Tag Archives: collectio coloniensis

Manuscripts and readers

I have just over one month left of my year as a mediaevalist, before taking up my new post as Assistant Professor of Latin Literature at UBC in Vancouver. I thought I’d write some blog posts reflecting on this year of mediaeval adventures in Durham as I transition back to Classics and the teaching of Horace, Ovid, Ausonius, Virgil, Lucan, Theocritus (and so forth).

One of the articles I wrote this year was about canon law education before Gratian. Gratian, about whom I’ve blogged before, published, around 1140, what would become the standard textbook for canon law for the rest of the High and Late Middle Ages. Before this, canon law was not really a subject on its own. The cathedral schools and fledgling associations of teachers (masters) called uniuersitates would have touched this material, if at all, as part of training in theology.

Of course, people knew the canons of the church. This is most easily demonstrable in the works of canonists such as Ivo of Chartres (Bishop of Chartres, 1090-1115) or Burchard of Worms (Bishop of Worms, 1000-1025). However, the writings of other bishops also demonstrate an intimate knowledge of church canons and the theology underpinning them. For example, Anselm of Canterbury (Archbp of Canterbury, 1093-1109) demonstrates in his letters a similar use and knowledge of canon law as Ivo in his own letters.

The question arises, how does someone like Anselm or his contemporary, William of St-Calais (Bishop of Durham, 1080-1096), gain his knowledge of canon law in an age before it was being taught as a separate discipline?

The answer: They read books.

The case of William of St-Calais has been demonstrated very well by Mark Philpott, who compared William’s copy of the canon law collection Collectio Lanfranci with Simeon of Durham’s De iniusta vexacione, an account of William’s treatment by King William II ‘Rufus’. Philpott shows that every time Bishop William refers to the canons of the church at the king’s court at Old Sarum in 1088, there are marginal notes in his copy of Collectio Lanfranci.

So the question of how do you learn canon law before Gratian — or even, in many cases, after Gratian — moves our study of education from the classroom to the reading stall. It also takes our study of manuscripts from texts and scribes to readers and marginalia.

As a classicist, I have generally been interested in manuscripts as repositories of texts which can serve as a pathway or a window into the past, leading us back to something similar to an author’s ipsissima verba. As a medievalist, I have considered them in the other direction: How would a reader of this manuscript be influenced by the text?

For example, Durham Cathedral Library B.IV.17 is an early twelfth-century copy of the Decretum of Burchard of Worms. Among the elements of note are marginalia in pencil next to certain of the canons, revealing to us the interests of one of the readers. I noticed that a lot of these markings were towards the beginning, where Burchard deals with the right (or wrong!) behaviour of bishops, and I couldn’t help but think about some of Durham’s bishops who likely transgressed the canons presented here, or about the literal episcopal civil war between William of Ste-Barbe and William Comin in the 1140s, or, later, the disputes between the monks of the cathedral and bishop Antony Bek.

Another feature of this book is the underlining in black ink of the sources of authority in canon law. Here we see, then, a reinforcing of the authority of certain church fathers and of popes in matters of church regulation.

Any reader of this manuscript after the penciller will have noticed these markings, too, and will have had his reading of Burchard transformed as a result.

Many of these same features are also visible in the six Gratian manuscripts I studied this year, except that all the Gratian manuscripts are heavily glossed. Thus, regardless of what someone might have thought about the canons of the church as organised and harmonised by Gratian, that person’s reading of church law will be shifted and transformed by the glosses, automatically interpreted by the glossator. And the reader can add more glosses himself — some of them did.

Another aspect of reading a manuscript is the layout. You can see how these books could have been useful. Burchard and Gratian both lay out their texts with red headings and subheadings (ruber = red, hence rubric). New chapters or books might have a massive historiated initial to signal their existence. Running headings across the top also assist in the navigation of these high mediaeval books.

You may think, ‘But, of course! My copy of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival has running headings and chapter divisions and page numbers, and even an index of persons!’ Well, remember Collectio Coloniensis from back in 2016? Well, that manuscript is basically a big wall of text (ms Cologne 212):

This is not easy to navigate, I can assure you! The rubric at the bottom is almost all you get in Coloniensis. Most new items get uncial incipits in the same colour rather than a rubricated heading. It can be a real pain!

Consider Durham Cathedral Library, B.IV.17:

Provided by Durham Priory Library Project – a collaboration between Durham University and Durham Cathedral

Much easier to read!

There is much more to be said about the reader’s experience in the Middle Ages, but it is an important approach to manuscripts, one worthy of consideration (and I know other scholars work on it!). And one that is useful for classics as well!


Check out Ivo’s works here.

Durham Priory Library Recreated

Cologne’s digitised manuscripts: Codices Electronicae Ecclesiae Coloniensis.

Mark Philpott, ‘”In primis … omnis humanae prudentiae inscius et expers putaretur”: St Anselm’s Knowledge of Canon Law’, in D. E. Luscombe and G. R. Evans, eds, Anselm: Aosta, Bec and Canterbury (Sheffield, 1996), 94-105.

—. ‘The De iniusta vexacione Willelmi episcopi primi and Canon Law in Anglo-Norman Durham’, in David Rollason, Margaret Harvey, and Michael Prestwich, eds, Anglo-Norman Durham 1093-1193 (Woodbridge, 1994), 125-137.

Briefly again on the Cologne manuscript from last time

So, what’s the upshot of everything I had to say about Cologne 212 the other day? In sum — overall, this manuscript from the year 600 seems neither better nor worse in its variants than its Carolingian successors a couple of centuries later, except that it has some large lacunae in its text of a few letters. And it has some intriguing variants in the letter of Siricius that I shall be on the lookout for in manuscripts still to be read.

The lesson is a basic one: Earlier is not necessarily better. (We need the Carolingians!)

What I failed to mention was what comes after the letter of Siricius. You see, the set of papal letters before Siricius, as I said, is called the ‘Canones urbicani’. Then we have the damaged text of Siricius to Himerius of Tarragona. But immediately following it is the letter of Pope Innocent I to Victricius of Rouen.

The ‘Canones urbicani’ already included two of Innocent’s letters. Yet the compiler has added a third outside the collection. This third letter of his begins:

Incp epist decretalis uniuers epos urbis romae prodium prouinc missae

kn28-0212_160 incipit of epistulae decretales (2)That heading — or ‘Incipit’ — is shared with another manuscript in Munich, Clm 6243. I haven’t worked on that manuscript yet, so I’m not sure about even which folio to find the incipit! But the addition of this third letter from Innocent means that the Munich manuscript and the Cologne manuscript have the same collection of papal letters. Presumably, then, the Cologne compiler had a copy of the collection as it exists in the Munich manuscript and added what was lacking from his own.

These sorts of interrelationships between different manuscripts are what make the textual criticism of early papal letters so difficult. Where did which version of a collection or a letter originate? How might these different collections collide and converge and reframe our readings? How, in the midst of all this, might we rediscover the texts as sent by the popes themselves back in the fourth and fifth centuries?

What can we learn from one of our oldest canon law manuscripts

kn28-0212_160 incipit of epistulae decretalesSo today I finished off one round of work on a manuscript that lives in Cologne at the Erzbischöfliche Diözesan- und Dombibliothek; its shelfmark is 212. The collection of documents in this manuscript is called — originally — Collectio Coloniensis. In my notes, I just call it K. I’ll refer to the manuscript as Cologne 212 from hereon in.

Cologne 212 is a manuscript from the turn of the seventh century (so, c. 600) written in a single column in a half-uncial hand. Rather than describe what a half uncial is, I refer the reader to the image on the left. It is also written in scripta continua — continuous writing. No breaks between words. This can be annoying. In fact, if you take your eyes off this massive block of text too long, it becomes very difficult to find your place again.

Cologne 212 is a very exciting manuscript for my research because — regardless of how early the collections that dwell within them were compiled — most of the manuscripts I work with are Carolingian or later — so, eighth- or ninth-century books; like the manuscript I talked about most recently. Cologne 212, then, is potentially very significant. It was written during the papacy of Gregory the Great (590-604) and shows us at an undeniably precise moment what knowledge of Canon Law was like in Gaul (‘France’ as you call it today) as well as the state of the texts (how good/bad they are). Because most of our collections, even when dated early, exist in later manuscripts, manuscripts like Cologne 212 shold pique the interest of every canon law scholar.

Just to give you an idea, one canonical collection (collection of material pertinent to canon law) that is related to the collection in Cologne 212 is called Frisingensis Prima. Scholars date the collection to about a century before Coloniensis. Its manuscript (Cologne, Clm 6243) is from the late 700s. One of our other earliest collections is called the Collectio Quesnelliana; Quesnelliana is dated to sometime around 495, maybe a bit after. It is transmitted in seven manuscripts, of the eighth, ninth, and twelfth centuries. The earliest securely dated Quesnelliana manuscripts are from c. 780. Another canonical collection that many scholars (but not Rosamond McKitterick!) date early — 500-525 — is the Vaticana; two of its manuscripts are eighth-century, and the third is ninth-. Another early sixth-century collection is Sanblasiana — its earliest manuscript is eighth-century. The very famous Dionysiana, in its form with papal letters from c. 525,  exists in nothing earlier than the ninth century. I could go on.

Cologne 212, then, is special. It is an early canonical collection that is contemporary with its manuscript. Only a few early collections exist in manuscripts so close to them in time. Out of the canonical collections I surveyed in my Ph.D., only three, in fact. The other two are: the sixth-century Corbeiensis in a sixth-century manuscript (Paris, lat. 12097); seventh-century Albigensis in a seventh-century manuscript (Toulouse 364 + Paris, lat. 8901).

Cologne 212 is not only close in time to its gathering — its gathering is close in time to the composition of its texts. Amongst its varied contents, it contains canons from the Second Council of Vaison in 529, the Fifth Council of Orléans in 549, and a letter from Pope John II to Caesarius of Arles from 534. Several other sets of documents from sixth-century councils and Caesarius are contained herein — mere decades after their composition.

The texts I’m looking at — letters from Popes Siricius (384-399), Innocent I (401-417), Zosimus (417-418), Celestine I (422-432), and Leo I (440-461) — are on the whole less than two centuries out from their original composition. Not bad, all things considered.

So, what did I find in Cologne 212? Well, yesterday and today I was looking at the group of papal letters associated with all of the above popes except Leo. It comes in this manuscript with the heading, ‘INCP CAN URBICANI.’ As a result, the selection of letters immediately following (not including Siricius, but anyway…) goes by the name ‘Canones Urbicani’ in the scholarly literature. These letters, whether in this particular order or not, come up in a number of different manuscripts, and the textual criticism of them is my current project.

Vat. Reg. lat. 1997

Vat. Reg. lat. 1997

My initial response to the text of these letters as I went through Cologne 212 was that they share a lot of variants with W and Te (as I term Collectio Weingartensis, in this manuscript in Stuttgart, and Collectio Teatina in Vat. Reg. lat. 1997). I am still trying to sort out W in my mind, but I do know, having studied Vat. Reg. lat. 1997 a lot, Te is definitively Italian and shares a lot of readings with a lot of other Italian canonical collections. So Gaul and Italy are not so far apart — yet. I still have a lot of other manuscripts to look at, some of them from Gaul.

Unfortunately, Cologne 212 is not a perfect manuscript. As you can see on this page, the letter of Celestine I to the Bishops of Apulia and Calabria runs into the text of his letter to the Bishops of Viennensis and Narbonensis — the former letter ends at ‘blanditus inludat’ in the second-last line. But instead of giving the date and then a new heading, the text runs into chapter IV (as divided in the Ballerini edition from 1757 now in Patrologia Latina 56) of the latter letter, ‘ordinatus uero quosdam’.

This, as it turns out, is common for the rest of this group of letters. A few more chapters fall out of this letter, and then again in the letter of Pope Siricius of Himerius of Tarragona. So, as far as those missing chapters are concerned, ‘low quality’. Presumably it was copied from a damaged exemplar.

But I also found something I’m still thinking about.

In Siricius’ letter to Himerius (from 385), Rome’s bishop is telling his Spanish colleague about how clergy shold go through the ranks. In the edition I’m collating against (not the Ballerini; unsure what their text is here) — and every manuscript I’ve read thus far — we read:

acolythus et subdiaconus esse debebit; postque ad diaconii gradum

[having lived content with a wife…] he will be allowed to be an acolyte and a subdeacon; and after, to the rank of deacon

Yes, this is only a sentence fragment. But Cologne 212 adds two interesting phrases. Its text reads:

quinque annis acolitus et subdiaconus esse debebit postquae tricensimo anno ad diaconii gradum

[having lived content with a wife…] for five years, he will be allowed to be an acolyte and subdeacon, and after, in his thirtieth year, to the rank of deacon

Since these temporal phrases don’t turn up in the other manuscripts I’ve looked at for this letter — Dionysiana, Dionysio-Hadriana, Weingartensis, Teatina — the temptation is to reject them, especially Dionysiana and Teatina are definitely old and definitiely Italian — even if their manuscripts are newer.

Another reason to reject them is that they are the sort of thing I expect to be added to canon law manuscripts. These manuscripts were written as sources for canon law, I believe. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that someone would slip in information that makes them more practical. These are standard canonical time periods and ages. If Siricius didn’t actually write them, a scribe could imagine that he had. Indeed, a scribe could have written them as interlinear notes that were later incorporated. That’s how these things work.

You have to read between the lines. Just in case someone else was.