In Mansi’s edition of the Breviarium, canon 37 is longer than it is in Munier; and there are two more canons given. Thankfully Munier does explain this, and in the interests of completeness, I think it’s worth giving the material here, to tie up a loose end.
Around 500 AD Dionysius Exiguus compiled a collection of church canons, which included a good slab of material from Africa. He gave the canons of the council of 419 and then inserted after them a digest of earlier African canons, which is referred to today as the “Register ecclesiae Carthaginensis“. The canons are numbered sequentially as if a continuation of the canons of 419.
All this material was translated by the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers collection, so there is no need for me to do so. But let’s give the Latin from Munier and NPNF English.
The extra material in canon 37 of the Breviarium is in fact from the Register, where it is canon 47. The Register states that it is from the Council of Carthage on 13 August in 397, the same council at which the Breviarium was compiled. So this is a little odd.
(“37”) De Donatistis placuit ut consulamus fratres et consacerdotes nostros Siricium et Simplicianum de solis infantibus qui baptizantur penes eosdem, ne quod suo non fecerunt judicio, cum ad ecclesiam Dei salubri proposito fuerint conuersi, parentum illos error impediat ne promoveantur sacri altaris ministri. (Munier, p.186)
Concerning the Donatists it seemed good that we should hold counsel with our brethren and fellow priests Siricius and Simplician concerning those infants alone who are baptized by Donatists: lest what they did not do of their own will, when they should be converted to the Church of God with a salutary determination, the error of their parents might prevent their promotion to the ministry of the holy altar.
From which we may infer that someone in that situation was indeed seeking to be ordained.
The “canon 38” is in fact canons 49 and 50 of the material from the Register, which also assigns it to the Council of Carthage in 397, but to a second session on 28 August.
(38) Honoratus et Urbanus dixerunt : Et illud nobis mandatum est, ut quia proxime fratres nostri Numidiae duo episcopi ordinare praesumpserunt pontificem, nonnisi a duodecim censeatis celebrari episcoporum ordinationes.
Aurelius episcopus dixit: Forma antiqua servabitur, ut non minus quam tres sufficiant, qui fuerint destinati, ad episcopum ordinandum. Praeterea, quia in Tripoli forte et in Arzuge interiacere videntur barbarae gentes – nam in Tripoli, ut asseritur, episcopi sunt quinque. tantummodo, et possunt forte de ipso numero vel duo necessitate aliqua occupari; difficile est enim ut de quolibet numero omnes possint occurrrere – numquid debet hoc ipsum impedimento esse ecclesiasticae utilitati? Nam et in hac ecclesia, ad quam dignata est vestra sanctitas convenire, crebro ac paene per diem dominicam ordinandos habemus; numquidnam frequenter potero duodecim vel decem vel non multo minus advocare episcopos? Sed facile est mihi duos adiungere meae parvitati vicinos. Quapropter cernit mecum caritas vestra hoc ipsum observari non posse.
Sed illud est statuendum, ut quando ad eligendum convenerimus, si qua contradictio fuerit oborta, quia talia tractata sunt apud nos, non praesumant ad purgandum eum qui ordinandus est tres iam, sed postuletur ad numerum supradictorum unus vel duo, et in eadem plebe cui ordinandus est discutiantur primo personae contradicentium, postremo etiam illa quae obiciuntur pertractentur; et cum purgatus fuerit sub conspectu publico, ita demum ordinetur. Si hoc cum vestrae sanctitatis animo concordat, roboretur vestrae dignationis responsione.
Ab universis episcopis dictum est: Satis placet.
Honoratus and Urbanus, the bishops, said: We have issued this command, that (because lately two of our brethren, bishops of Numidia, presumed to ordain a pontiff,) only by the concurrence of twelve bishops the ordination of bishops be celebrated.
Aurelius, the bishop, said: The ancient form shall be preserved, that not less than three suffice who shall have been designated for ordaining the bishop. Moreover, because in Tripoli, and in Arzug the barbarians are so near, for it is asserted that in Tripoli there are but five bishops, and out of that number two may be occupied by some necessity; but it is difficult that all of the number should come together at any place whatever; ought this circumstance to be an impediment to the doing of what is of utility to the Church? For in this Church, to which your holiness has deigned to assemble we frequently have ordinations and nearly every Lord’s day; could I frequently summon twelve, or ten, or about that number of bishops? But it is an easy thing for me to join a couple of neighbours to my littleness. Wherefore your charity will agree with me that this cannot be observed.
But this should be decreed, that when we shall have met together to choose a bishop, if any opposition shall arise, because such things have been treated by us, the three shall not presume to purge him who was to be ordained, but one or two more shall be asked to be added to the aforesaid number, and the persons of those objecting shall first be discussed in the same place (plebe) for which he was to be ordained. And last of all the objections shall be considered; and only after he has been cleared in the public sight shall he at last be ordained. If this agrees with the mind of your holiness, let it be confirmed by the answer of your worthiness.
All the bishops said, We are well pleased.
It is shocking to read that “in Arzug the barbarians are so near”… and that Aurelius does not seem to consider this a more pressing concern than these legal minutiae.
The next item, “canon 39” is in fact from the council of 13 September, 401. It appears as canon 72 in the Dionysius Exiguus’ Register.
(39) Item placuit de infantibus, quoties inveniuntur certissimi testes, qui eos baptizatos esse sine dubitatione testentur, ne que ipsi sunt per aetatem de traditis sacramentis idonei respondere, absque ullo scrupulo eos esse baptizandos, ne ista trepidatio eos faciat sacramentorum purgatione privari. Hinc etiam legati Maurorum, fratres nostri, consuluerunt, quia multos tales a barbaris redimunt. – Munier p.201
Likewise it seemed good that whenever there were not found reliable witnesses who could testify that without any doubt they were baptized and when the children themselves were not, on account of their tender age, able to answer concerning the giving of the sacraments to them, all such children should be baptized without scruple, lest a hesitation should deprive them of the cleansing of the sacraments. This was urged by the Moorish Legates, our brethren, since they redeem many such from the barbarians.
Sobering stuff to witness.