A network of episcopal handbooks

Images: München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, clm 3851, f. 170v (also above), shared with the permission of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, and Troyes, Médiathèque Jacques-Chirac, f. 176v.

During the tenth and eleventh centuries, bishops were powerful figures. Powerful because they held the highest ecclesiastical office, ruled domains from episcopal cities and managed a vast clerical apparatus. So powerful even that Timothy Reuter dubbed this period the ‘Europe of bishops’, not that of mighty kings and dukes.[1] Another reason bishops were influential figures is that they were part of powerful networks that extended beyond their own diocese. Family ties could prove to be valuable connections, just as one’s upbringing could provide a bishop with strong contacts at a court or within a monastery.

Also, councils allowed bishops to build powerful networks, especially those convened by their metropolitan, where they would meet their fellow suffragans. Some of what went on during these gatherings can be gained from historical source material, such as letters, conciliar decrees or charters. Besides producing documents, which we can still read and examine today, bishops would also have spoken to each other about the day-to-day of running a diocese. This, however, is much more difficult to establish. They might have shared tips about organising efficient diocesan synods and visitations as well as how to deal with unruly clerics or lay people that seemed resistant to well-meant admonishments. Still, it might be possible to gain a glimpse of what kind of knowledge bishops shared if we turn to their manuscripts.

In my last blog post, I wrote that the ‘episcopal quality management in certain dioceses of eastern France and southwestern Germany was not to be underestimated’. I concluded this based on examining one particular manuscript (Troyes, MJC, Ms 1979) that I consider an episcopal handbook. In this post, I would like to further examine this statement, by doing a general survey of manuscripts similar to the one discussed last time. I have attempted to visualise the connections between the manuscripts in a graph seen below (hovering over each dot will display additional information):

A good place to start is the ordo for the diocesan synod found in Troyes, MJC, Ms 1979 (ff. 158r-159v). In five other manuscripts, a similar text is found, which results in a cluster on the right.[2] Another collection that holds this group together is what Wilfried Hartmann refers to as the ‘Mainzer Paenitentialiensammlung’ and which consists of the canons of the council of Worms (868) and a set of texts pointing toward the archdiocese of Mainz.[3] It concerns a penitential and a letter by Hrabanus Maurus (c. 780-856), and a small collection of canones. In this case, the material from the council of Worm is particularly interesting because it overlaps with another collection, which Hartmann refers to as the ‘Lotharingische Materialsammlung’ and which largely covers the cluster on the left.[4] Also in this collection, a penitential (Paenitentiale Ps.-Bedae-Egberti mixtum) is paired with sets of canones and other normative material in the form of episcopal statutes by Carolingian heavyweights Theodulf of Orléans (c.750/60-821) and Hincmar of Reims (806-882).

Already a formula seems to appear: conciliar decrees in combination with a penitential and multiple sets of canones. Clearly, this model was considered useful. The prime example of this is the manuscript Köln, DB, cod. 120. Raymund Kottje demonstrated that it served as an exemplar for Salzburg, SN, a.ix.32, which contains the Mainzer collection and the synodal ordo.[5] Tracing the texts between the manuscripts brings to light several other types of material that overlap (see graph), such as the Admonitio synodalis, a popular tenth-century synodal sermon, or material from the canonical collection known as the ‘4-Bucher-Sammlung’ or the Paenitentiale Ps.-Theodori. Most manuscripts are variations on the same formula which seems particularly helpful for bishops. In addition to the obvious useful material such as the synodal ordo and sermon, the Lotharingische collection, for example, includes three sets of questions meant to inquire about the state of a local church, its priest and the local community. Interesting is that these questions can also be found outside said collection. In the so-called Collectio 234 capitulorum in Troyes, MJC, Ms 1979, a compilation that essentially includes everything a bishop might need to govern his diocese – ranging from previously mentioned ordo and sermon to a broad selection of canones and episcopal statutes, the questions appear as well. It seems that alongside larger collections, smaller texts were also exchanged and then incorporated into handbooks for bishops.

The beginning of the first set of questions ('De constructione aecclesiae...') in München, BSB, clm 3851, f. 170v and Troyes, MJC, Ms 1979, f. 176v.

When we try to map the manuscripts in the graph, a rough image appears of Eastern France and Western Germany which features various episcopal sees, such as Cologne, Reims, Troyes, Trier and Augsburg.[6] Perhaps within this area, we have to imagine a network of bishops sharing knowledge about diocesan governance, resulting in handbooks that exhibit similar traits. Delving deeper into the selected manuscripts will likely increase the connections between them and hopefully lead to a better understanding of how bishops administered their dioceses in general and, more specifically, how they managed their priests.

BW, July 2022

[1] T. Reuter, ‘A Europe of bishops. The Age of Wulfstan of York and Burchard of Worms’, in: L. Körntgen and D. Waßenhoven (eds.), Patterns of episcopal power. Bishops in tenth and eleventh century Western Europe (2011), pp. 17–38 .
[2] Troyes, MJC, Ms 1979; Châlons-en-Champagne, BM, ms. 32; Colmar, BM, ms. 128; Salzburg, SB, a.ix.32; Trier, BA, Abt. 95 Nr. 133c; Köln, DB, Cod. 120.
[3] W. Hartmann, Kirche und Kirchenrecht um 900: Die Bedeutung der spätkarolingischen Zeit für Tradition und Innovation im kirchlichen Recht (2008) , p. 169.
[4] Ibid., pp. 169-170. Cluster on the left concerns: Köln, DB, Cod. 118; München, BSB, clm 3851; München, BSB, clm 3853; Paris, BNF, lat. 3878; Heiligenkreiz, BZS, 217.
[5] R. Kottje, ‘Eine Salzburger Handschrift aus Köln’, Rheinische Vierteljahrsblätter, 28 (1963), pp. 286–290.
[6] A similar observation is made by S. Dusil, ‘Zur Entstehung und Funktion von Sendgerichten. Beobachtungen bei Regino von Prüm und in seinem Umfeld’, in: M. Schmoeckel (ed.), Der Einfluss der Kanonistik auf die europäische Rechtskultur, 3 (2012), pp. 404–407.