The Council of Carthage (397), prefatory letter

Something that I started on quite a long time ago was the very first item in Munier’s edition.  This was an introductory letter to the dossier.  It makes sense only if you know what happened.

Basically Bishop Aurelius of Carthage summoned the council of Hippo in 393, which issued a bunch of canons – various regulations for the clergy.  But it seems that no official record was circulated.  This led to bishops excusing their failure to follow the canons by claiming that they had never seen them.  So in 397 Aurelius held another council, in Carthage.

But there was a glitch.  The bishops of Byzacena, by mistake, turned up early.  Nor could they hang around – like African despots at an international conference, they might have no country to go back to if they lingered.  So Aurelius held a first session on 13th August 397, and got them to hammer out a summary of the council of Hippo.  Then he held the main session at the original date.  The letter explains why the council minutes contain this summary of Hippo.

William L. North helped me an awful lot with this.  All the mistakes are mine.

Incipit concilium Carthaginense sub diem iduum augustarum consulatu Caesarii et Attici.

Here begins the council of Carthage on the ides of August, Caesarius and Atticus being consuls.

Epistula Aurelii et Mizonii ad episcopos Numidiae et Mauritaniae.

Letter of Aurelius and Mizonius to the bishops of Numidia and Mauritania.

The name “Mizonius” is our old friend, the Roman name “Musonius”, in local form.  Mizonius was the primate of Byzacena, and an old man.

Dilectissimis fratribus et coepiscopis diversarum provinciarum Numidiae, Mauritaniae utriusque, Tripolis et Proconsularis, Aurelius, Mizonius et c(eteri).

To the most well-beloved brothers and fellow-bishops of the various provinces of Numidia, Mauritania of Tripoli and of [Africa] Proconsularis; Aurelius, Mizonius etc.

Ecclesiasticae utilitatis causa, dum in Carthaginensi urbe convenerimus in unum, a plerisque suggestum est, ea quae in concilio Hipponiensi iamdudum acta sunt, et legitime, ad corrigendum disciplinam, quae salubriter statuta noscuntur, effrenata temeritate** quosdam minime custodire; ad huiusmodi vero excusandos excessus, illud ab aliquibus praetendi, quod ea, quae iamdudum cum legibus statuta sunt, ignorantes praetermiserunt.

For the sake of the interests of the church, while we have met together in the city of Carthage, it has been suggested by most people that those things which were enacted years ago in the council of Hippo – and legitimately, to correct the discipline which is known to have been established beneficially, – do not at all restrain some from unbridled boldness;  But to excuse such excesses, some have pretended ignorance because they have neglected those things which have long been enacted by the laws.

Ob quam rem, haec communi consilio per universam provinciam Bizacenam in notitiam cunctis deducendum censuimus: ut abhinc quisquis decretorum temerator extiterit, sciat se status sui opera tum fuisse jacturam.

For which reason we have thought that these things must be brought into notice throughout the whole province of Byzacena, so that, from now, whoever stands up as a scorner of the decrees, let him know that at that moment he is expelled from the burden of his position.

Brevem vero statutorum, in quo omnia videntur esse complexa, et quaedam diligentius constituta, huic epistolae subdi fecimus: ut compendio, quae decreta sunt recensentes, sollicitius observare curemus.

So we have caused an abbreviation of the statutes, in which all things seem to be included** and some of them more carefully set forth, to be appended to this letter: so that after reviewing in summary what was decreed, we may be more careful to observe it.

Optamus vos, fratres, in Domino bene valere,** et nostri memores esse.

We wish you, brothers, to be well in the Lord, and to be mindful of us.

Google, politically correct to the last, rendered “fratres” as “brothers and sisters” (!)

Et manu senis Mizonii: Opto vos, fratres, beatos semper in Domino gaudere, et nostri memores esse.

And in the hand of the aged Mizonius: I wish you, blessed brothers, always to rejoice in the Lord, and to be mindful of us.

The sense of most of this is now fairly clear, but the syntax is not always so.


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