Five stray canons of the Council of Hippo (393) – canon 1

The canons of the council of Hippo in 393 are lost.  Indeed at the third council of Carthage in 397, delegates complained that many had never seen the canons.  This point was grimly noted by the presiding bishop, Aurelius of Carthage, who thereafter ensured that everything was written down.  Since he held annual councils for twenty years, this created quite a body of church law!  But the most that he could do for Hippo was to issue a summary, the Breviarium, which we were working on earlier this year.

However in 1968 Charles Munier published five canons of Hippo, which had somehow been preserved in a manuscript, Vercellensi 165, on folio 199v.  My copy of his publication has not yet arrived, but I have translated the canons anyway from the CCSL 149 pp.20-21 text.  Here’s the first one.

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(1) Aurelius episcopus dixit: Sancti fratris Elesii nobis suggestio plenam sollicitudinem ac diligentiam oportet incutiat, ut omnis omnino cavillatio amputetur, cunctisque excusationibus aditus omnino claudatur.

Bishop Aurelius said: It is right that the suggestion of the holy brother of Elesium should instill solicitude and diligence in us, so that every cavil may be entirely lopped off, and the pathway to any excuses entirely removed.

Quare censendum est, si placet vestrae caritati, ut semper filii sint in potestate parentum, adque disciplinae regulam ab ipsis vel maxime episcopis seu clericis redigantur, nullum in minoribus annis filium debere ab episcopo vel clerico emancipatione a potestate patria liberari, nisi tantummodo illum cuius vitam moresque probaverit, ut iam legibus cum fuerit et voluntatis suae arbiter, peccato ipse proprio possit astringi, ne eius malae conversationis macula quisquam episcopus vel clericus pergatur.

Wherefore it must be decreed should be established, if it pleases your Charity Charities, that young men shall always be under the authority of their parents, and that they shall draw up be instructed in the rule of discipline by themselves, or better with by the bishops or clergy; [that] no young man who is a minor ought to be released from his father’s authority by a bishop or clergyman, unless he himself only has proved his life and morals, so that, when he is in law also the arbiter of his own wishes, he can be made responsible for made an accessory his own sins in his own mistakes, lest any bishop or clergyman shall be drawn into the dishonour stain of his evil way of life.

I’m not sure about “astringi” as “made an accessory”, the Oxford Latin Dictionary meaning 10, but none of the others seem to fit.  [UPDATE:  from the comments: In the passive “astringere” should be “made responsible”, lit.”be bound”.]

Si quidem praeceptum, ut manentibus in errore ‘cibum cum his minime capiatur’, nec filiis debent de facultatibus suis aliquid derelinquere, quia melius est unus timens Deum quam mille filii.

For the commandment is, that, for those remaining in error, “with these do not even eat”, (1 Cor. 5:11), nor ought they to leave anything to the young men from their property, because “better is one fearing God than a thousand [ungodly] children.” (Ecclus. 16:3)

I have understood “si quidem” as “siquidem”, and “est” as the main verb.

We lack the context of this canon, but perhaps the sense of the sentence is for the bishops and clergy not to end up acting as replacement parents, in loco parentis, to junior clergy who then go bad, and bailing them out from church funds?

Comments and corrections are welcome.  I had quite a bit of difficulty with this one, I might add, which is why it did not appear in the summer!

More in my next post.


8 thoughts on “Five stray canons of the Council of Hippo (393) – canon 1

  1. There is a translation by S. Adamiak of this canon here:

    I would tend to agree with Dr. Adamiak’s translation in most cases, but for ‘astringi’ (which he translates “is able to abstain from sin”) I think “responsible for” is better. Or even more literally “can be bound by his own sin”. Compare Cassian in Collationes: “non solum levi peccato, sed etiam gravissimo crimine impietatis astringitur qui precem Domino fundens subito a conspectu eius … abscesserit” (PL49 1255B).

    Amaniak notes also that “The canon was repeated in Registri Ecclesiae Carthaginensis Excerpta as Canon 34.” It’s actually #35, in CCSL 149:184: “Vt episcopi uel clerici filios suos a sua potestate per emancipationem exire non sinant, nisi de moribus eorum fuerint et de aetate securi, ut possint ad eos iam propria pertinere peccata.” This doesn’t solve the difficult parts here, but the meaning is clearly the same.

  2. Thank you! That was a really horrid sentence and I’ll look very carefully at the Adamiak translation.

    Therefore, if your charities agree, it should be established that sons remain always in the power (potestas) of their parents, and that they be instructed in the rules of the discipline by them or if need be by bishops or clerics; no minor should be emancipated by a bishop or a cleric from paternal power (patria potestas), unless someone whose life and mores have been proven, and who is able to be a judge of his own will, following the laws, so that he is able to abstain from sins, and no bishop or cleric is disturbed by the stain of his [the boy’s] bad way of life.

    (trans. S. Adamiak)

  3. Looking at this, these are mostly improvements, I agree!

    redigantur regulam – “be brought within the Rule”, perhaps equivalent to “be instructed in the Rule”.

    pergatur – I don’t see how he gets “disturb” as the meaning. The dictionary idea is “proceed”, travel, in the dictionaries that I have, which is why I went with “drawn into”.

    The concept here must be something like “tainted”. I wonder if we should look at per (through) + rego (govern, rule, guide) for ideas. I’ve googled pergitur (the corresponding indicative, present passive) and found a passage in Augustine, City of God, book 17, 1 (Loeb vol 415, p.210-211):

    Quae igitur a prophetis sunt praedicta de Christo,
    cum moriendo decedentibus et nascendo succedentibus
    suis membris civitas Dei per ista curreret tempora,
    si omnia velim commemorare, in inmensum
    pergitur, ….

    Now it would be an interminable task if I should
    attempt to record all the predictions made by the
    prophets about Christ while the city of God was running
    its course through those ages, as one generation
    died out and another was born to take its place.

    It looks as if “pergitur” is often treated as if it was active in translations.

    I also find here a discussion as if it was a synonym for “itur”, “go, travel”.

    Maybe render as “lest any bishop enter into the stain of his evil way of life”?

    Any thoughts?

  4. ‘Pergatur’ baffles me.
    Passive ‘pergitur’ is used impersonally; in Augustine’s quote it means “if I were to record… one goes to infinity”. But with a subject ‘quisquam episcopus vel clericus’ that seems impossible.
    Leaving the verb aside for a moment, I can think of two possible meanings for the sentence: (1) That the bishop/clergyman is driven by association (conversatio) with the young man into an evil way of life himself, or (2) that the bishop shares the blame for the young man’s sins (i.e., the “stain” attaches to the bishop). The argument of the canon seems to me to point to (2): when the y.m. has enough discernment to be emancipated, the b. ceases to be responsible for the y.m.’s actions. I don’t think there is a question of the b.’s own morality here.
    (Maybe one should read ‘perdatur’ “shall be condemned”? Or perhaps “led astray”. According to Mounier’s apparatus the text is quite defective: ‘ut iam legibus’ and ‘possit astringi’ are the editor’s corrections for ‘etiam leigimus’ and ‘positas stringi’. Of course this is just a guess and I wouldn’t press it.)
    But while we’re guessing, ‘legibus’ is difficult too, both because it assumes a construction “legibus esse” and because it is coordinated (‘et … arbiter’). Since the text actually reads ‘leigimus’, I think an adj. ‘legitimus’ would be an equally good alternative, meaning “of legal age” (see Latham DMLBS s.v.)

  5. I am glad to hear that pergatur is as baffling to you as to me. Maybe it is just corruption. (I’m assuming subjunctive on the basis that the “ut” is governing it as a result clause.) I certainly understood #2 here – that the council does not want the bishops to be held responsible.

    I like the legitimus idea!

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