regni diademate, ancillis Christi se conjunxit Gosc. Transl. Aug. 36A; æthelbertus migravit ad Dominum, ~ato regno in coelestibus, die vicesimo Ib. 44D. …

  6. Thank you Diego for your very interesting notes, which I have now looked up. I must get into the habit of searching for parallels in the Apiarius material.

    Thank you Bill for the thought on “con”+verb, which is new to me. On conculcare, I find that culcare is a version of collocare, in the DMLBS: “collocare [CL] , to set in place, settle, store, establish: a (things); b (animals); c (persons); d (abstr.).” If so, con+culcare could indeed mean “set in place firmly”, inculcate.

    Thank you also for the Mayer ref on salt, which seems to be here:

    Am unzweideutigsten spricht sich gewiß über diesen Zweck des Salzes die dritte Synode von Carthago aus, wenn sie verordnet, mährend der Ostertage dürfe den Katechumenen nicht das eigentliche Sakrament gereicht werden, sondern nur das gewöhnliche des Salzes (solitum salis scl. sacramentum);2) denn, fügt sie begrün­ dend bei, wenn die Gläubigen während jener Tage die Sakramente nicht wechseln, dürfen Katechumenen dieselben gleichfalls nicht vertauschen.

    The third Synod of Carthage certainly speaks most unequivocally about this purpose of salt when it decreed that during the Easter days the catechumens should not be given the actual sacrament, but only the usual one of salt (solitum salis scl. Sacramentum); 2) for, she adds, if the believers do not change the sacraments during those days, catechumens are also not allowed to exchange them.

    2. Mansi tom. III. 919.

    On canon 2, I prefer your version. I agree that “prius” is better connected to “conculcentur” rather than “ordinatis”. I certainly should have recognised that aliquid is the object of “they have done”!

  7. I just looked around a bit more and found that Verecundus too uses ‘conculco’ for ‘inculco’ in Super cantica 43.23 ‘curioso lectori quaedam intellegentiae semina conculcamus’ (CCSL 93 p. 53, see p. 283). It may not be a coincidence that all the examples of this usage come from African sources.
    (Note also the use of the dative ‘lectori’, parallel to that of the canon: “inculcate seeds in the reader”.)

    However, the etymology is not from ‘culcare’ which is a medieval development, whereas ‘inculcare’ and ‘conculcare’ are ancient (Plautus, Cicero); they are based on ‘calco’ with regular development of ‘a’ before L+consonant (cf. ‘salto’ > ‘insulto’). The semantic development of ‘inculco’ is illustrated by the entries in Glare: “tread or press in > force on (a recipient) > impress upon (someone’s mind)”. Bill’s suggestion that ‘con-‘ may have been substituted as an intensive prefix seems good.

    On canon 3: I believe your current translation is right, and that the canon uses ‘sacramenta’ a bit equivocally: first as the Eucharist, and then meaning sacred rites (the datio salis) in general. Augustine has a neat example that points to both the strict and the loose sense of ‘sacramentum’ in the same context, in De peccatorum meritis 26 (CSEL 60 p. 113): ‘quod [catechumeni] accipiunt quamuis non sit corpus Christi, sanctum est tamen et sanctius quam cibi quibus alimur, quoniam sacramentum est’.

    I guess there was an actual discussion as to whether catechumens ought to be exceptionally admitted to the Eucharist during the paschal days, and the reply was that they should only receive “such sacraments as are customary”, arguing that the faithful do not alter their practice during those days, so there’s no reason why catechumens should do so.

    Finally, a few arguments against the possibility of reading ‘mutare’ here as “transform” (“transubstantiate”): its natural object would be ‘panem/vinum’, which is the thing being transformed, not ‘sacramenta’; also, it would be awkward to say that the faithful (and even more the catechumens) are the ones that operate the change; but mostly, ‘fideles per illos dies sacramenta non mutant’ wouldn’t make sense: at Easter of all times the faithful receive the Eucharist.

  8. Thank you, Diego. These are all good points. “calco”, yes. I could find no “culco”, and was unaware of the a => u. I appreciate the thoughts on canon 3!

  9. In canon 4, should ‘cavendum’ not be read for ‘canendum’? “Then care must taken lest the brethren in their weakness believe that the dead can be baptised…”

  10. You are absolutely right – I mistranscribed cavendum! But I am still somewhat baffled by the sentence. The ne … credat clause has infirmitas as the subject, and fratrum is genetive plural.

  11. But it’s not so uncommon for abstractions to be raised to the subject like this. It is simply a means of giving prominence to the weakness/intellectual fragility/ignorance that would be the source of the brothers’ erroneous belief.

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