The Nicene Creed in Hippo 393 / Carthage 397

In the Breviarium Hipponense, the summary of the canons of the council of Hippo in 393, prepared at the start of the council of Carthage in 397, there is a version of the Nicene creed.  I thought it might be interesting to look at.  The text is from Munier, CCSL149, p.30, but I have added punctuation (extra commas!) from Mansi at points.  There are quite a few variants in the various manuscripts, which I shall ignore.

Nicaeni concilii professio fidei recitata et confirmata est quae ita se habet.**

Credimus in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, uisibilium et inuisibilium factorem, et in unum Dominum Iesum Christum Filium Dei, natum de Patre unigenitum, hoc est, de substantia Patris, Deum <de> Deo, lumen de lumine, Deum uerum de Deo uero, natum non factum, unius substantiae cum Patre, (quod Graeci dicunt omousion); per quem omnia facta sunt siue quae in caelo siue quae in terra; <qui> propter homines et propter nostram salutem descendit, et incarnatus est, homo factus per Virginem Mariam; passus est et resurrexit tertia die, ascendit in caelos, uenturus iudicare uiuos et mortuos ; in Spiritum sanctum.

Eos etiam qui dicunt : Erat quando non erat, et : Quia ex nullis existentibus factus est, uel ex alia substantia, dicentes mutabilem Filium Dei: hos anathematizat ecclesia catholica, et apostolica disciplina.

I.e.

The profession of faith of the council of Nicaea was read and confirmed which is as follows:**

We believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of things visible and invisible, and in one Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, born of the Father, only-begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father, God <from> God, light from light, true God from true God, born not made, of one substance with the Father (which the Greeks call “homousion”); through whom all things were made, whether in heaven or on earth; <who> on account of men and on account of our salvation descended and was incarnate, made man through the Virgin Mary; he died and rose again on the third day, he ascended into the heavens, he will come again to judge the living and the dead; in the Holy Spirit.

Those also who say, “There was when he was not,” and “That*** he was made out of nothing existing, or from another substance,” saying the Son of God is mutable, these the catholic church and the apostolic teaching anathematise.

A couple of notes.

First I was not sure about “quae ita se habet” – “which (quae) thus (ita) se (it) habet (it considers, holds)”.  Google translate unhesitatingly gives “and is as follows”, suggesting an idiom.

In fact I find precisely the same usage in the Institutes of Justinian, book 3, title 11, introducing a quotation with this sentence: “Verba rescripti ita se habent:”, clearly meaning “the words of the rescript are as follows”.  Looking in Livy book 22, Cicero De legibus 1, Frontinus, and others, I conclude:

  • ita se habere  = to be as follows, to stand so.
  • res ita se habet = the matter stands so.

Similarly, I think we have here the late / medieval use of “quia” to mean “that” rather than “because”.

We don’t think of the Nicene creed as having anathemas on the end, but clearly it was understood to do so in Carthage at this period.  The anathemas are directed at the Arians, of course.

It is also interesting that they explicitly refer, in this Latin version, to the Greek word “homoousion” as well (in Latin letters).

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Translations of the acts of the African councils

There are two main chunks of material transmitted to us from antiquity.  The first is the Breviarium Hipponensis, with its introductory letter.  This is a summary of the canons of the council of Hippo in 393, which was prepared at the council of Carthage in 397 after it was discovered that the decisions of Hippo were unknown to most bishops in Africa.  But I find no sign of translations of this chunk, so I will leave this to one side for now.

The second chunk is the “code of the African church”, the “codex canonum ecclesiae Africanae”, transmitted to us by Dionysius Exiguus in his collection of canons and acts, the so-called “collection Dionysiana”, in the revised edition.  Dionysius presents this as the acts of the “council of Carthage”, meaning the council of Carthage of 419, but after canon 33 the remainder of the material is acts and canons of older councils.

This second chunk has been translated in full, by Henry R. Percival in 1899 in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, vol. 14.  The relevant section, headed “The Canons of the 217 Blessed Fathers who assembled at Carthage”, can be found here.  It does not correspond to the revised order of materials in Mansi, nor in Munier in CCSL 149, but to the manuscript order.

Percival’s work is a good piece of work, although the intrusions into the text of comment rather conceal from the reader what the text actually is.  His references to an “ancient epitome” are unclear to me – does he mean the “tituli” prefixed to the acts and canons?  These do not appear in the body of the text in Mansi, that I can see, nor in the Migne PL67 text, nor in the Labbe and Cossart:  Concilia, Tom. II. col. 1041 that he is translating.  He discusses this here, but without looking up his references I am none the wiser.  (There is an explanation in Beveridge, Synodicon, 1672, here, in the prolegomenon section 26; but I lost the will to live when I looked at it).

His first footnotes on this section brought a wry smile to my face:

Yes indeed, sir, they are indeed very hard to follow in the original sometimes.  I suspect Bishop Aurelius simply tended to run his sentences together, as a manner of speaking, which is very hard on us non-native Latin speakers.  But there we go.

Percival translates the edition before him.  But he was not the first to make a translation, as he tells us himself in his bibliographical introduction.

The following is a list of the English translations which I have consulted or followed:

  • John Johnson, The Clergyman’s Vade-mecum (London, 2d Ed., 1714).
  • Wm. A. Hammond, The Definitions of Faith and Canons of Discipline of the Six Œcumenical Councils, etc.
  • William Lambert, The Canons of the First Four General Councils of the Church and those of the Early Greek Synods (London, s.d. Preface dated 1868).
  • John Fulton, Index Canonum.  [This work ends with the Council of Chalcedon.]  (New York, 1872.  3d Ed., 1892.)
  • John Mendham, The Seventh General Council, the Second of Nice (London, s. d.).
  • H. R. Percival, The Decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Synods.  Appendix I. to A Digest of Theology (London, Masters, 1893).

Much of these are dedicated to the ecumenical councils – i.e. the Greek councils.  They give us nothing for the African councils.

Various editions of John Johnson’s Clergyman’s Vade-Mecum Part II are on Google Books.  The first edition, 1709, is here.  The fourth edition, 1731, is here.  I didn’t see the second edition. The title in full is:

The Clergy-Man’s Vade Mecum: Part II : Containing the Canonical Codes of the Primitive, Universal, Eastern, and Western Church, Down to the Year of Our Lord, DCCLXXXVII, Done from the Original Greek and Latin, Omitting No Canon, Decree, Or Any Part of Them that is Curious Or Instructive ; with Explanatory Notes, a Large Index, and a Preface Shewing the Usefulness of the Work; with Some Reflections on Moderate-non-conformity, and the Rights of the Church…

As the title suggests, the book features a very long and tedious preface, mainly attacking the presbyterian Edmund Calamy over some pointless and annoying dispute.  After that he gets into translating the canons, but not the acts.  The purpose of the book is to present the Anglican clergyman with various bits of information useful to him in his job – a doubtless absentee job, at that period.  The canons are there as church law.  Johnson also made a subsequent volume in 1720 in which he translated all the canons of the anglosaxon and early English church, under the snappy title of:

A Collection of All the Ecclesiastical Laws, Canons, Answers, Or Rescripts … Concerning the Government, Discipline and Worship of the Church of England, from Its First Foundation to the Conquest, that Have Hitherto Been Publish’d in the Latin and Saxonic Tongues. And of All the Canons and Constitutions Ecclesiastical, Made Since the Conquest and Before the Reformation in Any National Council, Or in the Provincial Synods of Canterbury and York, that Have Hitherto Been Publish’d in the Latin Tongue: Now First Translated Into English with Explanatory Notes, and Such Glosses from Lyndwood and Athone, as Were Thought Most Useful…

It may be found here.  Johnson references a French translation by “Du Pin”, but I don’t know where that could be found.

I don’t know what other English translations there may be of the African councils material.  I suspect there must be some.

There is a French translation, by P.-P. Joannou.  I discuss this, with links, here.  It does not contain the Breviarium material.

There is a German translation: G. D. Fuchs, Bibliothek der Kirchenversammlungen des vierten und fünften Jahrhunderts, from the 1780s.  I discuss this, with links, here.

There is a 1849 Spanish translation of the 1808 edition by F. González (the one reprinted in Migne PL 84) with facing Latin text here:
https://books.google.com/books?id=2ml0v8VSYjwC&pg=PA211.  I am told that the language is naturally dated but the translation looks quite faithful.

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A few notes on Henry R. Percival, translator of “The Seven Ecumenical Councils” in the NPNF Series 2

Continuing our little series on the councils of the African church, I’ve been looking at the existing translations into English.  I shall write a separate post on this.

Any search for translations immediately brings up the volume edited by Henry R. Percival in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series, Second Series, volume 14. While reading his preface, here, (1899) I came across the following words:

The work intrusted to me of preparing this volume evidently can be divided into two separate parts.  The first, the collecting of the material needed and the setting of it before the reader in the English tongue; the other, the preparation of suitable introductions and notes to the matter thus provided.

Now in each of these departments two courses were open to the editor:  the one, to be original; the other, to be a copyist.  I need hardly say that of these the former offered many temptations.

But I could not fail to recognize the fact that such a course would greatly take from the real value of the work, and therefore without any hesitation I have adopted the other alternative, and have endeavoured, so far as was at all possible, to keep myself out of the question altogether; and as a general rule even the translation of the text (as distinguished from the notes) is not mine but that of some scholar of well-established reputation.

These selfless words filled my heart with a warm feeling towards the translator, and a desire to know more of him.

Let us, then, remember Henry Robert Percival.  I learn that he was born 30 April 1854, and he died on 22 September 1903, aged only 49 – a young man.[1]  There is a photograph online, although I don’t know the source, which I have added to this post (I hope!)

Various of his works are online here.

Mr Percival was an Episcopalian clergyman.   From the funeral sermon, I learn that he never enjoyed good health, but travelled widely in Europe in his youth.  He was in fact unable even to attend seminary regularly, but had private tuition, and was ordained in 1878.  I would infer that he did not come from a poor family.

In 1881 he became Rector of the failing Church of the Evangelists in Philadelphia.  The church had been built some years earlier as a mission chapel, but the standard of construction was poor, and the need for constant repairs soon exhausted the funds of the backers.  Disputes naturally arose, which led to the resignation of the rector and the appointment of Mr. Percival.  It was decided to demolish most of the old building and to erect a  new one, in an Italianate style, funded by the rector and his wealthy friends.  It opened on March 24th, 1886.  The church enjoyed a period of success while he was rector, and all the debts were paid off by 1889.  He composed a guide to the building which is online here.

But the church had no root in the community.  There were few episcopalians locally, and the area was becoming increasingly full of immigrants from Europe.  It has been observed:

Percival’s Church of the Evangelists was the kind of manufactured artifact appropriate to house what James van Trump calls “a rather self-conscious coterie of late nineteenth century Philadelphia haute bourgeoisie ‘engaged’, one might say, in being ‘Catholic’, cultivated, and artistic.” (van Trump, The Charette, Jan. 1965, p. 17; see bibliography.) The building in its basic style and decoration embraces Italy, Ruskin, the ecclesiological movement, and the pageantry of mediaeval Christianity. As such, it is a vivid document of the taste of High Church romantic Italophile Americans of the Period.

Ultimately the whole project was merely the whimsy of a rich man.   How wonderful, however, to have the money and connections to build an Italianate basilica, and to sustain it, if only for a while!

Percival eventually retired as rector in 1897, for health reasons.  After his death financial worries and disputes returned.  The building was eventually sold in 1916 to an art collector, and as the Fleischer Art Memorial it still stands today.[2]

Mr Percival was as Anglo-Catholic as could be imagined.  He said the mass daily at his church, and heard confessions.  His bishop refused to allow him to use catholic lights and vestments, so the result seemed rather odd.  But there can be no doubt about his sincerity.  He became an influential theologian in the Episcopalian church.

In retirement he edited and translated the volume of the NPNF, and did other literary tasks.  It is his work with the NPNF that lives today, I would think.

He died, still a young man, at the age of 49.  His death was announced in the San Francisco Call, vol. 94, number 116, on 24 September 1903, (online here) as follows:

Rev. Henry R. Percival Dead.

PHILADELPHIA. Sept. 23.— Rev. Henry R. Percival, a prominent Protestant Episcopal divine, died’ last night at his country home in Devon, a suburb. He was 48 years of age. Dr. Percival was an extensive writer on theology, many of his books being used as standard works in nearly all of the Episcopal theological seminaries of this country.

His funeral sermon, A Sermon in Memory of Rev. Henry Robert Percival Preached by Rev. Robert Ritchie at St. Mark’s Church, Philadelphia (1903), is online here.

It is always easy to sneer at the failures of yesteryear, and even the successes.  But it seems to me that Mr Percival deserves our kindness.  With his poor health as a burden, he did what he could.  I have a feeling that many of us may prove to have done less with our lives, and benefitted others less.

Mr. Percival lies in Saint Peter’s Episcopal Churchyard in Philadelphia:

Requiscat in pace, et resurgat resurrectione justorum.

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  1. [1]https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/87120980/henry-robert-percival
  2. [2]I owe much of this information to the Wikipedia article on the Fleischer Art Memorial, and the history of the building in a nomination form as a historical monument, online here.

Munier’s “Conciliae Africae” edition (CCSL 149) – a table of contents

The modern critical edition of the canons and acts of the African councils is Charles Munier, “Conciliae Africae A. 345- A. 525”, in: Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 149 (1974).   The volume number is indeed 149, despite being misprinted as 259 (“CCLIX”) on the title page.  Volume 149A is the companion text, the conlocutio of 411 between the Catholics and Donatists.

As I have remarked before, the CCSL 149 volume is very hard to use.  Part of that is that it does not have a table of contents.  In order to work with it, I was obliged to create one, so I will share it here.  It isn’t incredibly detailed – some things I have yet to discover.  But it is better than nothing.

This data is based on the (not very helpful) list at the Brepols site here, and looking the items up in the Clavis Patrum Latinorum (=CPL).  The CPL helpfully gives page numbers.  Each “text”  is in fact a collection of all the material from various sources relating to that particular church council.

There are any number of tiddlers, so I have placed the big texts in bold.

  • p. v – Preface
    • p. vii – a list of documents used as sources, at the foot of the page.
    • p. xiii – manuscripts and sigla.
    • p. xxiii – Chronological list of councils, table of canons, and a bibliography for each council.
  • p. 1. – Concilia Africae
  • p. 2-10 – Concilium Carthaginense sub Grato, 345-348 AD (CPL 1765a)
  • p. 11-19 – Concilium Carthaginense, 390 AD (CPL 1765c)
  • p. 20-21 – Concilium Hipponense, 393 AD (CPL 1765d)
  • p.  23-53 – Concilium Carthaginense, 397 AD.  This is comprised of:
    • 22-27 – Sources and preface
    • 28-53 – The Breviarium Hipponense (CPL 1764)
      • 28-29 – The first session.  Starts with the prefatory letter by Aurelius and Mizonius
      • 30-31 – Nicene creed
      • 32-46 – Two different versions on the canons on facing pages
      • 47 – 53 – The second session of the 13 August, 397.  Mostly signatures and bits and pieces.
  • p.54-65 – Concilium Theletense, 418 AD (CPL 1765e)
  • p. 66 – Fragment of an unknown Concilium Provinciae Byzacenae (CPL 1765b)
  • 67-78 – Concilium Carthaginense, 418 AD (CPL 1765f)
  • 79-165 – Codex Apiarii Causa = “Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africanae”, part 1, up to canon 33 (CPL 1765)
    •  Concilium Carthaginense, 419 AD – Acts of 25 May.
    • 33 Canones Apiarii causa, with the tituli and a speech by Aurelius at the end.  Canon 24 is the canon of scripture,
    • Epistula ad Bonifacium papam (CPL 393)
    • Epistula Cyrilii Alexandriae ad episcopos Africae (CPL 396)
    • Epistula ad Caelestinum papam (CPL 394)
  • p.248-253 – Concilium Carthaginense, 424-425 AD (CPL 1765g)
  • p.173-247 – Registri Ecclesiae Carthaginensis Excerpta (CPL 1765h)  = “Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africanae”, part 2, everything after canon 33, and all of it relating to councils before 419, I believe.
  • p.248-253 – Concilium Hipponense, 427 AD (CPL 1766)
  • p. 254-282 – Concilium Carthaginense, 525 AD (CPL 1767)
  • p. 283 – Concilium Carthaginense, 536 AD (CPL 1767a)
  • p.284-311 – Ferrandi, Breviatio Canonum (CPL 1768)
  • p.312-313 – Sylloge Rerum Africanarum Collectionis Fossatensis
  • p.314-319 – Sylloge Africanorum Conciliorum in Epitome Hispanica (CPL 1769b)
  • p. 320-322 – Sylloge Canonum Africanorum Collectionis Laureshamensis (CPL 1769a)
  • p. 323-369 – Collectiones et Concilia Hispaniae — Concilia Africana secundum traditionem collectionis Hispanae (CPL 1790)
    • 329-341 – Concilium Carthaginense III
    • 342-354 – Concilium Carthaginense IV – Collectiones et Concilia Ecclesiarum Galliae — Statuta Ecclesiae antiqua. Recensio hispanica (CPL 1776°)
    • 355-359 – Concilium Carthaginense V
    • 360 – Concilium Carthaginense VI
    • 361-369 – Concilium Milevitana
  • p.371-425 – Indices
  • Maps

The most useful review of the book that I found was by Hubert Mordek, in Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte: Kanonistische Abteilung 72 (1986), 368-376.  This pointed out the numerous misprints – including the series number on the title page! – and other problems with the volume, in a 9 page review.  The first page can be seen here.

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The “codex canonum ecclesiae Africanae” – looking at the Justell edition

Today I looked at a Google Books volume, here, headed on that site as “Codex canonum Ecclesiæ Africanæ promulgated at the Council of 419”.  It turns out to be a book printed in 1615 by C. Justell, consisting – seemingly – of the material from the “collectio Dionysiana” under the heading of the council of Carthage.

The text is printed from some manuscript, in Latin.  On alternate pages is the Greek translation made in antiquity.

The title – “Codex canonum ecclesiae Africanae” – “Code of canons of the African Church” – keeps turning up in discussions of canon law for centuries afterwards, and even merits a Clavis Patrum Latinorum number of its own, CPL 1765.

But … in reality it is the collection of texts relating to the Council of Carthage of 419, complete, following canon 33, with an appendix of materials from previous councils – which was probably added by Dionysius Exiguus from other sources – plus a few letters to and from the council.  One of the purposes of the council was to verify the exact text of materials from Nicaea, by requesting copies from the east, and these are included.

What is NOT included is the Breviarium of the canons of Hippo in 393, nor the introductory letter to it by Aurelius and Mizonius,

This makes matters simpler.  There are plainly two main transmission units in play here.

  1. The Breviarium and its introductory letter by Aurelius and Mizonius, both produced at the Council of Carthage in 397.  Canon 36 in the Breviarium contains the canon of scripture.

2. The canons of the council of 419, plus the appendix of earlier material added by Dionysius Exiguus.  Canon 24 contains the canon of scripture.  The appendix also contains a chunk of prefatory material to the Council of Carthage in 397.

It looks as if these two items travel down the years independently.

Progress of a sort, anyway.

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Can we use Fuchs’ Bibliothek der Kirchenversammlungen, and do we want to?

Few will be aware that in the 1780’s G.D. Fuchs published an 4-volume German translation of the acts and canons of the church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries.  His Bibliothek der Kirchenversammlungen des vierten und fünften Jahrhunderts can be found online, at Google Books in low resolution, and at the BSB – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek – Bavarian State Library – in higher resolution.  Here are a few links:

  • Vol. 1 (1780) – Google Books. – BSB.  Introduction, canons up to Nicaea.
  • Vol. 2 (1781) – Google Books. – BSB.  Thyrus (335) to the first synod of Toledo (400).
  • Vol. 3 (1783) – Google Books. – BSB.  African Synods, from 348 to 426; Jerusalem, Diospolis, up to preliminaries to Ephesus in 431.
  • Vol. 4 (1784) – Google Books. – BSB.  Ephesus, Chalcedon, Constantinople etc to the end of the fifth century.

Just to add to the fun, he used a “gothic” typeface – “Fraktur” is the technical term – which is pretty much unreadable to non-Germans, even if they know the language.  But modern technology has made quite a difference.  Google can make books in Fraktur searchable.  Abbyy Finereader 15 can turn it into modern typeface using the “Old German” language setting.  The BSB has a search facility on its volumes, probably using the Abbyy engine.  It was in fact a Google search for “Mizonius”, a bishop at the Council of Carthage in 397, that produced a link to Fuchs.

Fuchs tells us that he used the text from J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum, vol. 3 (1759) In fact he wisely indicates the column numbers.  At the start of the material on the Council of Carthage in 397 (volume 3, page 63), we get as a heading “Mansi Tom. III. col. 915 = 939.” and a footnote which specifies what is where.

In the original, and in Google Translate English:

43) In der oben angezeigten Stelle hat Mansi die Aus­gabe unserer Synodalakten nach der Anleitung und den Handschriften der Ballerini, mit Anmerkungen von diesen. Vorher geht col. 909-915. admonitio BaIIeriniorum de breuiar Hippon. Wiederum col. 875-908. 1) Die alte Isidorsche Ausgabe cum titulis, annexisque quinque capitulis ex Gratiano aIiis­que desumptis, incertae originis. 2) Einige Ausga­ben, worinnen die Hipponischen abgekürzten Schlüsse von den übrigen Verfügungen durch die Aufschrift unterschieden sind, 3) Anmerkungen von Dinius. 4) Eine Nachricht von einer Synode zu Karthago, aus dem libellus synodicus, von der aber ungewis ist, ob sie hieher gehört. 5) Anmerkungen von Aubespi­ne.  6) Zwo Anmerkungen von Pagi. Die Synode wird gewöhnlich unter dem Titel, Concil. Carthag. III. angeführt, und unter den Aurelianischen wird sie als die dritte gezählt.

43) In the place indicated above, Mansi has the edition of our synodal acts according to the instructions and the manuscripts of the Ballerini, with annotations from them. Before that, col. 909-915. admonitio BaIIeriniorum de breuiar Hippon. Again col. 875-908. 1) The old Isidorian edition cum titulis, annexisque quinque capitulis ex Gratiano aIiisque desumptis, incertae originis. 2) Some editions, in which the Hipponian abbreviated conclusions are distinguished from the other provisions by the inscription, 3) Notes by Dinius. 4) A message from a synod at Carthage, from the libellus synodicus, of which, however, it is uncertain whether it belongs here. 5) Comments from Aubespine. 6) Two notes from Pagi. The synod is usually entitled, Concil. Carthag. III. cited, and counted as the third among the Aurelian.

Here’s the corresponding page from Mansi:

This is all well and good.  So I thought that I would try to identify this proemium, the introduction to the council, in other modern editions.  It can be found in the standard edition, Munier’s CCSL 149, Concilia Africae, on p.182, at the start of the “Register of excerpts of the Carthage Church”; and in Joannou’s Fonti discipline generale antique (IVe-IXe s.) vol. 1.2 les canons des synodes particuliers (1962) i.e. volume 1.2, p.250, with French translation.  In other words this preface reaches us only as part of the “Council of Carthage” in the “Collectio Dionysiana” – I talked about the collections here -, in the material that follows canon 33.  It took a little longer than I would have liked to find all those.

Just for fun, I used Abbyy Finereader 15, and I scanned Fuchs’ material for the Council of Carthage in 397, and I ran the text, and part of the copious footnotes, through Google Translate.  But scanning does make you read the text.  I found that Fuchs text was obviously incomplete.  A footnote indicated that the signatures of the bishops had been omitted; not a good sign.  Likewise in canon 1, I knew that a text of the Nicene Creed should be given; but it was omitted, as a footnote confirmed.

Let’s take a look at the Proemium, and compare what Fuchs gives us, in his archaic German, to the actual Latin text that Mansi prints.  First Fuchs (with the raw Google output after):

44) Unter dem Konsulat des Caesarius und Attikus d. 28ten August. Als sich Aurelius zu Karthago in dem Kirchenzimmer mit den Bischöfen gesezt hatte, und die Diakonen da stunden 45), so sagte er:  Wir versammleten uns, wie ihr wisset, sogleich nach dem zur Synode bestimmten Tag 46), in der Meynung, die Gesandten der übrigen Provinzen vyn Afrika seyen auch angekommen. Man las den Brief der Byzacenischen Bischöfe, welche vor der anberaumen Zeit sich hier eingefunden halten, und was diese sonst mit mir verhandelt halten, vor; man las die Vollmacht der Sitiphensischen Legaten, des Honoratus und Urbanus; nicht weniger das Schreiben des Krescentianus, des Primas von Numidien, und des Aurelius, unserer Mitbischöfe, worinnen sie versprochen haben, sie würden entweder selbst kommen, oder doch der Gewohnheit nach Abgeordnete schicken. Da nun dieses bisher nicht geschehen, und doch die Legaten von dem Sitiphensischen Mauritanien sich langer nicht aufhalten können: so wollen wir nicht nur das Schreiben unserer Byzacenischen Brüder, sondern auch den dem selbigen angehangten und für diese Versammlung bestimmten kurzen Auszug der Kirchenverordnungen noch einmal verlesen lassen, ob nicht etwas daran zu verbessern seyn möchte. Um dieses bittet der verehrungswürdige Primas Mizonius in einem Schreiben an mich.

44) In the consulate of Caesarius and Atticus, on August 28th. When at Carthage Aurelius sat in the church room with the bishops, and the deacons were there,45) he said: “As you know, we met immediately after the day that was set for the Synod 46), in the Meynnung, the ambassadors from the other provinces of Africa had also arrived. The letter from the Byzacene bishops, who were present here before the appointed time and what other things they were negotiating with me, were read out; one read the authority of the Sitiphensian legates, the Honorus and Urbanus; no less the letter from Crescentianus, the primate of Numidia, and from Aurelius, our fellow bishops, in which they promised that they would either come themselves or, as is customary, send delegates. Since this has not happened so far, and yet the legates of Mauritania Sitiphensis cannot stay longer: we want not only the letter from our Byzacene brothers, but also the Breviarium from the same, which is attached to the same and intended for this assembly Have church ordinances read out again to see if something could be improved on them. The venerable Primate Mizonius asks me for this in a letter.”

That’s pretty clear, even without tidying up.  But is it Mansi?

Sadly it is not.  Even a glance shows that Fuchs has omitted the last sentence, “Si ergo placent quae tractata sunt, legantur, & singula a vestra caritate considerentur.” – “If what [the canons] have been handed over is acceptable, let them be read, and considered one by one by your charity.”  There is plenty of verbiage about “your charity” in other places, which Fuchs has omitted.  Cutting out the piffle is sort of OK, although not very.

The Byzacene bishops arrived early, by mistake, and could not stay.  So they compiled a summary of the canons of Hippo, attached to a letter to the council.  In this first session of the council, on 28 August 397, Bishop Aurelius – really the archbishop – now wants the council to review what was said.  That lost sentence by itself is an important omission as to what the council is about to do.

Mansi and Joannou confirm Mansi’s text at this point. Let’s look at Joannou’s text and translation:

De concilio Carthaginensi, ubi multa sunt constituta.

Caesario et Attico viris clarissimis consulibus, V. Kal. Septembris, Carthagine in secretario basilicae restitutae, cum Aurelius episcopus una cum episcopis consedisset, adstantibus diam diaconis, advenientibus quoque Victore sene Puppianense, Tito Migirpense, Evangelo Assuritano, Aurelius episcopus dixit:

Post diem praestitutum concilii consedimus, ut recordamini fratres beatissimi, d arbitrabamur omnium provinciarum per Africam legationes convenisse ad diem, ut dixi, praestitutam nostri tractatus; sed cum sacerdotum nostrorum epistola Byzacenorum fuisset recitata, vel quid mecum iidem, qui tempus d diem concilii praevenerant, tractassent vestrae caritati legeretur, lecta est etiam a fratribus Honoraio et Urbano, qui nobiscum hodie concilio participantur, legatio Sitiphensis provinciae destinata; frater etiam Reginus ecclesiae Vegetselitanae literas ad parvitatem meam datas Crescentiani primae sedis, ut ipse insinuat, Numidiarum et Aurelii coepiscoporum nostrorum; in quibus scriptis vestra mecum caritas recognoscit promisisse eosdem, quod aut ipsi dignarentur venire, aut ad hoc concilium fuissent ex more destinaturi legatos. Sed hoc quia minime factum videtur, diu se detineri de longinquo venientes legati Mauritaniae Sitiphensis non posse testantur.

Et ideo fratres, si vestrae caritati videtur, literae fratrum nostrorum Byzacenorum, sed et breviarium quod eidem epistolae adiunxerunt ad hunc coetum conrogatum legantur, ut si qua forte illic movere caritatis vestrae animum possunt, in eodem breviario quae diligentius fuerint animadversa in melius reformentur. Hoc enim frater et coepiscopus noster primae sedis, vir perspectus merito suae gravitatis atque prudentiae, Mizonius, scribens ad meam parvitatem postulavit. Si ergo placet, quae tractata sunt legantur et singula a vestra caritate considerentur.

Du synode de Carthage, où de nombreuses décisions furent prises.

Sous Césaire et Atticus les clarissimes consuls, le cinquième jour des calendes de septembre, à Carthage, au secrétariat de la basilique Restaurée, sous la présidence d’Aurélius évêque, les évêques étant présents assistés de diacres, y assistant aussi Victor le vénérable évêque de Pupput, Tite évêque de Migirpa, Evangele évêque d’Assuras, Aurélius évêque de Carthage parla aux évêques.

Aurélius évêque dit: Apres le jour fixé pour la réunion du synode, alors que nous siégions, comme vous vous en souvenez, mes tris bienheureux freres, et attendions que les délégués de toutes les provinces d’Afrique arrivent au jour de notre réunion, jour fixé, dis-je, à l’avance, on lut une lettre de nos comministres de la Byzacine; on lut aussi à votre charité les discussions qui ont eu lieu entre moi et ceux qui sont arrivés avant le jour fixé pour le synode; nos frères Honoré et Urbain, qui prennent part à la session de ce jour, nous ont lu la délégation qui fut envoyée du territoire Sitifien; or notre frère Rhéginus de l’église Végétsélitaine présenta à notre modestie des lettres de nos comministres Crescentien et Aurélius, titulaires des premiers sièges des deux Numidies, dans lesquelles, votre charité s’en souvient avec moi, ils promettent ou bien de daigner venir eux-mémes à ce synode ou bien d’y envoyer selon l’usage des délégués. Mais comme cela n’a eu aucunement lieu, les délégués de la Mauritaine Sitifienne, arrivés de si loin, protestent qu’ils ne peuvent s’attarder plus longtemps.

C’est pourquoi, mes frères, si tel est l’avis de votre charité, qu’on lise dans cette réunion bénie les lettres de nos frères de la Byzacène et le mémoire qu’ils y ont ajouté, afin que soit corrigé pour le mieux ce que votre charité estimerait pouvoir être corrigé avec plus de soin; c’est cela en effet que notre frère dans l’épiscopat Mizonius, le titulaire très illustre du premier siège, demande en écrivant à mon humilité d’une manière digne de sa grandeur et de sa prudence. Si donc tel est votre avis, qu’on lise ce qui fut débattu et que votre chanté prête attention à chaque question.

As it is late, I will merely run the French through Google Translate and touch it up a bit.  My experience is that the French is sometimes a paraphrase, but it will serve for our purpose.

From the Synod of Carthage, where many decisions were made.

Under Caesarius and Atticus the most honourable consuls, on the fifth day of the kalends of September, in Carthage, at the secretariat of the Restored Basilica, under the presidency of bishop Aurelius, the bishops being present assisted by deacons, also assisting there Victor the venerable bishop of Puppianum, Titus bishop of Migirpa, Evangelus bishop of Assuras; Aurelius bishop of Carthage spoke to the bishops.

Bishop Aurelius said, “After the day fixed for the meeting of the synod, while we were sitting, as you will remember, my very blessed brothers, and waiting for the delegates from all the provinces of Africa to arrive on the day of our meeting, a day fixed, I said, in advance, we read a letter from our co-ministers of Byzacene; the discussions which took place between me and those who arrived before the day fixed for the synod were also read to your charity; our brothers Honorius and Urbanus, who are taking part in today’s session, read us the delegation that was sent from Sitifian province; also our brother Rheginus of the Vegetselitan church presented to our modesty letters from our commissioners Crescentianus and Aurelius, holders of the first sees of the two Numidias, in which, your charity remembers it with me, they promise to come to this synod or else to send delegates according to custom. But as this did not happen at all, the delegates from Mauritania Sitifiense, who had arrived from so far away, protested that they could not linger any longer.

And so, my brothers, if this is the opinion of your charity, let us read in this blessed meeting the letters of our brothers of Byzacene and the summary that they added to it, so that what your charity would think could be corrected with more care may be corrected for the better.  This is indeed what our brother in the episcopate Mizonius, the very illustrious holder of the first see, asks by writing to my humility in a manner worthy of his greatness and his prudence. So if that is your opinion, let us read what was debated and let your charity consider each question.”

There is a lot of verbiage in that, compared to Fuchs.  Fuchs gives us the essence of what Aurelius said; but not the actual wording.  So his version must not be relied on.

Looking at it differently, however, Fuchs does at least express an opinion, in fairly simple German, as to what these texts actually say, behind all the “your charity” and “our modesty” honorifics.  I have already found that the Latin can be rather involved.  So anybody working with these texts may still find the briefer version of Fuchs of use.

Update (24/03/2021): I have discovered that the NPNF has a translation of this proemium, which is in fact embedded in the “code of the African church” material here, after canon 33, just as it is in the “collection Dionysiana”.  Here it is:

Aurelius, the bishop, said:[438] After the day fixed for the council, as ye remember, most blessed brethren, we sat and waited for the legations of all the African provinces to assemble upon the day, as I have said, set by our missive; but when the letter of our Byzacene bishops had been read, that was read to your charity, which they had discussed with me who had anticipated the time and day of the council; also it was read by our brethren Honoratus and Urban, who are to-day present with us in this council, sent as the legation of the Sitifensine Province. For our brother Reginus of the Vege[t]selitane[439] Church,[440] the letters sent to my littleness by Crescentian and Aurelius, our fellow-bishops, of the first sees of the [two] Numidias, in which writings your charity will see with me how they promised that either they themselves would be good enough to come or else that they would send legates according to custom to this council; but this it seems they did not do at all, the legates of Mauritania Sitifensis, who had come so great a distance gave notice that they could stay no longer; and, therefore, brethren, if it seem good to your charity, let the letters of our Byzacene brethren, as also the breviary, which they joined to the same letter, be read to this assembly, so that if by any chance they are not entirely satisfactory to your charity, such things in the breviary may be changed for the better after diligent examination. For this very thing our brother and fellow-bishop of the primatial see, a man justly conspicuous for his gravity and prudence, Mizonius, demanded in a letter he addressed to my littleness. If therefore it meets with your approval, let there be read the things which have been adopted and let each by itself be considered by your charity.

A couple of the footnotes are interesting:

I will write more about existing English translations.

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Let’s kill all the umlauts!

We all know the umlaut.  It’s those two dots above the vöwëls in German words.  It also appears in the names of low-grade heavy-metal bands, as a way to seem more Germanic.

But how many of us know that the umlaut is completely fake?

in 1783, G. D. Fuchs issued his Bibliothek der Kirchenversammlungen des vierten und funften Jahrhunderts – Library of Church Councils of the Fourth and Fifth Centuries – in multiple volumes at Leipzig.  Being German, he printed it in a “Fraktur” typeface – that horrible, unreadable Germanic “gothic” typeface.

But modern technology is wonderful, and I’ve been scanning some of it and creating an electronic text.  And I noticed something…

Here’s an example.

At the top is what the OCR software makes of the text.  At the bottom is the image being scanned.

But notice the “Umstände”.  In Fuchs text, the modern umlaut is actually printed as a tiny little letter “e”!!

I’m sure we all remember the fat Nazi Reichsmarshal from numerous war films.  In German, of course, he is “Göring”, with his umlaut correctly in place.  In English we say “Goering”.  It turns out that we are right.  That umlaut, the funny looking vowel with a funny-looking mark, is just fake.  His name really was Goering, and the Germans just wrote it in a funny way that just looked more Germanic on the page.

Longer ago, the German language in German books were rather less, um, Germanic.  I’ve noticed in the past that the spellings in Austrian books in the 1890s are less Germanic than in those produced in the Reich in the same period.  Cologne is not spelled with a K until recent times.  I get the impression that the Germans during the 18-19th centuries must have gone off on a weird tangent.  Probably it’s nationalism or something, but it doesn’t half make their books hard to read.

Thankfully they don’t use Fraktur any more.  I am told that in 1941, in a blow for sanity, Adolf Hitler banned the use of it.   Yes, you read that correctly – we don’t use the words “sane” and “Hitler” in the same sentence that often.  It’s a sign of how mad things had got, that Hitler was the voice of reason.  Today I believe that the modern German governments have been trying to simplify, getting rid of the double-s, and things like that.  It must be welcome.

But all the same… how about all those umlauts really being just an abbreviated lower-case letter “e”?  I bet bands like Moeterhead and Doekken would have been really annoyed.

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Ancient collections of church council canons and acts

In the ancient period, bishops often assembled in councils.  There are famous cases, like Nicaea, where they did so in order to rule on some point of doctrine that had suddenly become a “hot button” issue.  In this case, they would issue a creed which clarified the point.  But they also held councils in order to reach agreement on administrative matters; things like whether disputes could be appealed to Rome, how the collection money should be handled, and so on.  These were not matters of belief and faith, but practical matters.  In this case the bishops would put out a set of canons, with their decisions on the questions.  A council might well do both, as Nicaea did.

The record of their administrative decisions might be published, as a list of decisions (“canons”), and perhaps a summary of the discussion (the “acts” of the council), some prefatory material, any letters to or from the council, and so on.  In the beginning this material sometimes contained doctrinal matters, but from the 6th century onwards it became entirely administrative.

Inevitably such items from authoritative councils – not every council was accepted! – were gathered into collections, and, in time, reorganised by subject matter.  These are transmitted to us in the medieval manuscripts, and it is in this form that the output from a council usually reach us.

The material was orginally arranged in historico-chronological order, but this changes to subject-matter order (“systematic” order) in the early 6th century, influenced by the structure of Justinian’s Digest of Roman Law, issued in 534.

The ancient collections are all given by Lotte Kéry, Canonical Collections of the Early Middle Ages (Ca. 400–1140): A Bibliographical Guide to Manuscripts and Literature, CUA (1999).  This lists them in chronological order.  But few have access to this, and it is probably too detailed for the newcomer.  So here is a sketch of the major collections.

*    *    *    *

Greek collections

The process of collection started in the East in the fourth century.

  1. The “Corpus Antiochenum” (lost). 193 canons. Antioch in the time of Melitius, after 379.    It was also used by Dionysius Exiguus who translated material from it into Latin for his own collection.  The canons are numbered, and as it grew, additional canons were added in numerical order at the back.  It begins with the canons of Nicaea (325), and includes the canons of the councils at Ancyra, Neocaesarea, with the canons of Antioch (328) and Gangra (343) and a collection from Laodicea.  It was later enlarged to add the canons of Constantinople (381) and Chalcedon (451).
  2. The “Collectio LX titulorum” (“Sixty Titles”), (lost). This replaced the “Corpus Antiochenum”. It appeared soon after the publication of Justinian’s legal code in 534, and, like the code of Justinian, was arranged in subject order.
  3. The “Collectio L titulorum” (“Fifty titles”) is extant and was compiled by John Scholasticus around 550 AD from the Sixty Titles. It is in subject-matter order. It was translated into Old Slavonic and became the basis for the canon law of Methodius.

The subsequent Greek collections are not important to us here.

Translations of the Greek Material

The “Corpus Antiochenum” collection of Greek canons was translated shortly after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 into both Latin and Syriac.  The early Latin translations are:

  1. The “Collectio Hispana” or “Collectio Isidoriana” is so-called because it was inserted in the later Collectio Dionysio-Hispana.
  2. The “Collectio Itala” or “Collectio Prisca” or “Prisca Versio” is mentioned by Dionysius Exiguus, who said that his own translations were an improvement. This is preserved best in the Collectio Ingilrami in cod. Vat. Reg. 1997, and in the MS of Justel (Bodleian, Mus.100–102).

Edition: G. Voellus and H. Justel, eds. Bibliotheca iuris canonici veteris, 2 v. (Paris 1661) 1:277–320; reprint PL 56:747–816.

The same corpus was translated into Syriac around the same time.  This was used by most of the oriental churches, and so survives in that form.

African Source Materials

Four major chunks of material originated in Africa.  This then made its way into the collections.

1. The “Breviarium Hipponense” was a summary of the decisions of the council of Hippo in 393. It was created at the Council of Carthage in 397, during the first session on 13 August 397, and modified and confirmed at the full council on 28 August. Both versions still exist.  Material from it was used by Dionysius Exiguus in his second edition.  CCL 149. 28–44.

2. The “Gesta de nomine Apiarii” or “Codex Apiarii causae”, the “Dossier of the Apiarius affair”, refers to a bogus appeal by a deposed priest named Apiarius over the head of his bishop to Pope Zosimus.  It exists to show that the African church was independent of Rome.  It contains the documents: the council in 419, all the documents proving that the Pope had no jurisdiction, and a letter from the council of 424 to Pope Celestine when Apiarius tried it on again.      This material ended up in several later collections which are preserved.  CCL 149. 89–172.

3.  The “Registri ecclesiae Carthaginensis excerpta” or “Codex canonum ecclesiae Africanae” (= “African code”) is a bunch of excerpts from African councils from Hippo in 393 to Carthage in 418, starting with the “Breviarium Hipponense”.  A big chunk of this has survived, interpolated by Dionysius Exiguus into the middle of the second edition of his collection.  CCL 149. 182–247.  First used in Coll.Dion.II, where they are numbered 34–133 following CCAR.419, and go under the rubric ‘Recitata sunt etiam in ista synodo diuersa concilia uniuersae prouinciae Africae transactis temporibus Aurelii Carthaginensis episcopi celebrata’.

4.  The “Breviatio canonum” of Fulgentius Ferrandus, deacon of Carthage, composed around 546. This followed the new eastern practice of placing material in subject order.  It consists of 232 abbreviated canons from the usual list, including African canons from Carthage 348 to Juncense 523. CCL 149. 287–306.

Latin Collections

These are the main collections of council material that circulated in the west.

1. The “Collectio Quesnelliana”, so named after its first publisher, is perhaps the earliest medieval collection, originating either in Gaul or in Rome. It was probably compiled around 494 under Pope Gelasius I. It contains canons and other historical documents focused on the Acacian schism.  Chapters 1-5 contain a Latin translation of canons from the major 4th century Greek councils, in the so-called “Isidorian” translation; together with canons from African councils.

The standard edition is that of the Ballerini brothers, Sancti Leonis Magni…. opera, vol. 3, cols. 13-472 (1757), reprinted in PL 56, cols 359A-746C.  Online here: https://archive.org/details/sanctileonismagn03leoi/page/n341/mode/2up?view=theater

2. The “Collectio Dionysiana” was compiled in Rome ca. 514. Dionysius Exiguus produced two editions of a mega-collection of canons, translating Greek material very accurately, at the request of Stephen, bishop of Salona. Only the preface survives of a third edition commissioned by Pope Hormisdas.  The work is divided into two books, the liber canonum and the liber decretalium.  The second book was a collection of 41 papal decretals, essentially papal letters.  An official canon book did not exist until the 13th century, but the Collectio Dionysiana was very influential.  34 manuscripts of it are known.  The African council material is ascribed to a “Concilium Africanum”.

2.1. The first edition contained a Latin translation of the first fifty of the canons of the Apostles and the canons of Nicaea, Ancyra, Neocaesarea, Gangra, Antioch, Laodicea, and Constantinople, followed by the canons of Serdica, Carthage 419, and other materials concerning the affair of Apiarius, and finally the first twenty-seven of the canons of Chalcedon.

Modern edition: A. STREWE, Die Canonessammlung des Dionysius Exiguus in der ersten Redaktion, Berlin, 1931.

2.2. The second edition began with the canons of the Apostles, followed by the canons from Nicaea to Constantinople in continuous numeration from 1 to 165, plus the canons of Chalcedon and Serdica together with a larger body of African material from the Registri ecclesiae Carthaginensis excerpta.  Each of the three latter groups numbered separately.

Edition: Christophe Justel, “Codex canonum ecclesiasticorum Dionysii Exigui”, Paris 1628 and 1643.  Reprinted PL 67, cols 139–230. 1628: https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Codex_canonum_ecclesiasticorum_Dionysii.html?id=NbNDAAAAcAAJ; 1643: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YJYUAAAAQAAJ

3. The “Collectio (Dionysio-)Hadriana” is the Dionysian collection with some additions. The prefaces of Dionysius are replaced by an epistle in verse from Hadrian to Charlemagne.  The canons of Carthage are in two groups.  It was sent to Charlemagne at Easter 774 by Pope Hadrian, and was officialy received as the code of the Frankish church in 802.  At least 100 manuscripts are known.  There is no complete edition.

Manuscripts: 2 online at the Bodleian: https://medieval.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/catalog/work_11066 Also see Ms. Cologne, Dombibl. 115, 116, 117.  Online somewhere at http://www.ceec.uni-koeln.de/

4. The “Collectio Hispana” or “Collectio Isidoriana” is also the Dionysian collection, but with Spanish material added. It circulated almost exclusively in Spain and remained important until the 12th century. It dates from the first half of the seventh century. The author is sometimes thought to be Isidore of Seville.  It exists in two versions.  The original “Hispana chronologica” was reworked with additional documents into subject order around 700 AD – the “Hispana systematica”.  The African material appears as the canons of eight councils (the material from the “fourth” is bogus, tho: really a 6th century document from Arles).

Modern critical edition: G. MARTÍNEZ DÍEZ, ed., La colección canónica Hispana, 5 vols, Madrid, 1966-1992.

The following collections are less important to us.

5. In the fifth or sixth century Cresconius created his Concordia canonum conciliorium (Concord of conciliar canons). This was arranged by subject (“systematically”).  It is mainly from ecumenical councils and papal decretals but includes some African canons.

Edition: K. Zechiel-Eckes, Die Concordia canonum des Cresconius, Berlin: Peter Lang (1992). Manuscript: Köln, Dombibliothek 120.

6. The “Collectio Sanblasiana” made use of Dionysius for the conciliar material, but not for the decretals. Compiled in the early 6th century, probably in Italy.

There is no edition: the text must be consulted in manuscript.  Source, manuscripts, contents: http://individual.utoronto.ca/michaelelliot/manuscripts/texts/sanblasiana.html

7. In Gaul the “Collectio vetus Gallica” was compiled in the early 7th century, probably near Lyon, and possibly by Bp. Etherius of Lyon. This was in subject order and circulated north of the Alps.

8. In Ireland around 700 the “Collectio Hibernensis”, including local Irish synods. Very abbreviated, often false ascriptions.  It circulated where Irish missionaries went in Europe.

Manuscript: Köln, Dombibliothek 210

9. Around 850 an unknown author near Reims created the pseudo-Isidorian collection, complete with the Forged Decretals. It is an enlarged version of an interpolated Hispana.  It contains a chronologically arranged collection of decretals (of 29 popes before Constantine) and conciliar canons.  154 manuscripts.

Sources: http://legalhistorysources.com/Canon%20Law/EarlyMiddleAges/PseudoIsidore.htm; https://sites.google.com/a/yale.edu/decretumgratiani/introduction-to-pseudo-isidore; https://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc09/htm/iv.v.lxxiv.htm; Horst Fuhrmann, “The Pseudo-Isidorian Forgeries,” in Detlev Jasper and Horst Fuhrmann, Papal Letters in the Early Middle Ages (Washington D.C., 2001), 137–195.

The later medieval collections are not our concern here.

It should always be remembered that, as well as the material included in the collections, there are other pieces of literature preserved from the councils, as stray bits of text in miscellaneous manuscripts.  This means that canons can sometimes be discovered, transmitted some other way.

General bibliography

  • Maassen, Geschichte der Quellen und der Literatur des kanonischen Rechts im Abendlande bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters (Graz, 1870). This is in brief numbered sections, and quite readable. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=5gpRIbhXdBwC

The following two books are organised in much the same way as this post, but in much more detail.

Other sources

Some manuscripts are listed here.

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The canons of the councils of Africa – a few general thoughts

Few of us are specialists in the material left to us by the early councils of the church. But it is often said that the canon of scripture was “decided” by the “Council of Hippo” or the “Council of Carthage in 397”. This sort of claim is very hard for most of us to evaluate. Handbooks on the bible usually quote a single “canon”, devoid of context. This leaves most of us none the wiser. Many will find themselves wondering just what they are looking at. How do we find out more?  Where does this stuff come from?

I know that some readers will know a lot about this; but others won’t.  So let’s just give a quick view of what these things are.

The ancient church produced dossiers of decisions made by councils, together with prefatory matter, or letters written at the time, and so forth.  These are not literary texts, composed by a single author and intended to be transmitted exactly as written. They are technical texts, like agricultural handbooks, or, better, legal texts.  Technical texts are subject to revision, to updating, improving, abbreviating, and so forth. This is because they are created for a practical purpose, and later copyists may have other things to add on the same subject.

The medieval church had a rule book, which covered administrative matters. We refer to this material – jargon term – as “canon law”. The content within it has passed through just such a process of revision. But much of it ultimately derives from the ancient world.

Councils of bishops tended to gather from earliest times in order to decide on a common approach in case of disputes. This could be theological, but it could equally relate to practical matters of church administration and membership.

A council would often issue a set of “canons”, rules or decisions, on practical matters of church discipline. These were not “holy writ”. They could be, and were, ignored, modified, adopted, and so on. A later council might well revisit the canons of an earlier council, omitting or adding to them, as circumstances changed.

The “acts” of a council could comprise the minutes of the meeting, the signatories, any canons issued, and any covering letters or other correspondence. They might also include a summary of the canons of earlier councils.

Material of this sort starts to survive from the councils of the fourth century. There are twenty canons from the council of Nicaea in 325, covering matters such as whether eunuchs can be ordained, how people should stand in church, and the like. They are very brief. But the authority of Nicaea was widely disputed until the latter part of the fourth century.

Not all councils were considered authoritative. But over time it was natural that collections would be made of the acts of such councils as were considered authoritative.

Not every council issued canons. Not every council had its minutes recorded. In many cases the material is lost. If the canons survived, later writers might find differing versions of the canons in circulation. For instance the Council of Carthage in 419, confronted with a version of the canons of Nicaea which asserted Papal primacy in the west, discovered that this canon was in fact interpolated from the unauthoritative Council of Sardica.

It is at the end of the fourth century that the great series of councils of bishops in Africa begins, which were highly influential on other western provinces. These councils were held almost annually by Aurelius of Carthage, with the assistance of St Augustine, as a way to organise the weak Catholic church in the province in order to combat the Donatist majority. Material of various sorts from these councils survives. The council of Hippo in 393 made various decisions, but these do not seem to have circulated very well. The material from the council of Carthage in 397 begins with a covering letter by Bp. Aurelius to a summary of the canons of the council of Hippo in 393 – the Breviarium Hipponense – saying that this was necessary because many bishops pretended ignorance of what the council had decided. It seems that thereafter Aurelius left nothing to chance, and arranged for notaries to record what was said.

The African canons were well-thought out and well thought of. Material produced by this process finds its way into the medieval manuscripts from which we derive almost all ancient literature and much else. Compilations or excerpts of this material feed into later antique collections of canonical material, in Spain and Gaul. Much of it was also translated into Greek. For instance the great collection of canons by Dionysius Exiguus in the early 500s, contains a whole section devoted to the “code of the church of Africa” (Codex canonum ecclesiae Africae). From there it passes into later medieval texts like the Decretum of Gratian, which are outside our concern.

The original texts are the dossier issued by the council at the time. These do not survive as distinct and complete entities, although some – such as the Council of Carthage of 419 – come very close. The way that these texts are edited, therefore, is to gather together materials that relate to each particular council, and simply give the councils in chronological order. There is, obviously, a great deal of room for disagreement as to how such material should be organised, which is one reason why it can be hard to know what we are dealing with, when we look at an individual canon. Just where do these words come from?

The canon of scripture is listed in a canon of a couple of the ancient African councils.  This term, the “canon of scripture”, itself can confuse laymen. It has nothing to do with the use of the term “canon” for the decisions of the councils. The only connection is the use of the jargon word “canon”, for a rule or set of rules. The canon of scripture, the list of divinely inspired books, is not the product of any ancient council, but of a more gradual process which I don’t intend to address.

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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 patristica.net/labbe, 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”…

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