The decretal “Consulenti tibi” (JK 293) and the canon of the bible

During the fourth century a change comes over the church, and indeed the bishop of Rome.  By the end of the century the medieval papacy is coming into existence.  The accession of Pope Damasus was attended with rioting in the streets and in the churches of Rome, as supporters of the candidates sought to impose their man by means of violence; and the lifestyle of Damasus was such that the Urban Prefect, Praetextatus, was reported as saying to him, by St Jerome (To Pammachius, against John of Jerusalem, c. 8):

“Facite me Romanae urbis episcopum , et ego protinus Christianus.”

“Make me bishop of Rome and I will at once become a Christian!”

Various pieces of imperial legislation require the church courts to follow the practices of the secular courts when hearing appeals.  Likewise it is in this period that the church began its collections of canon law, and papal decretals, and the other apparatus of a institution.

My attention was drawn to the letter of Pope Innocent I to Exsuperius of Toulouse in 405, which contains a canon of scripture.  This turns out to be a papal decretal. I have never known anything about these.  Apparently D. Jasper’s paper “Papal letters and decretals from the beginning through the pontificate of Gregory the Great (to 604)”, pp. 7 ff in D. Jasper & H. Fuhrmann, Papal letters in the Early Middle Ages, CUA (2001) is the orientation to read. (Preview).  A decretal is a papal letter, containing a ruling in response to an appeal for such a ruling from a subordinate bishop.

There is a catalogue of decretals, begin by Ph. Jaffé, Regesta pontificum romanorum; the 2nd edition, co-edited with S. Lowenfeld (who did 882-1198 AD), J. Kaltenbrunner (everything up to 590 AD), and P. Ewald (590-882 AD), appeared at Lepizig in two volumes in 1885 (here) and 1888 (here).  This lists all the decretals and gives them a number, with a brief summary of content.

The letter of Innocent to Exsuperius is JK 293 (on p.45, PDF page 86), with the incipit “Consulenti tibi”.  Here’s the entry:

This summarises the content, which falls into several chapters.  The last, as an appendix, gives a list of the canon of scripture, “which books are received in the canon.”

The Latin text of the letter / decretal is in PL20, 495-502, where it is labelled as Letter 6″ of Innocent I. Apparently a critical text was given by H. Wurm in 1939 in 87 Hubert Wurm, Decretales selectae ex antiquissimis romanorum Pontificum epistulis decretalibus, in: Apollinaris 12 (1939), 40-93, but this I have not seen; in fact I can’t even find any information about the journal.

A couple of chunks of the decretal were translated by Denzinger, and are online here.  An English translation of chapter 7 is online here with the Latin.

(2). . . It has been asked, what must be observed with regard to those who after baptism have surrendered on every occasion to the pleasures of incontinence, and at the very end of their lives ask for penance and at the same time the reconciliation of communion. Concerning them the former rule was harder, the latter more favorable, because mercy intervened. For the previous custom held that penance should be granted, but that communion should be denied. For since in those times there were frequent persecutions, so that the ease with which communion was granted might not recall men become careless of reconciliation from their lapse, communion was justly denied, penance allowed, lest the whole be entirely refused; and the system of the time made remission more difficult. But after our Lord restored peace to his churches, when terror had now been removed, it was decided that communion be given to the departing, and on account of the mercy of God as a viaticum to those about to set forth, and that we may not seem to follow the harshness and the rigor of the Novatian heretic who refused mercy. Therefore with penance a last communion will be given, so that such men in their extremities may be freed from eternal ruin with the permission of our Savior.

(7) A brief addition shows what books really are received in the canon. These are the desiderata of which you wished to be informed verbally: of Moses five books, that is, of Genesis, of Exodus, of Leviticus, of Numbers, of Deuteronomy, and Joshua, of judges one book, of Kings four books, and also Ruth, of the Prophets sixteen books, of Solomon five books, the Psalms. Likewise of the histories, job one book, of Tobias one book, Esther one, Judith one, of the Machabees two, of Esdras two, Paralipomenon two books. Likewise of the New Testament: of the Gospels four books, of Paul the Apostle fourteen epistles, of John three [cf. n. 84, 92] epistles of Peter two, an epistle of Jude, an epistle of James, the Acts of the Apostles, the Apocalypse of John. Others, however, which were written by a certain Leucius under the name of Matthias or of James the Less, or under the name of Peter and John (or which were written by Nexocharis and Leonidas the philosophers under the name of Andrew), or under the name of Thomas, and if there are any others, you know that they ought not only to be repudiated, but also condemned.

Here’s the relevant bit of a (very poor) scan of the PL.

The last sentence is telling:

Data x kalendas Martias, Stilicone secundo et Anthemio viris clarissimis consulibus.

Given on the 10th day before the kalends of March, the nobile Stilicho for the second time and Anthemius being consuls.

The sack of Rome by the Goths was a mere 5 years away.