Canons 1-4 of the breviarium of the Council of Hippo (393)

The first act of the Council of Carthage in 397 was to draw up a summary (breviarium) of the decisions of the Council of Hippo in 393, as many clergy claimed that they had never heard of them.  Let’s have a look at them.

INCIPIT BREVIS STATVTORVM

1. Vt lectores populum non salutent. Vt ante xxv aetatis annos nec clerici ordinentur nec uirgines consecrentur. Vt primum scripturis diuinis instructi uel ab infantia eruditi, propter fidei professionem et assertionem, clerici promoneantur.

2. Vt ordinatis episcopis uel clericis prius placita concilii conculcentur ab ordinatoribus eorum, ne se aliquid aduersus statuta concilii fecisse adserant.

3. Vt etiam per sollemnissimos paschales dies sacramentum catechumenis non detur, nisi solitum salis ; quia, si fideles per illos dies sacramenta non mutant, nec catechumenos oportet mutare.

4. Vt corporibus defunctis eucharistia non detur ; dictum est enim a Domino : Accipite et edite ; cadauera autem nec accipere possunt nec edere. Deinde canuendum est ne mortuos etiam baptizari posse fratrum infirmitas credat, cum eucharistiam non dari mor­tuis animaduertit.

SUMMARY OF THE STATUTES

1. That the readers shall not salute the people.  That clergy shall not be ordained, nor virgins consecrated, before the age of 25.

2. That, prior to ordaining bishops or clergy, the decisions of the council are impressed upon them by those ordaining them, lest they profess (later) that something was done contrary to the statutes of the council.

2. That for bishops and clerics who have been ordained, the decisions of the council first be thoroughly inculcated by those ordaining them, lest they declare (later) that they have done something contrary to the council’s statutes.

3. That also during the most solemn paschal days the sacrament shall not be given to catechumens, except for health reasons the custom of salt; because if the faithful do not receive change the sacraments during those days, it is not right that for catechumens to receive change (them).

4. That the eucharist shall not be given to the bodies of the deceased; for it was said by the Lord, “Take and eat”; but a cadaver cannot “take” or “eat”.  Then itshould be celebratedthat the weakness of the brother will not believe that it is possible to baptise the dead either, when he notices that the eucharist is not being given to the death.  Then care must be taken also that the weakness of the brothers shall not believe that it is possible to baptise the dead, when he notices that the eucharist is not being given to the dead..

Let me highlight a few funnies in this.

In canon 2, Munier (CCSL 149, p.32) prints “conculcentur”, which means that the decisions of the council “are trampled under foot” by those conducting the ordinations.  A solid search reveals only “despise” as the other meaning.

This makes little sense.  A look at the English NPNF translation of the Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africanae here, canon 18, reveals this obviously parallel canon:

It seemed good that before bishops, or clerics were ordained, the provisions of the canons should be brought to their notice, lest, they might afterwards repent of having through ignorance acted contrary to law.

But how on earth does “conculcentur” fit in?

Then I happened to look at the old Mansi edition.  It reads “inculcentur”, the decisions of the council “are impressed upon them” by those conducting the ordinations.  A look at Munier’s apparatus reveals no sign of “conculcentur”.  Naturally at first I inferred a typo.  But in fact, if we look at one of the manuscripts that Munier used, the Vatican manuscript, Barberini 679, fol. 46v, we find exactly that reading:

Is this a medievalism?  I do not know.  It once again impresses on me that it helps to look at older editions where the editors could read and wrire Latin fluently and would have been ashamed to print meaningless rubbish.  (Update: see discussion in the comments)

The text of the canon is not that easy to follow.  It starts with “ordinatis episcopis uel clericis prius” – an obvious ablative absolute, which in fact cannot be one.  Here the NPNF gives the clue.  It might be some dative of time, but not one that I have come across.  “Prior to the bishops or the clergy having been ordained”, perhaps. (Update: probably not – see discussion in comments).

What is the canon all about, anyway?  It looks as if it was about compulsory ordinations, when men were forced to be ordained.

These did occur.  I remember reading somewhere, in Augustine, how a rich and truly devout man, coming to Africa, was seized by the mob and forcibly made bishop of their church.  Their motive was not piety.  It was money.  For a bishop would be expected to give his property to the church, which inevitably would benefit the congregation.  However their victim escaped, and asked Augustine to be excused his ordination.  Shockingly Augustine, while recognising the injustice, thought that the ordination was still valid.  The case dragged on.  But then the man came to lose his riches in the disorders of the times, and then the “ordination” was quietly forgotten by everyone.

In canon 3 we find “mutare” used, not with the classical meaning of “move”, “change”, but with the medieval meaning of “receive”.  Update: it seems not!

It’s quite hard work, but of course this is how you learn a language; working with the real thing.

Update: some modifications based on the comments.

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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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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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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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Illiterate bishops decided the canon of the New Testament! Or did they?

It is often claimed that the canon lists given in the canons of the council of Hippo in 393, and the council of Carthage in 397, in some way created the canon of the New Testament.  This is not the case, and cannot be the case – the lists are merely for local use in deciding what books to read in church.

 But I was intrigued by some comments on the bishops, by none other than Henry Chadwick:[1]

The old bishop of Hippo who had ordained Augustine presbyter feared lest some other church might carry him off to be their bishop. He therefore persuaded the primate of Numidia to consecrate Augustine to be coadjutor bishop of Hippo. The appointment (irregular in canon law) became surrounded by some controversy. The combination of Augustine’s Manichee past and his extreme cleverness helped to make him distrusted. Hippo was not a city where people read books. Numidia was not a province where congregations expected to have a prodigy of intelligence on the episcopal bench. (Augustine noted that illiterate bishops were a favourite butt for the mockery of the half-educated: CR 13.) Augustine’s presence induced apprehension. He was known to be a terror for demolishing opponents in public disputations. Some did not quite believe in the sincerity of his conversion at Milan.

“CR 13” is chapter 13 of De catechizandis rudibus (on the need to instruct newcomers).  But a look at the old English translation online does not really support this, interesting tho it is:

13. There are also some who come from the commonest schools of the grammarians and professional speakers, whom you may not venture to reckon, either among the uneducated, or among those very learned classes whose minds have been exercised in questions of real magnitude.

When such persons, therefore, who appear to be superior to the rest of mankind, so far as the art of speaking is concerned, approach you with the view of becoming Christians, it will be your duty in your communications with them, in a higher degree than in your dealings with those other illiterate hearers, to make it plain that they are to be diligently admonished to clothe themselves with Christian humility, and learn not to despise individuals whom they may discover keeping themselves free from vices of conduct more carefully than from faults of language; and also that they ought not to presume so much as to compare with a pure heart the practised tongue which they were accustomed even to put in preference.

But above all, such persons should be taught to listen to the divine Scriptures, so that they may neither deem solid eloquence to be mean, merely because it is not inflated, nor suppose that the words or deeds of men, of which we read the accounts in those books, involved and covered as they are in carnal wrappings, are not to be drawn forth and unfolded with a view to an (adequate) understanding of them, but are to be taken merely according to the sound of the letter. And as to this same matter of the utility of the hidden meaning, the existence of which is the reason why they are called also mysteries, the power wielded by these intricacies of enigmatical utterances in the way of sharpening our love for the truth, and shaking off the torpor of weariness, is a thing which the persons in question must have made good to them by actual experience, when some subject which failed to move them when it was placed baldly before them, has its significance elicited by the detailed working out of an allegorical sense.

For it is in the highest degree useful to such men to come to know how ideas are to be preferred to words, just as the soul is preferred to the body.

From this, too, it follows that they ought to have the desire to listen to discourses remarkable for their truth, rather than to those which are notable for their eloquence; just as they ought to be anxious to have friends distinguished for their wisdom, rather than those whose chief merit is their beauty.

They should also understand that there is no voice for the ears of God save the affection of the soul. For thus they will not act the mocker if they happen to observe any of the prelates and ministers of the Church either calling upon God in language marked by barbarisms and solecisms, or failing in understanding correctly the very words which they are pronouncing, and making confused pauses.

It is not meant, of course, that such faults are not to be corrected, so that the people may say ‘Amen’ to something which they plainly understand; but what is intended is, that such things should be piously borne with by those who have come to understand how, as in the forum it is in the sound, so in the church it is in the desire that the grace of speech resides. Therefore that of the forum may sometimes be called good speech, but never gracious speech.

Moreover, with respect to the sacrament which they are about to receive, it is enough for the more intelligent simply to hear what the thing signifies. But with those of slower intellect, it will be necessary to adopt a somewhat more detailed explanation, together with the use of similitudes, to prevent them from despising what they see.

This makes no reference to illiterate bishops.  Chadwick was a great scholar, but all of us can fall victim to printer errors.  So what did he have in mind?

The answer seems to be a passage in Monceaux, Histoire littéraire de l’Afrique chrétienne depuis les origines jusqu’à l’invasion arabe, (1901) vol. 4, p.423, here[2].

Des incidents de toute sorte mettent un peu de variété, ou même de gaieté, dans la monotonie des débats. Ce sont les scrupules bouffons des Donatistes, qui refusent de s’asseoir. Ce sont les scènes amusantes ou violentes, auxquelles donne lieu la vérification des signatures: confrontation des évêques d’une même localité, qui se regardent de travers et s’injurient ou s’accusent mutuellement … ou d’ailleurs; attitude piteuse de pauvres prélats qui n’ont pu signer eux-mêmes, ne sachant pas écrire[10]; fréquentes interventions et bavardage d’Aurelius de Macomades,

10) Collat. Carthag., I, 133 : « litteras nesciente ».

Incidents of all sorts brought variety or even gaiety in the monotony of the debates.  There were the idiotic scruples of the Donatists who refused to sit down.  There were amusing or violent scenes, caused by the verification of signatures: the confrontation of bishops belonging to the same place, who stared at each other and mutually insulted or accused…; the pitiful attitude of poor prelates who could not sign themselves, not knowing how to write[10]; the frequent interjections and jokes of Aurelius of Macomades…

This is undoubtedly our source; the reference given is to the Gesta Collationis Carthaginensis (CPL 724), the minutes of the miserable, rigged state-sponsored conference (collatio) of 411 AD between the Catholics, led by Aurelius and Augustine, and the Donatists.  As it happens, a new edition of this text has been published by the CSEL,[3] and a Google Books preview includes page 129, on which the relevant section appears:

Et recitavit: “Qui supra pro Paulino Zurensi praesente litteras nesciente coram viro clarissimo tribuno et notario Marcellino suprascripta mandavi et subscripsi Carthagini.” Quo recitato et accedente episcopo Paulino catholico idem dixit: “Catholica est.” Habetdeum diaconus Primiani episcopi dixit: “Presbyter est illic noster. Diocesis est nostra.”

As the bishops confirmed their signatures, one by one, the poor catholic bishop Paulinus of Zura had to listen to this as it was read out, litteras nesciente, not knowing his letters.

But I didn’t see any other examples.  Was this the only one?

The collatio is unusual because of the verbatim record of the proceedings.  But the same people were at other synods.  It is defensible that some of those attending were illiterate.  But at such proceedings, they must have been very rare indeed.

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  1. [1]Augustine: A very short introduction, Oxford (1986) p.68
  2. [2]I owe this reference to Garry Wills, “Augustine’s Hippo: Power Relations (410-417)”, Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, Third Series, Vol. 7 (1999), 98-119, JSTOR, p.103.
  3. [3]C. Weidmann (ed.), Collatio Carthaginensis anni 411: Gesta collationis Carthaginensis Augustinus, Breviculus collationis Augustinus, Ad Donatistas post collationem, De Gruyter, 2018.  The Gesta are printed in Serge Lancel, Actes de la Conference de Carthage en 411, 3 vols. (Sources chretiennes 194, 195, and 224) (Paris, 1972 and 1975), in Gesta Conlationis Carthaginensis Anno 411, volume 149A of Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, also edited by Lancel (Turnhout, Belgium, 1974); J.-P. Migne, Patrologia Latina 11.1257- 1418 (Paris, 1844-); and in J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 4.19-246 (Florence, 1739-1798; reprint and continuation: Paris, 1901-1927).

A miscellany of things

Here are a couple of things that I noticed recently, and might be useful to others.

Following an enquiry, I find that there is a translation of Theophylact on Matthew online here.  This is certainly better than the $70 needed to obtain the 1992 translation of the same work, at Amazon.com here.

Next, the physical remains of ancient Rome are always interesting.  Piranesi printed a drawing of the rear of the Pantheon, with what he claims are the remains of the Baths of Agrippa, completed before 12 BC and therefore one of the original public baths of thermae:

I was able to find online some photos of the same area, here.

Much of the baths still stood in the 17th century, despite use as a quarry for building materials.  It would be interesting to track down the older sketches that apparently exist.

Finally I saw something about the Ethiopian canon of the bible.  It is a common atheist jeer online is that the Ethiopian canon of the bible is larger than the normal, insinuating – the argument is rarely made explicit – that this proves that the bible does not exist, or is not by God, or something of the kind.  I’ve never worried about the odd additions to the Ethiopian canon, since Ethiopia was not converted to Christianity until the canon was pretty much set, and the isolation of that community, the little that we know about it, and its unusual circumstances could result in any amount of oddity.  One Ethiopian emperor used to eat pages of the bible when he was feeling ill, for instance.  This is not a very educated world.

But I spent a little time looking into this.  The Wikipedia article contains very poor sources.  The only one of any value seemed to  be by G.-A. Mikre-Sellassie,[1]  This says on p.119:

It is rather difficult to determine what exactly the official Canon of Scriptures of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is. As R.W Cowley has rightly observed, one of the problems in this study is that in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church “the concept of canonicity is regarded more loosely than it is among most other churches”.[46] Apparently, the two terms, protocanonical and deuterocanonical, employed among many churches nowadays, are not known within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

46. R.W. Cowley, “The Biblical Canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Today” in Ostikirchliche Studien, 23 (1974), 318-323. In this short article the author has attempted a careful study of the Canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

This is not encouraging.  In fact the article did not give any kind of history of how the canon came to be – a common problem.  In general one gained the idea that in Ethiopian history the church was rather more important than the scriptures were, and the apocrypha might have a near-canonical status, or not, as times demanded.  Perhaps our own view on canon is shaped by the Reformers here, and is more precise than might have been the case either than in antiquity or the middle ages?  If so, the Ethiopians are merely continuing a late-antique vagueness, albeit shaped by their own unusual world.

One of the key sources is apparently E. Ullendorf, Ethiopia and the Bible: the Schweich Lectures 1967, OUP (1968).  This I could not access, but a Google Books preview gave me p.31 f., which gives an account about the translation of the Old and New Testaments into Ge`ez:

I don’t think that we need to rely on this very much.  Ullendorf also discusses the equally traditional idea that the bible in Ethiopian was translated by Arabic; and it seems to be a fact that many Ethiopian versions of ancient texts derive from an Arabic translation.  However I quickly drowned in the number of books and articles that I would have to read to know more!

That’s it for now.  More next time!

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  1. [1]Mikre-Sellassie, Gebre-Amanuel (1993). “The Bible and Its Canon in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church,” The Bible Translator 44 (1): 111-123.