Munier’s “Concilia Africae” – read his Proemium in English

During late antiquity the Catholic bishops of the Roman provinces of Africa frequently gathered in synods and issued rules (“canons”) for the behaviour of the clergy.  This created a mass of regulations which was eagerly seized on by other parts of the church and became a major source for medieval canon law.  The material for the African synods was edited in Latin by Charles Munier, Concilia Africae A. 345 – A. 525, CCSL 149 (1974).  This remains the current critical edition, even if there is a typo on the first page where the CCSL volume number is given as “CCLIX” instead of “CLIX” (!), which Brepols have not fixed in the nearly 50 years since it was reported.

But the volume is really very hard for anyone other than an expert to use.  The temptation is to plunge into the materials, but it is hard to make sense of them.  I have found it necessary to prepare a rough translation into English of his prefatory material, for my own use, and I thought that I would place this here.

I offer no guarantees of accuracy.  This is a draft.  Nor am I going to put the Latin here.  Get yourself the Latin, and read it yourself, with this to help.  My objective here is only to spare others some of the pain that I have found in trying to use the book for its design purpose.

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PROEMIUM [ = PREAMBLE, pages v-xii]

Among the documents of the law of the ancient churches, the canons of the African Councils hold no small place; for those which made their way not only into the collections of the West, but also from Latin copies translated into Greek, were admitted into the sources of Byzantium law: for by the decision of the council at Trullo (AD 692, c. 2) the synod of Carthage AD 419, with Excerpts from the Register of that Church, was approved.

In order to preserve the unity of the faith and the discipline, it was the custom of African bishops to assemble in synods since the early days. Blessed Cyprian (ep. 71, 4; 73, 3) testifies that such meetings were held under Agrippinus (a. 218-222?) and under Donatianus (a. 236-248), his predecessors. He himself frequently convened synods, especially when he contended with the bishop of Rome about reconciling the fallen and repeating baptism. At the beginning of the protests, the Donatists were often gathered together, but the greater part of their minutes were destroyed; nor is there space here to investigate or publish these.  The Donatist and Anti-Donatist writers are conveniently found in the very useful work of the Rev. D. Eligius Dekkers, under the name of “Clavis Patrum Latino­rum“, second edition (1961).

For our primary concern and study was to make available the documents of law which were available from Africa in ancient compilations, as well as to all the churches, also sprung from the source. And though there are already many editions of the Councils, from the Merliniana (Lutetiae Parisiorum, a. 1524)  to the most famous by Dominic Mansi (Florence and Venice, 1759-1798), an account of which is in the work of C. Lightfoot – H. Leclercq, “Histoire des Conciles”, t. I, p. 97-114, you will find that all who desire to use editions of this kind are often met with perplexing doubts, because the same documents are often handed down several times, so that the better tradition can be discerned. Indeed from the incunables of the art of printing on, editors found manuscripts by chance and hastily published them. But by an unfortunate chance, they were too often deceived by that African material, even though they had sent new documents to the press, because they had prior information about the synods of Africa, through the Spanish tradition, the worst of them all, or through the writings of Pseudo-Isidore; from which it came about that either they had few genuine readings or else they attempted to reconcile them with the Spanish tradition.

Nor is it surprising that the investigators of ecclesiastical and canon law in an area obstructed by so much baggage, perspired with much labour, since they were not weary of distinguishing wheat from chaff. This was the first reason why the restoration of each synod was extremely difficult, because in the more recent councils it was the custom of the Africans to read and confirm the decrees of earlier ones, so that the acts of some of them contained nothing new. But when the collectors of canons found so many statutes of almost the same kind in their copies, the problem was so awkward to them that they often omitted certain things, either the earlier one or the later, but did not give warning of things either transposed or compacted. Moreover, there was the deception, carelessness, haste, and scruple of the scribes, the cause of great confusion, so that either they were forced to abbreviate the documents, or they placed certain things under fictitious titles, either in ignorance or deliberately, or else they completely destroyed the chronological order or sequence of the Acts.

In order that traditions from authentic minutes might be distinguished from more recent ones, which, as they say, are contained in second- or third-hand compilations, it was necessary to return to the manuscripts themselves. Among the most active and intelligent seekers for manuscripts, above all, are those praiseworthy men, the brothers Peter and Jerome Ballerini, who judged with admirable skill concerning the African synods; their investigations, published in 1757, whose name is: “De antiquis collectionibus et collectoribus cano­num [=Of the ancient collections and collectors of canons]” (part II, c. iii), all well-known, are reflected in the Patrologia Latina 56, 88-124. Friedrich Maassen discussed the African councils very well: his book was published earlier in the century, “Geschichte der Quellen und der Literatur des canonischen Rechts im Abendlande” (Graz, 1871), nos. 132-164.  Very useful on the manuscripts and old compilations of law is C.H. Turner in his work, “The Most Ancient Monuments of the Law of the Western Church“, London, 1899-1939; nor is that all: the Acts of the name of Apiarius, which were examined at the council of Carthage AD 419, he edited meticulously in the place where they were (I, p. 561-624).   Lately Rev. Canon F.L. Cross (I would like to mention his innumerable benefits to me) has written briefly and skilfully in his concise article: “History and Fiction in the African Canons”, in The Journal of Theological Studies, new series, XII, part 2 (1961), p. 227-247.

Relying on the example and help, and overcome by the friendly persuasion of those who have dedicated themselves to the knowledge of the sources of canon law, I have dared to hammer out this edition of the canon law of the Councils of Africa (under the guidance of the master of all, Gabriel Le Bras).

The rationale and method of the work must now be indicated with a few words, since these differ in some respects from the method and principles used in the previous edition of the Councils of Gaul (AD 314-506) (Corpus Christianorum, vol. 148 [1963]).  In the ancient manuscripts the synods of Gaul were always whole and separate, so it was easy to arrange them in strict chronological order. The documents of the law of the churches of Africa are presented in a very different way: while some of the councils, like in Gaul, are transmitted separately and entire, others have reached us in compiled form, the entire acts of the councils, or as excerpts from their decisions, or they offer only a brief information about such assemblies, e.g. “Acts of the name of Apiarius”, AD 418-424, or “Excerpts from the Register of Carthage”. Those which can be published separately in chronological order are these:

a) Carthage Councils I, II, VII of the Spanish collection.  But the material under the titles of the Councils III, IV, V, and VI of Carthage, or of the Council of Milevis (AD 402), which is given in the same place, although it deserves less – or no – credit in some cases, could not be omitted from this edition, since it has been known and used for more than ten centuries.
b) the Council of Thelense (AD 418);
c) the council of Hippo (AD 427);
d) the Council of Carthage (AD 525).

I would not like to dismember the collections of the autonomous churches of Africa, or the abbreviated versions of their acts, or the remaining monuments of the science of canon law created in those countries, contrary to what is most often done. Nor would it be right, as Ed. Schwartz warns, who wrote about the collection of African material inserted in the second Dionysian (collection): “I believe it to be the private work of a Carthaginian cleric that was never read at an African synod. That it is old and contains valuable material should not be disputed. It, like the Breviarium Hipponense and the African councils of the Hispana, must be published separately if the history of transmission is to become clear: just don’t split it up into individual councils.” (“Die Kanonessammlungen der alten Kirche”, in “Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung” 56, Kan. Abt. 25 [1936], p. 72 note).

For this reason, I have edited here the documents of that kind, as they have been revised, in chronological order just as they were preserved, so that the knowledge and practice of canon law among the churches of Africa may appear. For though certain things concerning the author, sources, origin, and scope of each collection may remain obscure, the succession of these documents is not doubtful:

a) The Breviarium Hipponense (p. 22-53) was put together in the month of August 397, and enlarged a little after 401;

b) The Gesta de nomine Apiarii (p. 79-172) exists in two editions, the first of which was sent to Rome at the end of May 419, the other in the month of November of the same year and was completed in 424;

c) The Excerpta ex Registro ecclesiae Carthaginensis were collected in the city of Carthage by a private individual at the end of the fifth century (p. 173-247);

d) The Breviatio canonum of Fulgentius Ferrandus (p. 283-311) was compiled before AD 546, by a deacon of the church of Carthage, as Cresconius testified in his preface of his book (cf. Maassen, “Geschichte”, p. 800).

e) The Concordia canonum of Cresconius (Maassen, n. 842) certainly ought to have had its place in this edition with more certainty; for although there is still doubt about the person and time of the author, that he was an African, who composed his work from both collections of Dionysius the Exiguus, there is no doubt.  But when I found out that the first editor, namely Ch. Justel, often reported the readings of his exemplar (cod. Bodleian 3689, now from Mus. 103 ; cf. Maassen, n. 569, 1) of the second Dionysian collection under the titles of Cresconius, and that there was not time to collect all the manuscripts of the Concordia canonum of Cresconius  – at least thirty – required to prepare properly a critical edition of this work, it seemed right to refer the reader to the existing edition (PL 88, 829-942).

f) The brevatio canonum: “From the synod at Carthage of Africa”, which is presented in the Spanish Epitome (Maassen, n. 703), is not the work of an African. When it was published very recently by G. Martinez Diez (“El Epitome hispanico”, Comillas [1962]), I was unwilling to omit this document (put together for the use of the Braga Church at the beginning of the seventh century, so it seems), lest perhaps a judgment, which was too severe on the canons of the Africans, brought forward by a friend, might give some offense to some.  For he wrote, “The African canons and their exact attribution to the different councils is one of the greatest puzzles offered in the history of the ancient conciliar dispositions. It has not yet been resolved and perhaps never will be, at least with absolute certainty; and the fragment of African canons of the Epitome participates in this same obscurity and uncertainty” (op. cit., p. 45). When you carefully compare the sources of this Brevatio (p. 314-319), it appears by degrees that all the canons given there are known from other sources, both those taken from the Breviarium Hipponensis and the Excerpts from the Register of the Church of Carthage.

g)  Concerning the compilation of the African Councils, which the author of the collection known as the Collectio Hispana knew, following the Ballerini brothers (PL 56, 218 sq.) and Maassen, n. 793, has been best discussed by G. Martinez Diez in his book, “La coleccion canonica Hispana”, t. I (1966), p. 286-288.   Some refer to the testimony of the Council of Tours 567, c. 21 (cf. C. de Clercq, Councils of Gaul AD 511-695 [1963], p. 186), where the decision of the Council of Carthage AD 418 (see p. 227, 1532) is cited under the title of the CSouncil of Milevis, in order to show that the African compilations (so Maassen), or a hodgepodge of them, placed under the name of the council of Milevis (so Martinez), already existed in the middle of the sixth century.  This idea seems the better, because it is clear that the Excerpts from the Carthaginian Register were often extracted from the manuscripts which I first discussed, namely Berolinensis Phillipp. 1743 and Monacensis 5508 (see p. 235 and 245, the titles of those manuscripts).  Although the author of the Collectio Hispana knew the African material before it had been distorted, he himself revised the documents for his own benefit, so that ever since there has been no small deception.


It is clear that many things out of the very extensive Acts of the councils of Africa have perished so that nothing survives except extracts. A great number of collections of canons of that province were assembled, drawn from the traditions which they call “erratica”, which were available to writers from the fifth century to the seventh century. But the harvest of the reapers was trivial (cf. C. Munier, “Un canon inedit du XXe council de Carthage: Vt nullus ad ecclesiam romanam appellare audeat / Let no one dare to appeal to the Roman church” in “Revue des Sciences religieuses”, 40 [1966], 113-126). It is better, therefore, to say briefly what is preserved in individual manuscripts, with whose help we may conjecture the existence of other traditions, which are now lost:

  1.  The Collectio Fossatensis (for manuscripts see Maassen, n. 685 ; Turner I, 2, p. viii) is described by Maassen, p. 618-619. The archetype was written in the middle of the sixth century, but the order described in the chapter list, from the end of the same century, was changed in the body. Codex M contains the following African material:

a) in the list of chapters: “XI. The Canons of Carthage, where there were 212 (2) bishops, chapter. 28 – XII. The canons of Thelensis, where there were 38 bishops and others.”

At the end of the list of chapters the author notes: “The number of bishops, just as I found it written in Africa, so I have given it.”

b) In the body, fol. 94’: “The chapters of the canons of the council of the bishops of Cartagena begin in ccxiii”. The chapter list follows, see p. 78

Then we read: “Here begin the canons of Carthage or of the African provinces, = Eight definitions against the Pelagians 74-77, [The lack of a closing quote is as in the original – RP] and the Statuta ecclesiae antiqua = Ancient Statutes of the Church which I have recently published (CCSL. 148, p. 164-185); the whole series is divided into twenty-seven chapters.

—  “Likewise, the canons of the same Carthage” (fol. 101′): fragments are offered from several councils, nowhere found in this order, namely (see p.312): “Of Caesarius and Atticus Valentinianus (read: uu. cc.) being consuls (read: conss.) v. kal. Septembris in Carthage in the secretarium of the Basilica of St. Restituta” and there follow the three canons, to which I have assigned the letters A-C, namely: A-B = Breu. Hipp., c. 9-10, in the second recension, 28 August 397, p. 36-37; C = Reg. Carth., c. 125, May 1, 418, see p. 227.

—  “Likewise another council at Carthage, where the ambassadors of the Apostolic See had assembled, that is, Faustinus, bishop of the Church of Potentia, in the province of Picinus in Italy. And to the place.” The four canons follow to which I have assigned the letters D-G, namely: D = Reg. Carth., c. 128; E = c. 129; F = c. 130, but mutilated; G = 131; all from the council of 30 May 419, see p. 230-231.

—   “Piaerius and Ardabor being  consuls, viii. kal. October in the basilica of Saint Leontina”: two canons follow, to which I have assigned the letters H and J, namely: H = Can. Ap. 29, from the Dionysian recension; J = Can. Ap. 30. These I have given twice, p.143-144 and pp. 250-251, are also to be placed under the inscription of the council (Hipponensis) of September 24, 427.

— “Vincentius and Fravita being consuls, on the ides of September, at Carthage in the secretarium of the basilica of St. Restituta, where the letter of Athanasius (read: Anastasius), bishop of Rome, against the Donatist(s) was left: and at the place.” One canon follows to which I have assigned the letter K = Can. Ap. 26, in Dionysius’ recension, p. 142

— Canon L, without inscription = Can. Ap. 33 a, of Dionysius’ recension, p. 145, or 9 from the Council of Hippo. AD 427, p.252.

— “Likewise here begin the canons of the same on the ides of August, Caereanus being consuls” (fol. 108). Thus is proclaimed the letter of the bishops of Byzacena and Aurelius to the synod of Carthage, 28 August 397 and the Breviarium Hipponense (but without canons 9-10), p. 28-48.

The African series concludes as follows: “End of the Council held at Carthage.”

Although it seems to include nothing new, other than the inscription of the Council of Hippo in AD 427, the collectio Fossatensis offers the best tradition of all the canons which it included, for it is the most ancient, as can be read from the attached records of the Breviarium Hipponense and the Council of Thelensis. For there it is not the canons that are numbered, but – something I found nowhere else in the manuscripts – the pages of the volume which is being copied! From the readings of the same compilations likewise the quality of that tradition can be assessed, which one may infer from the adjoining Register of a certain African church.

2.  The Collectio Laureshamensis (for manuscripts see Maassen, n. 673; Turner I, 2 p.v) is described by Maassen, p. 585-591, who assigned it to the middle of the sixth century.   Besides the Carthaginian Council, a. 525, which is presented only in the same place (p. 255-282), it contains excerpts from the Breviarium Hipponensis, in both recensions (see synopsis, p. xxiii) and the signatures of the Council of Carthage of August 28, 397, p. 48-49.

3.  The Collectio Tolosana or Albigensis (Mss: Maassen, n. 676; Turner I, 2, p.v), is described by Maassen, p. 592-603.  It offers nothing unknown from others sources; however, it is to be noted that it provides nine definitions against the Pelagians, as in the Quesnelian, p. 69-73.

4.  The Codex Vercellensis Bibl. capit. 165, based on sources now lost, preserves some unique documents from Africa, namely: on fol. 199’, there is the complete text of five canons of the Council of Hippo, 8 October 393, p. 20-21. In addition, we learn from this manuscript that the letter of Innocent I was read in the Council of Suffetulensis (Byzacena) (cf. Maassen, p. 184). Finally, on fol. 200′ are three canons of the Council of Carthage under Gratus (a. 345), to be compared with the Spanish recension (c. 2, 3, 9) p. 4-7.

5.  The Codex Parisinus Lat. 3858 C (Maassen, n. 651) has collected many African documents, but this is a compilation of the modern age, completed after the ninth century, as will soon be apparent; which, indeed, I think is Italian, after making an accurate collation of all the African material; nor did I perceive anything useful for restoring the authentic texts.

a) The first series addresses the Pelagians:

— Excerpts from letter 186 of Augustine to Paulinus, with an erroneous conclusion: “And Aurelius of Carthage and the other bishops in number 71 signed,” whose origin is not known clearly.
— The beginning of the synodal letter of the Carthage Council 416 to the Pope Innocent, with the same response: these are borrowed from a certain manuscript of the so-called Vatican collection, similar to our U;

b) the second series is derived from the Code of the case of Apiarius, in the Italian recension; see synopsis, p. 81:

— The canons of the cause of Apiarius, forty in number;
— The letter from the Council of Carthage AD 419, sent to Boniface on 26 May;
— The letter of the Africans to Celestine, under the erroneous inscription: “Here begins the letter or annotation of the third council of Carthage”, unless you admit that the council of 424 was indeed the third to deal with the case of Apiarius;

c) the Breviarium Hipponense, in the recension of the Vatican collection; cf. the synopsis on p. 26-27, and the readings which I have presented. Many things were omitted, so the canons of  Apiarius, – which drew upon the Breviarium; see the synopsis on p. 100 – were not repeated here;

d) The Statuta ecclesiae antiqua = Ancient Statutes of the Church, without an inscription, but in a recension which I found to be similar to the Vatican collection;  [The printed text has no entry “e” – RP].

f)  Excerpts from the Register Carthaginensis, see p.178-181, but canons 49, 50, 70, 72, 84, 91-94, 107, 108 are missing from the words: “Placuit omnibus…”, 109-116 of the Dionysian recension.  The readings of this series agree closely with the Bobbio Dionysiana; which is confirmed by the presence of a canon on burials (before canon 73), which is also found in the same collection.

g) After the proceedings of the Council of Ephesus (taken from the Bobbio Dionysiana) are included excerpts from a copy of the collection of Pseudo-Isidore:

— the Letter of Aurelius and the bishops of Byzacena to the fathers of the council of Carthage, 28 August, 397;
— the council of Carthage under Gratus, AD. 345;
— the council of Carthage under Genethlius, AD. 390, where canons 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, are omitted which were already copied within the canons of Apiarius.

So it appears that the too kindly judgment of Masseen must be modified in some respects. The age of the collection cannot be assigned to the times of Dionysius, namely, at the beginning of the sixth century. Nor can the deceptive abundance of African material deceive us, while it is certain that the collector has drawn everything from already well known compilations.

6.  A small piece from an unknown council (of the province of Byzacenae, I conjecture) found by Hubert Mordek in cod. Stuttgardt. HB VI, 113, and given to be edited here; whom I thank gratefully.


As for other manuscripts or compilations, in which the canons of Africa are included, mention of these will be made at the top of the material for each council; but I thought that a list of the manuscripts that were available should be placed at the beginning of this work, p. xiii-xvii as well as a brief chronological order of all the synods, p. xix-xxxviii.


The observations which H. Marrou and S. Lancel made In order to complete the list of names (of places and of bishops) were of the greatest help, together with all the prosopographical information about African affairs which the most skilled A.M. La Bonnardiere communicated.  I give many thanks to them and to all who for ten years have helped me edit or interpret the manuscripts.

While he completed his difficult and pious work, the workman dedicated his work to his mother, who always moved to the admiration of all to his patron saint Augustine, and to his father, who lived for so many years in the regions of the Proconsular, Byzacene, Tripoli, and, finally, beloved by all the inhabitants or foreigners in that African country; to whom the Lord, just and merciful, deigns to grant with indulgence the light of truth, peace of love. (You who are reading, pray for me a sinner).

Argentorati (Strasbourg), in die
SS. Apostolorum Petri et Pauli, anno salutis MCMLXXII.
C. Munier

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Even in English that is a pretty indigestible preface.  Ouch.

Following this, pages xiii-xvii contain a list of editions, and then a very long list of manuscripts used.  I don’t think this needs to appear here – it’s fairly easy to follow in the Latin.  Pages xvii-xviii contain the abbreviations used in the apparatus.  On page xix there is a section which I never noticed, and which it is very, very necessary to read.  It is headed “Conspectus Chronologicus” – “Chronological Overview” – and I will give an English translation in a separate post.  [Update – it’s here]


2 thoughts on “Munier’s “Concilia Africae” – read his Proemium in English

  1. Hi Roger, I ran into this quote the other day and it seems there are alternate readings that make a significant difference in meaning. It comes from a letter of Innocent 1 to the bishops of Meletia in AD 417, responding to their synod held the previous year, I believe. Are there pictures of the manuscript anywhere online or info where the manuscripts for this document are located? Thanks.

    Innocent I – “Valentino and the rest. Those who attended the Melibittan Synod” (c. 417)

    That’s what your fraternity claims they preach to you, it is silly, that it is possible to give children the rewards of eternal life even without the grace of baptism. For unless they have eaten the flesh of the Son of Man and have drunk his blood, they will not have life in themselves (cf. Jn 6:53f). But those who defend it [eternal life without baptism] without regeneration seem to me wishing to cancel the baptism itself, when they preach that they have [eternal life] **what they believe is not to be conferred on them by baptism**. If, therefore, they desire nothing to hinder them, they must admit that they are not born again, nor do the sacred streams of regeneration benefit them. But, in order that the depraved doctrine of superfluous men may be easily discerned by reason of the truth, the Lord proclaims this in the Gospel, saying: Suffer little children, and forbid them not (to come) to me (for such is the kingdom of heaven) (cf. Mt 19, 14; Mk 10, 14; Lk 18:16).”

    Qui autem hanc eis sine regeneratione defendunt, videntur mihi ipsum baptismum velle cassare, cum praedicant hos habere, **quod in eos credunt non sibi baptismate conferendum** (al.: quod in eos creditur non nisi baptismate conferendum). (alternate: which is believed to be conferred on them only by baptism.)

  2. Probably; but you’d have to grab a copy of Munier, identify them and then search. I found working with mss for this stuff was overwhelmingly hard, tbh.

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