Old rules in a changing world

Images: (Above) Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Msc. Can. 3, f. 7r. (Below) München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 3860, ff. 15v ,18v, 22v, 59r. Images shared with the permission of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

What a priest was and how he should behave was regulated early on in the history of Christianity. Councils in Late Antiquity often made regulations in this regard – so called 'canones'. In the course of the centuries, ever new canons and papal decrees were added to this corpus, regulating priests and their way of life, and these ancient legal texts were collected intensively and reproduced during the Carolingian period. In the long tenth century, bishops were therefore able to draw on a broad reservoir of old, widely distributed normative texts to which a high degree of authority and binding force was attributed.

Our project wants to observe the historical change in the position of priests during the long tenth century. For this purpose, the old canons and papal decrees constitute an interesting methodological challenge: it is obviously not sufficient to simply use as sources texts that were written in the course of the period under study. If we want to observe and measure change, we have to take into account that old norms formulated in canons and papal decrees from late antiquity did not simply lose their validity and authority. These canonical collections continued to be available in the libraries of monasteries as well as collegial and cathedral churches; and they continued to be used.

A vivid example of this methodological challenge is a codex now kept in the Bavarian State Library in Munich (Clm 3860). The book was written in Italy in the tenth century, but soon passed into the library of the cathedral chapter in Augsburg: from there it finally reached the State Library in Munich.

The manuscript contains a famous collection of canons and decrees, which had been widely used since the first third of the ninth century. In essence, this collection contains in the first part the so-called Canones Apostolorum (a set of norms which actually do not come from the Apostles, but are a later forgery) and the canons of important Greek and African councils of the fourth and fifth centuries. To these are added, in a second part, decrees of popes dating from the late fourth to the early sixth centuries, known as decretals. The final part is a late straggler – namely the Roman Synod, which met under Pope Gregory II in 721. Thus, the collection offered its readers a remarkable selection of old, but important rules for the clergy as well as for lay people; it defined in a helpful way how Christians should live together.

Beginning of the Canones Apostolorum in Münich, BS, Clm 3860, f. 15v

The collection owes its somewhat artificial modern name – in historical research it is normally labelled the 'Collectio Dionysio-Hadriana' – to the fact that Pope Hadrian I dedicated it to Charlemagne in the later eighth century. To a large extent, however, it goes back to a much older text, which the monk Dionysius Exiguus had already compiled in the years around 500. In the Carolingian period, the collection was a bestseller: It was widely distributed from the first third of the ninth century onwards. From the decades up to c. 900, about 80 exemplars are still preserved today. They show that the collection was known in nearly all regions of the Carolingian Empire.

However, during this astonishing process of distribution the 'Collectio Dionysio-Hadriana' was not left unchanged. Thus, our tenth-century Augsburg copy offers some additional material: at the end of the portion containing canons, for example, the Council of Ephesus from 431 is added – as in some other copies[1]. And at the end of the decretals, the Augsburg Codex offers some additions beyond Gregory II's Roman Synod of 721. Interestingly, this material corresponds to that also found in a second copy of the Dionysio-Hadriana, which also originated in Italy but was preserved in Augsburg (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 3860a).

München, BS, Clm 3860, f. 18v

In fact, the two Augsburg exemplars of the Dionysio-Hadriana correspond to each other in another respect: in both, there are verses about the sequence of the councils covered in the section on canons, which were inserted – probably by mistake – after the usual short introduction to the 'Canones apostolorum'. The same verses are found, for example, in the Italian manuscript Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Sessor. LXIII (saec. IX ca. 2/4), which transmits the so-called 'Nonantola recension' of the 'Dionysio-Hadriana'; there, however, they are on fol. 3v, in a group of additional materials before the beginning of the Collectio proper.

What makes the Codex Latinus Monacensis 3860 especially interesting to us is a group of annotations in the margins that were written into the codex at some point in the eleventh century. On fol. 18v there is a gloss on c. 30 of the 'Canones apostolorum':

ubicumque hanc notulam h[ic] inuenies ibi sermo est de presbiteris inlicite uxoratis uel quod ecclesiastica officia pecuniis non debent usurpare ('Wherever you find that little nota sign 'h[ere]' there is talk of priests being illegally married – or of ecclesiastical offices not being usurped by means of monetary payments.')

In most cases, annotators of manuscripts have not specifically explained what their signs in the margins mean. The fact that in the Munich manuscript someone explicitly stated what he was looking for when reading the book is a little stroke of historical luck. For in fact, corresponding h[ic]-annotations are found in twenty-one other places in the manuscript, and the corresponding passages do indeed deal with the question of how priests should arrive at their ordination, as well as with questions of marriage and how to deal with wives after someone has been ordained priest. For example, the famous Canon 3 of the Council of Nicaea of 325, regularly cited in this context, is marked in our manuscript: This canon forbids clergy to have a female companion (subintroducta mulier) with them unless it was their own mother, sister or aunt on their father's side – 'or such persons who are above suspicion'.

Example of the h[ic]-annotation being used in Münich, BS, Clm 3860, ff. 22v

Marked (and even additionally marked with a nota sign) is also Canon 9 of the Council of Ancyra. The provision must indeed have been of some interest to an eleventh-century reader. For this Council of 314 had determined the following: if deacons had indicated already during their ordination that they wanted to marry 'because they cannot remain like this', then they were allowed to remain in their office if they later actually married a woman – because the bishop should give them permission to do so. Those, however, who had kept silent and vowed abstinence at the moment of their ordination were later to be deprived of their office if they ever did marry. During the eleventh century ecclesiastics intensively discussed the question of which parts of the clergy were allowed to be married. In this discourse the old canon of Ancyra must indeed have been of great interest: it stood in clear contradiction to what hardliners tried to enforce in the eleventh century.

No less relevant and explosive in this context was Canon 4 of the Council of Gangra of 340/41: here, anyone who decided that it was not proper to receive the Eucharist from a priest 'who has had a wife' (a presbitero qui uxorem habuit) was threatened with the anathema. In the fourth century, the prevailing view was that married men could receive priestly ordination; they were to abstain from sexual intercourse with their wives once they were ordained. In the eleventh century, some parts of the clergy thought differently: they regarded priests who were married as heretics and tried to enforce that those who aspired to a higher degree of ordination should remain unmarried from the outset.

München, BS, Clm 3860, f. 59r

These somewhat arbitrary examples must suffice here: they show that it is worthwhile to analyse the use of older canon collections in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The codex shows us which provisions of the ancient councils and which decisions of the popes of Late Antiquity in the long tenth century were considered particularly interesting for current debates on the status of priests. Fittingly, the annotator also introduced a second mark. On fol. 59r he wrote on Canon 2 of the Council of Chalcedon of 451:

Ita -) ubi uideris ibi de ordinatione episcopi uel presbiteri et totius cleri. ('Where you see like this: -) there [it's about] the ordination of the bishop or the priest or the whole clergy.')

Canon 2 of the Council of Chalcedon dealt with a second central issue in the discussion about priests in the long tenth century: Quod non oporteat episcopum aut quemlibet ex clero per pecunias ordinari. ('That it is not proper to consecrate a bishop or whomever from the clergy with the help of money.')


List of annotations (click to expand)

A. hic-signs

1. fol. 18v: Canones apostolorum, c. 30: Quod non debeant officia ecclesiastica pecuni-is obtineri

2. fol. 20v: Canones apostolorum, c. 44 (falsely counted as XIIII here): Quod episcopus presbiter aut diaconus non debeat usuras accipere

3. fol. 22v: Nicea 325, c. 3: De subintroductis mulieribus

4. fol. 26r: Nicea 325, c. 17: De clericis usuras accipientibus

5. fol. 31r: Ancyra 314, c. 2: De presbiteris qui immolaverint tempore persecutionis

6. fol. 33r: Ancyra 314, c. 9: [the titulus not readable in the scan], addidtionaly marked by a nota-sign (cf. above)

7. fol. 36r: Neocaesarea 314/15?, c. 1: De presbiteris qui uxores acceperint uel fornicati sunt

8. fol. 36v: Neocaesarea 314/15?, c. 7: Quod non oporteat in bigami nuptiis orare presbiter …

9. fol. 36v sq.: Neocaesarea 314/315?, c. 8: De his qui mulieribus adulteris iuncti sunt

10. fol. 37r: Neocaesarea 314/15, c. 9: De his qui ad presbiterum promoventur et tante ordinationem peccatorum sibi sunt conscii

11. fol. 37r: Neocaesarea 314/15, c. 10: De diaconibus similiter

12. fol. 38r sq.: Gangra 340/41?, praef.: Declaratum est enim hos eosdem nuptias ac-cusare …

13. fol. 39v sq.: Gangra 340/41, c. 4: De presbiteris qui habuere coniugia

14. fol. 82v: Karthago, c. 3: De continentia

15. fol. 82v: Karthago, c. 4: De diversis ordinibus ab uxoribus abstinendis

16. fol. 87r: Karthago, c. 25: De episcopis vel sequentibus ordinibus qui sacrosancta min-isteria contrectunt placuit ab uxoribus contineri

17. fol. 90r: Africa, c. 5: Ut clerici vel continentes ad uirgines vel viduas non accedat (sic!)

18. fol. 101r: Africa, c. 37: Qui clerici ab uxoribus debeant abstineri

19. fol. 140r: Siricius, c. 7: Plurimos enim sacerdotes Christi atque levitas post longa conse-crationis suę tempora tam de coniugiis propriis . quam etiam de turpi coitu sobolem didi-cimus procreasse…

20. fol. 195v sq.: Leo I, c. 17: Quod diaconus sicut episcopus et presbiter cessare debent ab opere coniugali non tamen repudiare coniugia

21. fol. 201r: Leo I, c. 33: Ut metropolitanis non laici . non bigami . non viduarum mariti . sed inreprehensibiles ordinentur episcopi

22. fol. 201r: Leo I, c. 34: Quod subdiaconis carnale conubium denegetur

B. -)-signs

1. fol. 59r: Chalkedon 451, c. 2: Quod non oporteat episcopum aut quemlibet ex clero per pecunias ordinari

2. fol. 87r: Carthage, c. 26: Ut res ecclesię nemo distraat

[1] Cf. e.g. Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Can. 3 (saec. IX2/4 oder IXmed., Eastern France or Western Germany?); Bern, Burgerbibliothek, A.26 + 89 (saec. IXin, perhaps Alsace?); Berlin, Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Hamilton 132, fol. 1ra–128va (saec. IXin-med., Corbie?); Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 3860a (saec. IX2, Northern Italy, prov. Augsburg); St. Paul in Lavanttal, Stiftsbibliothek, 6/1 + Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, Aug. perg. CIII (saec. IX1/3, Reichenau); Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, lat. 1337 (saec. IXin, Upper Rhineland).