Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Johannes Fried, Donation of Constantine and Constitutum Constantini: A Book Review (Part V)

Last time we sampled some of Fried’s arguments on the date and origins front. Those were just appetizers, though – supplementary points that Fried makes by way of building up to his primary argument, which has to do with Constantine's palace as portrayed by the Constitutum Constantini. It is this, above all, that convinces Fried that the Constitutum is a ninth-century text concocted by Frankish forgers.

A bit of scene setting: In the Actus Silvestri (the fifth-century source that the Constitutum builds on) Constantine lives, is baptized, and constructs a basilica in something called the Palatium Lateranense. Details in the narrative suggest to Johannes Fried that this Palatium was on the Caelian Hill, near the present Lateran basilica and baptistery. Sometimes, according to Fried, the Actus use the words Palatium Lateranense as a general term, to indicate an “area of monumental buildings” that includes the basilica Constantine constructed for the use of Roman Christians. The Actus can also use the term more specifically, in a “closer sense,” to refer to Constantine’s palace alone. Thus Constantine can be found traveling between palatium and basilica, while elsewhere basilica and palatium both appear to be gathered under the words Palatium Lateranense.

The Palatium Lateranense attracts our attention because, according to the forger of the Constitutum Constantini, Constantine gave it to Pope Sylvester. In Fried’s mind, this fiction amounts to yet another revealing error. He says that it shows that the forger has poor knowledge of details about Rome and that it provides a terminus post quem for the entire forgery project.

Fried reaches these wide-ranging conclusions, first, by trying to plot the location of the Palatium Lateranense that we read of in the Actus Sylvestri. Because the Actus refer to the Lateran basilica and baptistery – real buildings – he argues that we are “[forced] to accept that the imperial Palatium was also a real (and not a fictional) building” (75). That alone strikes me as highly questionable, but we can accept it for the sake of argument. Through several further pages of analysis, Fried attempts to persuade us that the Palatium of the Actus should be identified with the classical and decidedly non-ecclesiastical Domus Laterani – location so far uncertain but perhaps somewhere near the Lateran basilica. For Fried, in other words, the Palatium Lateranense of the Actus may have been a legendary concept, but it was one associated with a real location. This helps him to make a number of distinctions: The Domus Laterani which is supposed to have given rise to the fictional palatium of the Actus and the Lateran basilica were geographically distinct structures (79-80), though located near one another. At a greater distance was the Patriarchium, or the papal residence; through the eighth century it could be described as iuxta Lateranis (inter alia) but was definitely distinct from the ancient buildings that took their name from the Lateran family. In the year 813, our sources call this complex of papal buildings a Palatium Lateranense for the first time. Above all, then, “we must be careful to distinguish between two Lateran Palaces”: The Palatium Lateranense of the Actus and the papal Palatium Lateranense, as the popes first called their residence in 813.”

With these distinctions in mind, we return to the Constitutum Constantini. Our forgers certainly want their readers to associate the Lateran basilica with the basilica that Constantine, in the Actus Sylvestri, is said to have constructed in his palace. Pseudo-Constantine of course also gives his Palatium Lateranense, presumably including said basilica, to Pope Sylvester. This palatium is supposed to surpass all other palaces in the whole world. According to Pseudo-Constantine, in other words, Sylvester received the imperial palace, and also the basilica, from the pope.

Yet – Fried objects on the basis of his distinctions – early medieval popes lived 500 meters from the Lateran basilica and bapistery. To associate the residence of these popes with said basilica and baptistery is a serious error. An “acquaint[ance] with the topography of the city” would show an early medieval observer that this fiction was “impossible” (84).

Strangely, though, no objections to the implied geography of the Constitutum Constantini survive from the Middle Ages. Perhaps this is because the fiction of the Constitutum takes place not in any real Rome, but in a mythical Rome informed by the Sylvester legend. The Palatium Lateranense was simply legendary furniture. Whether a Frank or a Roman, Pseudo-Constantine need not have cared about anything beyond the fact that an ancient and authoritative text claimed that the emperor lived at the Palatium Lateranense. The Palatium is the only imperial dwelling on offer in this Actus, and this made it a useful symbol of Roman imperium.

We cannot know how our forger expected his readers to relate the idea of Sylvester receiving the Palatium Lateranense from Constantine to eighth- or ninth-century Roman geography. Our forger clearly writes to explain the origins of early medieval religious and liturgical realities when, for example, he enumerates the vestments that Constantine gave Sylvester and the Roman clergy. The Palatium Lateranense, however, as a mythical structure derived from the Sylvester legend -- and not contemporary religious, liturgical, or ecclesiastical realities -- was “imaginary” (to use Fried’s term). As far as I can see Fried marshals no evidence indicating that the Domus Laterani was still known or that anyone any longer associated it with Constantine’s former palace in the Carolingian period. Before the popes started calling the Patriarchium a Palatium Lateranense, how might a Roman reader or a Roman forger have interpreted the terminology of the Actus and the Constitutum? The answer is less than obvious. The text refers to Constantine’s basilica as being situated in the palace – a kind of imperial building complex – and of course the popes did and do preside over the Lateran basilica, an element of this complex. Was that not enough for a knowledgeable reader/forger? Elsewhere the text has Constantine traveling from the basilica to his palatium. If it was this usage that caught attention, it too had an explanation – for as Fried shows at length, the early medieval papal residence was indeed distinct from the Lateran. Of course it was not previously understood to have been Constantine’s residence – far from it. Perhaps, however, the forger wanted his audience to reconceive of the papal residence along these lines? Perhaps this is evidence not of ignorance, but of an agenda? Why not suppose that a knowledgeable forger decided to risk inaccuracy, to stretch the truth and venture to posit a Constantinian palace complex that extended over 500 meters (the distance, as we have seen, between the Lateran basilica and the early medieval papal residence), to advance his fiction? Again we see that Fried is altogether too hasty to convict our forger of ignorance.

Fried also argues that our forger’s use of the Palatium Lateranense provides a means of dating the Constitutum. For Fried, only potentates who exercise some form of secular jurisdiction preside over palatia, and it was only in the ninth century that the papacy began to flex its secular muscles – and thus, by the year 813, the popes finally began to conceive of their residence as a palace. Thus, again for Fried, a fiction that shows Sylvester receiving a palatium from the emperor is something that could only have been written in the ninth century.

I think the problems here are obvious. In the first place, purely on methodological grounds, I cannot accept a ninth-century terminus post quem for the Constitutum Constantini on the basis of terminology derived from a fifth-century source. Fried’s arguments that early medieval palatia were places for the exercise of secular jurisdiction get us nowhere. Once again, the forgery takes place in a legendary world – one that our forger deploys to shape (rather than to mimic) contemporary understanding. Perhaps the forger wants to put the pope in a palace, despite contemporary characterizations of his residence. Perhaps the Palatium Lateranense is evidence that contradicts Fried's contentious reading of the Constitutum. Perhaps the palatium is our forger’s means of insisting that Constantine, at least, wished the pope to exercise “secular jurisdiction,” at least in some sense of the term.

Or perhaps the forger never extrapolated so far; perhaps the perspective of the Constitutum Constantini constrained him. The entire text purports to be a document issued by a Roman emperor. Such an emperor could indeed characterize his residence as a palatium in the full Friedian sense of the term. Sylvester’s perspective interests our forger not at all, and so Fried’s argument dissolves in uncertainty. Does a palatium granted by the emperor continue to be a palatium once in the pope’s possession? Does our forger even want us to assume as much? Or does he wish his readers only to recognize that the popes presided over a basilica that was once a component of Constantine’s palace?

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: This is not the stuff of which termini post quem are made.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Johannes Fried, Donation of Constantine and Constitutum Constantini: A Book Review (Part IV)

Last time we saw that Fried’s attempt to reinterpret the Constitutum Constantini was less than successful. There really is no way to read the document in purely ecclesiastical terms. Pseduo-Constantine is interested in giving Pope Sylvester something beyond purely episcopal jurisdiction in the Western Empire. The Constitutum Constantini is as much a description of the present as an argument about it. It describes (as Erich Caspar once put it) a world with an emperor in the East and a pope in the West. And that’s the main reason I’ve always felt that it likely predates 800.

Fried, of course, would object – and not just on the grounds of his proposed reinterpretation. There is clear evidence, he argues, that the Constitutum dates from after the year 800 and that it was composed north of the Alps. In this installment I’ll begin to look at Fried’s approach on the origins front. Once again, I fear, I have a lot of problems.

As I said before, Fried is right to question the strength of the evidence for ascribing the Constitutum to the Roman chancery. The arguments on that front have always been lacking. And as Fried says, the tendency among some scholars to cite accurate “Roman” details in the Constitutum as evidence for its origins could be problematic; many early medieval Frankish authors would have known a great deal about Rome. “On the other hand,” Fried writes, “deviations from Roman practices would be particularly significant, and a compelling indication of a non-Roman origin of Pseudo-Constantine’s deed”  (57).

Thus Fried embarks on a lengthy, and sometimes confusing, effort to find errors of detail in the Constitutum. At some point, somebody with more patience and more interest in such matters should really attempt a comprehensive review of Fried’s arguments here, as his analysis does, at points, raise interesting questions about the world imagined by whoever wrote the Constitutum and about its specific argument. Whether the matters that he uncovers betray faults in the knowledge or imagination of a Frankish author trying to impersonate a Roman emperor is another matter entirely. In every instance that I’ve done my homework, followed Fried's references and given the matter a bit of thought, I’ve come away with the feeling that he's all too quick diagnose error and ignorance.

Three examples:

1) On p. 63, Fried notes an interesting anomaly in the text of the Constitutum. One passage purports to grant the pope primacy over the patriarchs at “Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem” -- an abnormally ordered list, for Alexandria ought to come before Antioch. For Fried, this means that “Whoever invented the Constitutum Constantini cannot have been a particular profound or sensitive expert on the church hierarchy that was followed at Rome, and was certainly no Roman.” Yet Fried himself suggests that this incorrect order can be traced back to the biography of Constantine in the Liber Pontificalis, which lists Constantine’s donations to the various sees in this same abnormal order. So could this be a Roman forger who thinks this detail will look authoritative or old? Or could he be a Roman with a simple difference of opinion about the relative dignity of the patriarchal sees (as Horst Fuhrmann, who discovered this anomaly in the first place, seems at one point to imply)? And is this really the sort of "error" that a Frank is more likely to make than a Roman? Hard to say, but I’m unwilling to call ignorance on these grounds.

2) On p. 57, Fried brings up a small matter of vocabulary: In the Constitutum, Constantine’s headwear is called a frygium, while according to Fried Roman sources refer to the same object as a regnum or corona. “This suggests that the author of the relevant passage was Frankish rather than Roman; because in ‘Francia’ the word [frygium] seems to have been common” (58). Powerful point, right? Except that in the footnote (note 183) we discover that “References to papal headwear of the period in question are confined to the vita of Pope Constanine in the Liber Pontificalis, the Constitutum Constantini and the Ordo Romanus 36.” Three data points, in other words, including the Constitutum -- and all of them use a different word: Reference 1 calls this thing a camelaucum, reference two as we have seen uses frygium, and reference 3 uses regnum. Three early texts, three different words. A little deeper into the footnote Fried explains that a Frankish trend in favor of frygium emerges when you take the “later tradition” into account -- meaning texts from the eleventh century and beyond.

3) In Appendix A (pp. 114-27), Wolfram Brandes similarly complains that the use of the word “satrapa,” or satrap, by Pseudo-Constantine to refer to unspecified important people (in parallel with senators and optimates) surrounding the emperor indicates an “ignorance of the titles of the highest dignitaries of the court of the Byzantine emperors, the immediate successors of Constantine the Great” that would be hard to explain if it came from an early medieval Roman. This is because “until the end of the tenth century ... the Roman Empire possess[ed] no satraps” (117). I’ll grant the point – satrapa is an odd term and Brandes is right to draw attention to it. But is it really an error – something indicative of “ignorance”? Given that a) in the period in question there was no officially designated body of “satraps” associated with the empire, and b) the term occurs in the Vulgate in the same general sense as it does in the Constitutum to mean something vague like “nobles” (a point that Brandes acknowledges), I fail to see how this is an error at all. Why not instead call it a strange choice of words? Perhaps aware of this weakness, Brandes embarks upon a second, more ambitious argument. In Italy, he asserts, satrapa had negative implications, while north of the Alps it was a more neutral term. The Constitutum appears to use the word in a neutral sense – ergo it was probably set down in Francia rather than Italy. Here again, the argument would be compelling if the data underlying it weren’t so completely inadequate. Two sources from eighth-century Rome – two – mention satraps.* Both do so in order to describe Lombard nobility; neither passage has an even remotely pejorative tone. Brandes appears to recogniye this, but he goes on to insist that the term must be pejorative because eighth-century popes and Lombards did not typically get along. He then cites a string of texts from north of the Alps that use satrapa in a similarly neutral fashion. This leaves us with 1) neutral usage of satrapa in the Constitutum, 2) neutral usage of satrapa in eighth-century Roman texts, and 3) neutral usage of satrapa north of the Alps.

This is not, I want to stress, a complete accounting of the errors that Fried purports (with Brandes) to find – but I haven’t cherry-picked his three weakest arguments either. It’s just an honest sample of stuff that caught my interest.

Anyway, Fried has mostly different tactics on the dating front. Scholars have searched long and hard for early Constitutum reception – that is, early indications that the text was being read or cited. Early on the pickings are slim indeed. There’s a letter from Pope Hadrian I that refers to Constantine’s gifts to the church and appears to gesture vaguely towards the Constitutum, but Fried denies that it's any reference at all. Fair enough, I’m not convinced it’s a reference either. Elsewhere his argument becomes more problematic, though. The most significant instance of possible early reception is the Divisio regnorum of 806, which, as Walter Schlesinger argued back in 1958, appears to borrow titulature from the Constititum Constantini and apply it to Charlemagne. According to Fried (55ff), it’s actually the Constitutum that depends upon the Divisio, and thus the Divisio – far from being an instance of early reception – provides an important terminus post quem for the development of the Constitutum.

I would be happy to admit the possibility if it weren’t for two points. In the first place, Schlesinger’s argument was always weakened by the fact that the titulature in question ultimately derives from late imperial letters preserved in the Collectio Avellana; the Constitutum and the Divisio could thus each be using common sources and may have no specific relationship to one another. Fried’s bald assertion that “there is no proof that the forger was interested in ... the Collectio Avellana” (56) fails to overcome this problem (especially as by asserting this Fried seeks to discount possible ‘proof’ of this very point in favor of his preferred interpretation, thus risking circularity). In the second place, Fried’s scenario would seem to require that we posit rather reckless forgers. Would it not be more than a little risky for someone trying to forge a fourth-century document in ninth-century Carolingian Francia to borrow distinctive and unusual titulature from a widely circulated ninth-century document? Remember that this scenario is posited by the same author who seeks to explain the linguistic correspondence between the forgery and eighth-century papal letters by arguing that the forger(s) in question consciously imitated “‘old’ ‘Roman’ style” (194), presumably for purposes of verisimilitude.

Again, that’s not a complete accounting of Fried’s arguments on this front, just a sample intended to illustrate how he tends to work. I have to say, though, that in reading his book I find myself over and over again encountering apparently convincing arguments that upon second glance don’t really hold water -- and that don't fit the evidence better than the older analyses of scholars like Horst Fuhrmann. The Constitutum Constantini is an enigmatic document, no doubt, and the evidence for placing it in eighth-century Rome is indeed weak. The evidence for putting it in Pseudo-Isidore’s circles in ninth-century Francia, though, strikes me as even weaker.

*One of these is a letter issued by Pope Paul I in 758; the other is the biography of Pope Zachary in the Liber Pontificalis. A few scholars – among them Paul Scheffer-Boichorst – have thus used the word’s occurrence in these two texts to further buttress the case for authorship of the Constitutum at Rome, perhaps within Paul’s chancery. Obviously that’s a pretty weak approach – especially because, as Brandes shows, both Paul and the Liber Pontificalis use the word to describe not imperial officials but Lombard nobility. Neither passage provides a good parallel for the Constitutum.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Johannes Fried, Donation of Constantine and Constitutum Constantini: A Book Review (Part III)

What does the Constitutum Constantini have in common with the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries? Where do the concerns of these two very different fictions intersect? These are the important questions that Fried's book raises for us.

To review: The Constitutum Constantini is an imaginitive reworking of an older myth that occurs in the fifth-century Actus Sylvestri -- the so-called Sylvester legend. In this legend, among other things, the pope prompts the emperor's conversion to Christianity by curing him of leprosy. The Constitutum adopts big chunks of the Actus word-for-word. The forger innovates by having Constantine give Sylvester, his successors, and the Christian church a lot of stuff, all in a surfeit of piety and gratitude. This stuff includes supremacy over the patriarchal sees at Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem; a variety of ceremonial clothing including Constantine's crown (which Sylvester refuses to wear); Constantine's "Lateran palace," the churches of St. Peter, St. Paul and the Lateran basilica; the city of Rome; and ultimately the entire Western half of the empire. At the end Constantine concludes that it's not right for him to rule in a place where priests and the Christian religion have supremacy, and he heads off to Constantinople. There's other stuff in there too: Constantine holds the bridle of Sylvester's horse and acts as his groom and declares that the Roman clergy will have the same honor as the Roman senate. Do let me know if I'm forgetting anything important.

Anyhow, the Constitutum only appears to overlap with Pseudo-Isidore's concerns insofar as it relates to the pope's preeminent position in the Christian church. I quote the relevant passage from the translation online at the Medieval Sourcebook:
And we [i.e., Constantine] ordain and decree that he shall have the supremacy as well over the four chief seats Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem, as also over all the churches of God in the whole world. And he who for the time being shall be pontiff of that holy Roman church shall be more exalted than, and chief over, all the priests of the whole world; and, according to his judgment, everything which is to be provided for the service of God or the stability of the faith of the Christians is to be administered. It is indeed just, that there the holy law should have the seat of its rule where the founder of holy laws, our Saviour, told St. Peter to take the chair of the apostleship.... There...let them seek a teacher, where the holy body of the teacher lies; and there, prone and humiliated, let them perform the service of the heavenly king, God our Saviour Jesus Christ, where the proud were accustomed to serve under the rule of an earthly king.
Pseudo-Isidore also insists on papal supremacy, though for him the pope's position at the head of the Christian church is most often invoked as a legal protection for bishops. The point is that bishops and other clerics can appeal their way out of the provincial synod and seek impartial judgment in the papal court. The Constitutum casts the pope's position in a much different light. He's a religious leader in charge of Christian faith and piety. The pope as an exalted teacher, as the head priest of the Christian religion, as the embodiment of the holy law, the lex sancta -- I can appreciate that this pope might have flattered some of Pseudo-Isidore's biases and preconceptions. But the fact remains that Pseudo-Isidore's pope plays another game entirely. He's a pragmatic, administrative figure whose role in the church is above all important as a protection for bishops -- the bishops who, to use Pseudo-Isidore's favorite architectural metaphor, are the pillars of the Roman Church.

For Fried, though, there is considerably more overlap between the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals and the Constitutum. At the end of the document, as we saw above, Constantine confers “the city of Rome and all the provinces, places and cities of Italy and the western regions” to the potestas and the dicio of the Bishop of Rome, and to the ius of the Roman Church. These lines have traditionally been interpreted as conferring (or rather, purporting to confer) some sort of secular jurisdiction -- an interpretation that Fried might ascribe to the “canonists and propagandists of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.”

Unwilling to take this interpretation at face value, Fried goes in search of what exactly it means to transfer things like cities and provinces to the pope’s potestas and dicio. He finds that both secular and ecclesiastical authorities can have potestas and dicio, and that all the words really appear to mean is “some sort of legitimate power” (40). Thus the wording is “by no means unambiguous,” but Fried nevertheless thinks it significant that, according to the Constitutum, “the emperor did not grant any new authority, but assigned the places and regions mentioned to the existing authority of the bishop of Rome” (39). In Fried’s mind this forces us to conclude that the forger intended only to depict Constantine  handing the western empire over to the ecclesiastical authority of the pope. The Constitutum is thus not only partly but almost entirely about the pope's position at the head of the Church, and it has precious little to do with the pope's secular jurisdiction. Suddenly, Pseudo-Isidore and Pseudo-Constantine seem to be on the same page. Or at least in the same book.

Pseudo-Constantine, as we saw above, goes on to leave Rome because (Fried's translation now) “it is not right that an earthly emperor should have jurisdiction...where the...head of the Christian religion has been established.” Fried concludes:  “As far as earthly power and dominion were concerned, and as expressed at the end of the document, the...goal was more modest.... Not power over the entire West, but only over the City of Rome was granted to the successor of St. Peter” (45).

Fried's reasoning, specifically with respect to the meaning of potestas and dicio, deserves a closer look. Lexicographical investigations convince him that these terms can refer, above all, to four different things: 1) "an aspect of legal ownership,” 2) “administrative sovereignty,” 3) “imperial or royal authority,” and 4) the “jurisdiction of a bishop” (40-42). Fried finds reasons to exclude the first three possibilities, thus driving us into the fourth. Now I should confess, at the outset, that I suffer from a serious allergy to this Lord, Liar, Lunatic style of persuasion. I’d rather accept an interpretation because it seems intrinsically convincing than because it’s the least objectionable of the (perhaps artificially) limited possibilities on offer. Fried does bring some positive arguments to bear on the question, but they're weak tea indeed; and what's more, the alternative interpretations he outlines weather his attempts at exclusion quite well. We'll go in order:

Possibility #1, “legal ownership,” is rejected because “a similar transfer of property, including the Lateran Palace, had already been referred to earlier, and the pope will certainly not have received any personal property.” Nor were things like “provinces” “part of the emperor’s ‘property.’” (41 with n. 127). It strikes me, first of all, that Fried is expecting too much linguistic precision from the forgery. And does the Constitutum Constantini really grant the imperial palace twice – once as property and once in some other sense? Here are the two passages he's talking about, from the translation provided in his appendix (so you know I'm not massaging the meaning):
c. 14: To those same holy apostles, my masters, St. Peter and St. Paul; and through them, also to St. Sylvester, our father, and to all the pontiffs his successors...we concede and...confer our imperial Lateran palace....
c. 17: In order that the supreme pontificate may not deteriorate, but may rather be adorned with dignity and glory even more than is the dignity of the terrestrial empire..we confer to Sylvester...as well as our palace, as has been said, as also the city of Rome, all provinces, places and cities of Italy and the western regions and we...relinquish them to his and his successors’ power and rule (potestas and dicio) and we decree that they shall remain undert he law of the Holy Roman Church.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: Does that first bolded bit above amount to a first grant of the Lateran palace as property, and does that second bolded bit above amount to a second grant of the Lateran palace in some further additional sense? Or does that second bolded bit above simply refer to the first bolded bit above? Is it simply a reference made by way of comparison or analogy, to suggest that Constantine wanted to give Rome, Italy and the West to Sylvester in the same sense as he had given Sylvester his palace? This latter possibility strikes me as the only obvious way to read these words. Suddenly, and despite Fried's objections, "legal ownership" as a translation of potestas and dicio doesn't seem all that objectionable.
But we move on. Possiblity #2, “administrative sovereignty,” is excluded, first of all, “because it would have implied a parallel secular order besides the emperor, or an interim authority between the emperor and holders of office, for neither of which there is any evidence” (41). I fear that I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. The Constitutum Constantini is a forgery. What does "evidence" mean in this context? It is possible both for a forger to insist that the popes should exercise “administrative sovereignty,” and for there to be no evidence that the contemporary papacy exercised any “administrative sovereignty.” All apologies to Fried if I have misundertsood the import of his words. He continues that “administrative sovereignty” is also to be rejected “because before Constantine the Bishop of Rome cannot possibly have received any secular potestas to which the emperor could have transferred any cities or provinces” (41-2). Once again, I invoke my complaint about Fried’s expectations of linguistic precision.

Possibility #3, “imperial or royal authority,” is rejected “on the grounds that neither was the pope already emperor, nor did the pseudo-Constantinian Constitution assign him any imperial authority and so did not make him emperor” (42). Again, I don’t understand how this argument is supposed to work given that the Constitutum is a forgery that has to contend with contemporary realities. Fried is simply wrong to go hunting for legal or lingquistic precision in a document like this. Pretend, for a moment, that you are a forger. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that you want some unspecified people to think that the pope is supposed to wield some sort of imperial power in the West – or something analagous to imperial power -- or that he's the counterpart of the Byzantine emperor -- or whatever. Do you forge a document that has Constantine explicitly granting Sylvester “imperial authority” and “mak[ing] him emperor”? No, because reality constrains your fictions. People tempted to accept your forgery will have to wonder why the pope isn’t still referred to as an emperor and why nobody thinks of his position as imperial. So you have to obfuscate. You have to use vague terms like potestas and dicio – terms that mean everything and nothing. You can make implications with abandon, but at every turn your document must allow for the fact that the pope does not hold imperial office. The words you put in Constantine’s mouth must be prepared to deflect suspicion at every turn; they must deny potential opponents and critics any purchase. Plenty of people will doubt that the pope is an emperor; fewer will deny that he exercises, or ought to exercise, potestas and dicio in the West, at least in some sense of these terms.

Otherwise, and beyond these specific objections to Fried’s approach, I simply can't reconcile his reading with the contents of the Constitutum. The entire forgery is awash with symbols of imperial power, all of which are signed over to Sylvester and the Roman clergy. It seems strange to argue that all of these explicitly imperial and secular trappings are brought in to emphasize the pope’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

As we’ve seen, the passage that Fried finds so helpful for his argument has the pope granting his palace “as mentioned above, as well as the city of Rome, all provinces, places and cities of Italy and the western regions.” All of these things are to accrue to the potestas and dicio of Sylvester and his successors, as well as to the ius of the Holy Roman Church. It is only after this dispositio – that is, after Constantine is done signing away everything – that he picks up and moves to Constantinople, because he doesn’t think it appropriate that an earthly emperor should exercise power in the place where the prince of priests and the Christian religion is established. This is described purely as a consequence of the preceding donation; it is not an additional donation of anything at all, and I do not see how it limits the extra-ecclesiastical implications of the Constitutum to Rome alone. Of course Constantine frames his transition with specific reference to the city of Rome – as is appropriate, given that Rome was the seat of the Western Empire. In effect, though, the document has Constantine leaving the entire West. 

Put another way, Fried’s reading requires us to distinguish among things that the dispositio treats in exactly the same manner. Let's keep Rome in consideration. The Sylvester legend and the Constitutum both understand, after all, that Sylvester was bishop of Rome before Constantine ever contracted leprosy. When the Constitutum signs over a list of things that includes Rome to the pope’s potestas and dicio, then, how can this grant have anything to do with ecclesiastical jurisdiction? In what other sense, if not the extra-ecclesiastical, could Constantine conceivably be granting the city of Rome to the bishop of Rome? We have seen that not even Fried wants us to understand that Constantine’s palace and the city of Rome are being given over to the pope’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction alone. Yet the dispositio does not grant Rome with different terms or with different syntax than it grants the “places, provinces and cities of Italy and the western regions.” All are ceded to Sylvester in the same breath, as part of the same list, with the same verbs. 

Quite plainly, the Constitutum aims to give the pope some claim to extra-ecclesiastical jurisdiction over his palace, Rome, Italy and the entire West. Exactly what sort of jurisdiction is not clear; probably the forger does not want to be clear. His obfuscation is on display elsewhere, as we have noted many times: Pseudo-Constantine does not grant any imperial title and Sylvester shrinks from wearing Constantine’s crown over his tonsure. This is a forgery designed for a world in which the pope was not an emperor and did not wear an emperor's crown.

Back to Part I or Part II.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Johannes Fried, Donation of Constantine and Constitutum Constantini: A Book Review (Part II)

First, some history and some background: Fried's is not the first attempt to associate Pseudo-Isidore with the Constitutum. Back in 1964, Schafer Williams, that famed Pseudo-Isidore scholar of yesteryear, also argued that the Constitutum was Pseudo-Isidore's invention.

His reasoning was simple and worth recounting, because it brings us up against the important matter of the early textual tradition of the Constitutum. By Schafer's time the manuscript sources for the Constititum had already been exhaustively investigated. People thought the earliest medieval manuscript was Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ms. lat. 2777, a formulary from the monastery of Saint-Denis that they wanted to date to the beginning of the ninth century. They also knew that the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals included a copy of the Constitutum Constantini, and that the earliest Pseudo-Isidore manuscripts date from the middle of the ninth century. The manuscript tradition thus seemed to tell a story: First someone invents the Constitutum Constantini, then Pseudo-Isidore finds it lying around, sticks it in his collection, and in doing so brings it to the attention of the world.

Schafer Williams, though, worked out that everyone had the date of Ms. lat. 2777 wrong. It was a later -- not an earlier -- ninth-century manuscript. This means that Pseudo-Isidore, in fact, offers our earliest manuscript access to the Constitutum. From there Williams succumbed to the temptation to ascribe the Constitutum to Pseudo-Isidore himself.

The attribution did not stick. Horst Fuhrmann refuted his thesis by citing that classic maxim of Ulrich Knoche: recentiores non sunt deteriores -- that is, there's no reason that younger manuscripts cannot have better or earlier texts than older manuscripts. In fact, as Fuhrmann showed, Ms. lat. 2777, though not the earliest manuscript, does indeed carry the earliest recension of the Constitutum. It thus has better text in a number of places than the Constitutum on offer in Pseudo-Isidore. It's closer to the Actus Sylvestri -- the single most important source of the Constitutum -- than the texts that occur in Pseudo-Isidore's forgeries. In one instance the Constitutum uses a Greek word (συγκλίτης) that someone somewhere on the Pseudo-Isidore side of the tradition appears to have misunderstood and replaced with the Latin word inclitus, corrupting the sense. The Constitutum calls Sylvester almificus, an appropriate adjective for the pope widely attested in other early medieval sources; the Pseudo-Isidore recension calls the pope magnificus, a far less appropriate word typically used for secular magnates.

The copy of the Constitutum in Ms. lat. 2777 is thus entirely independent of the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals. It's an earlier recension -- one that Fuhrmann christened the "Frankish version." Pseudo-Isidore offers a slightly deteriorated copy of this recension. This pretty much does away with attempts to argue that the Constitutum originated as a constitutent of the false decretals. Nor is that all. Horst Fuhrmann has pointed out that, while Pseudo-Isidore gives the patriarchal sees in their usual order (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch...), the Constitutum sticks Antioch before Alexander -- a fairly serious difference. And there are further striking devitations in vocabulary, technique and subject matter that force us to put ever more distance between Pseudo-Constantine on the one hand and Pseudo-Isidore on the other.

All of this limits Fried's argument. At one point he seems to suggest that that later scribal corruption, and not Pseudo-Isidore, might be responsible for the textual defects in Pseudo-Isidore's Constitutum noted above,* but he does not press the point and allows that there need be no direct connection between the two forgeries. The two may have been forged by people with similar motives and in the same circles, but -- as he sees it -- the author(s) of one need not have been the author(s) of the other. At the outset, then, we see that the relevance of Fried's book for anyone wanting to read the false decretals is somewhat limited. We still have to approach the forgeries of Pseudo-Isidore on their own terms.

Can the Constitutum, though, at least tell us something about Pseudo-Isidore's milieu? About Pseudo-Isidore's allies or fellow travelers? Those are questions we'll begin to answer tomorrow.

Back to Part I. Forward to Part III.

* While it's always helpful to keep the vagaries of transmission in mind, we should also remember that among the earliest manuscripts of Pseudo-Isidore is Vat. lat. 630, copied perhaps ca. 860 and almost certainly from Corbie, Pseudo-Isidore's home monastery. Vat. lat. 630 contains each of the defects listed above, so there's not a lot of space for post-forgery scribal corruption.

Johannes Fried, Donation of Constantine and Constitutum Constantini: A Book Review (Part I)

I have returned from the dead, and it’s time for this blog's inaugural book review. In 2007, Johannes Fried came out with a short study of that most famous of all medieval forgeries, the Donation of Constantine:

Donation of Constantine and Constitutum Constantini: The Misinterpretation of a Fiction and Its Original Meaning (Walter de Gruyter: Berlin/New York, 2007). 201pp. $83.01 at Amazon.com.

This book is the most recent publication to make deeply significant and wide-ranging claims about the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries, so we’ve got to deal with it. First, though, you might want to reacquaint yourself with the fabled Donation. I know we all had to memorize it in elementary school, but a reread never hurts. Old translation online here; Wikipedia article that Fried would disagree with here.

And here's a helpful thirteenth-century illustration:

Constantine wants Sylvester to have the crown. Sylvester does not want to have the crown. A tussle ensues.
Anyway, according to Fried, scholars have grasped the Donation of Constantine the wrong way around. This is because “Recollection plays tricks with past reality; it reconstructs it and constantly creates it anew.... The reality of forgeries is not immune from such distortions, and once they have become the subject of memory they themselves can be forged and altered dramatically” (35). All this time, we moderni have been reading and debating the origins of the Donation of Constantine – the forgery as reinterpreted and essentially reinvented in the High Middle Ages. If we want to understand where this thing came from, we’ve got to inquire after the origins of a separate entity – the Constitutum Constantini, which was invented in the Early Middle Ages for entirely different purposes. In other words, we've come at the Constitutum confused by a lot of unwarranted preconceptions and baggage inherited from high medieval legal scholarship.

But that's not all. Influenced by the readings of “canonistst and propagandists of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries,” we have not only misunderstood the contents of this famous forgery; we are mistaken in our attempts to date it to later eighth-century Rome and attribute it to the papal chancery. Fried aims to show that the Constitutum was in fact forged by Franks in Francia, not in the late eighth century but in the ninth, and by the same circle of people responsible for the forgeries of Pseudo-Isidore. Fried suggests either the Abbot Hilduin of Saint-Denis or Wala of Corbie as the most likely perpetrators. All of that naturally makes Fried’s opus very relevant for this blog. If he’s right, I’ll have to add a sixth seventh introductory post explaining the can of worms that is the Constitutum Constantini. We’ll have another data point for the aims, biases and ambitions of the forgers. Fried’s book will become required reading for anyone hoping to expose the mysteries of Pseudo-Isidore’s forgery workshop.

Unfortunately, though, and despite my considerable respect for much of Fried’s other work, I do not find his argument convincing. He’s right to question the connection between the Constitutum and the papal chancery of the later eighth century – the evidence on this front has always been weak. And his final chapter on the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries is full of valuable insight and analysis; I have a forthcoming article on the decretals that cites this chapter repeatedly and that finds further evidence to support some of Fried's more tentative conclusions in these pages. I cannot, however, agree with his reading of the Constitutum or his attempt to assign the forgery to Pseudo-Isidore or Pseudo-Isidorian circles. Over the next several days, through several installments, I will explain why.

Forward to Part II or Part III.