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Papal Letters in the Early Middle Ages.

By Detlev Jasper and Horst Fuhrmann. History of Medieval Canon Law. Washington: Catholic University of America, 2001. Pp. xiii + 225. $39.95.

This book comprises two original essays. The one by Jasper (3-133) treats the known collections of papal letters from Siricius to Stephen V and charts the reception of those letters in canonical collections down to Gratian. The one by Fuhrmann (137-95) provides a comprehensive r6sum6 of his unrivaled knowledge of the four collections of material that are usually lumped together and called the "Pseudo-Isidorian Forgeries." Exceptionally clear and helpful, this volume will be welcome to those who have no German or, even more, to those who have no time to plow through the massive literature on the emergence of decretals, the early history of the papal archives, the reception of early decretals in later collections down to Gratian, and the massive collection known as Pseudo-Isidore.

In the broadest terms, the questions to which this book provides answers turn around the awkward fact that the several thousand extant papal letters from Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages come down to us along a bewildering variety of tracks and paths. We have register fragments from Gregory I (a large one: 866 letters), Gregory II, Leo IV, and John VIII, for example, but nothing like the full papal archives. The letters which do survive, then, exist because someone--almost without exception someone outside Rome--decided to make a collection of a certain pope's letters, or of papal letters on a particular theme or problem, or letters to a specific place.

How representative are the surviving letters of the totality of the papal correspondence? Given that the extant letters take different forms, how many forms were there, and how different in practical consequences was one form from another? How often did popes take initiative in dealing with issues and how often did they merely respond to questions? Did responses have specific or universal applicability? Jasper is especially good on the emergence of the papal correspondence, on the rise of decretals, and on the formation of collections of papal letters. Fuhrmann opens fascinating insights into the papal correspondence by exploring how clever forgers created papal letters whose forms and claims had plausibility.

Jasper begins with the first known decretal, that of Siricius I to Himerius of Tarragona (JK 255) on the rebaptism of Arian converts. He discusses what the emergence of decretals suggests about the growing self-consciousness of the papacy. He speaks about the form, style, and vocabulary of the documents, differentiates decretals from private letters, and discusses when and where the earliest collections of papal letters began to be made. The key element in this story is the rise of a papal legislative authority that equaled that of councils. Collections of papal rulings began to be collected in the fifth century because they were useful and authoritative. The great canonists of the eleventh and twelfth centuries excerpted the letters of 25 late antique and early medieval popes, with Leo I, Gregory I, and Nicholas I providing the largest number of citations. Because no complete, original, early medieval register survives, the reception of a pope's letters in a canonical collection was often decisive in preserving that pope's letters. Some letters survive for more serendipitous reasons. Most of those from Gregory II, Gregory III, and Zachary exist only in collections of Boniface's letters. The vast majority of those of Stephen II, Paul I, and Hadrian I survive only in a single manuscript of the Codex Carolinus prepared on Charlemagne's command in 791. Jasper is now a sure and concise guide to this material and its attendant problems. He also provides numerous suggestions for future research: The essay is full of dissertation topics.

Fuhrmann tells in brief compass what is to be found in everestian detail in his many articles and especially in his Einfluss und Verbreitung der pseudoisidorischen Falschung, 3 vols. (1972-1974). A group of forgers, with still to be determined connections among themselves, prepared between 847 and 857 (but perhaps as early as 852), somewhere in the diocese of Reims, four different sets of materials that combined authentic with forged and interpolated documents. The scale of the project may be grasped from just the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals. This collection contains more than 10,000 excerpts and exists in at least 115 manuscripts. It has long been recognized that the central theme of the whole collection of forgeries is the authority, almost the autonomy, of suffragan bishops vis-a-vis their metropolitans. Nevertheless, many questions remain in suspense. As with the papal letters, much work remains to be done on Psuedo-Isidore, and Fuhrmann is generously forthcoming in his identification of research topics.
University of Notre Dame
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Author:Noble, Thomas F.X.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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