Bishop Disputes with ClericBM ms 279, Decret. Angers, 1275

THE IMPORTANCE of this work, emanating from Theodore of Tarsus (archbishop of Canterbury,  (668-90) is generally recognized. Perhaps the most original and valuable part of Wasserschleben’s essay on the history of the penitentials is that in which he determines the true penitential of Theodore. [1] The tradition of Theodore’s authorship of a penitential is attested by numerous references in authors of the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries. The Liber pontificalis, compiled in the late eighth century, has usually been cited in this connection. In one manuscript of this work it is stated that Theodore “with wonderful consideration set forth the sentences of sinners or the number of years one ought to do penance for every sin.” [2] This passage, however, appears to be a late addition to the book. [3]

Yet it can hardly be later in origin than the Liber pontificalis, since it is also found in Paul the Deacon’s History of the Lombards, written about 790. [4]Half a century later Raban Maur at least twice cited the penitential canons of Theodore, calling them “constitutions” and “capitula.” [5]Regino of Prüm prescribes the Penitential of Theodore as one of the two from which choice may be made. [6] In Irish penitential writings about the end of the seventh century Theodore was named and quoted.[7] The penitential published by Albers as probably Bede’s or of Bede’s period, though regarded by others as somewhat later, and the related Penitential of Egbert, refer to Theodore as an authority.[8] But Bede’s History and the writings of near-contemporaries of Theodore offer no corroboration of his connection with a penitential. The work published by Spelman in 1639 from a Cambridge manuscript as the Poenitentiale Theodori Archiepiscopi showed late elements. J. Morin, in his classical history of penitential discipline, rejected the portions of this work authorizing composition but regarded the remainder as the genuine work of Theodore.[9] The whole document was uncritically accepted by Thorpe and appears in full in his Ancient Laws and Institutes of England.[10] Meanwhile, in 1677, Jacques Petit published fourteen capitula of a Poenitentiale Theodori from a manuscript taken from the library of de Thou, together with a collection of pseudo-Theodorean canons.[11] Wasserschleben, however, discovered manuscripts which led him to adopt as the Penitential of Theodore a work in two books, of about equal length, of which the first contains fifteen sections, and the second is the fourteen capitula of Petit.[12] Haddan and Stubbs working independently of Wasserschleben and using a ninth-century Cambridge manuscript superior to any used by him (Codex CCCC 320), reached the same conclusion and later published the newly-discovered Poenitentiale Theodori, ascribing it to Theodore “with the utmost confidence.”[13]

The Poenitentiale Theodori is not, and does not profess to be, a direct work of Theodore of Tarsus. It professes to be made up mainly of answers given by the archbishop to a certain presbyter, Eoda, and edited, after a period of circulation in a confused state, by a scribe who hides behind the vague pseudonym “Discipulus Umbrensium.” This mysterious intermediary, the original editor of the penitential, is thought by Haddan and Stubbs to have been “either a native of Northumbria who had been a disciple of Theodore, or, more probably, an Englishman of southern birth who had studied under the northern scholars.”[14] Watkins supports the view that he was a southerner who studied in the north, where the Celtic private penance had been adopted.[15] That he had studied under the northern scholars seems to be implied in the language by which he describes himself; but that he was a southerner appears to the present writer much less certain.

F. Liebermann has advanced the view that “Discipulus Umbrensium” was not an Englishman but an Irish disciple of Theodore.[16] A fresh approach to the subject has been made by P. W. Finsterwalder in an elaborate study of the Canons of Theodore.[17] Finsterwalder not very convincingly argues that in dedicating his work “to all the Catholics of the English” the compiler indicates that he is not one of these, and supposes that he was one of the eleven disciples whom Willibrord took with him from Ireland to Friesland [18] and hence probably an Irishman. His work, however, was too late to make it possible to regard him as a direct pupil of Theodore.[19] 

 In an additional section of the epilogue which Finsterwalder discovered in the Codex Vat. Pal. Lat. 554, he claims to find references to the heresies of Adalbert and Clement, combated by St. Boniface about 745. In the circle of Boniface, then, the work took its final shape.[20]

Finsterwalder points to the multiplication of copies of the document on the Continent and not in England. His statement that a penitential ascribed to Theodore is first mentioned on the Continent in the ninth century is to be balanced by the references to Theodore’s authority in the determination of penance in the possibly authentic works of Bede and Egbert referred to above. Further, the Irish Collection of Canons, apparently written in Ireland about 700-725, though believed by Finsterwalder to be the work of St. Boniface, as we have seen, four times quotes the Penitential of Theodore.

Finsterwalder’s main conclusions as well as his critical methods have been unfavorably examined by W. Levison in an acute review.[21] G. Le Bras has also declared against Finsterwalder’s construction of the data and still holds that both parts of the penitential were compiled in England.[22]

The work has evidently been prepared by a person or persons familiar with Welsh and Irish penitential documents. The ungrammatical text of the prologue seems best understood as saying that Theodore had been made acquainted with a certain booklet of the Irish (“libellus scottorum”) which Eoda had made the basis of questions asked him to obtain materials for the penitential. The materials in common in Theodore and the Irish Canons have led to the belief that this work or part of it, or a collection containing part of it, was the “libellus” referred to.[23] Finsterwalder has shown numerous parallels with the true Cummean published by Zettinger, a work written before Theodore’s time. His argument renders it highly probable that the “libellus” was Cummean’s Penitential, either in the form known to us or in a slightly different text.[24] Possibly Eoda, who is otherwise unknown, may have become acquainted in Northumbria with the Irish and British penitential materials which are repeated in this penitential; or he may have been one of those Englishmen who, as Aldhelm says, in Theodore’s time crossed the sea “in fleets” to study in Ireland,[25] some of whom doubtless returned to their native country. He may have given Theodore his first acquaintance with the Celtic documents, though the Celtic practice of private penance had doubtless been made familiar to the primate during his visitations. Eoda was evidently dead, and his materials were in an unorganized state when “Discipulus Umbrensium” undertook the preparation of a sound edition.

Critical editions are given by Wasserschleben,[26] by Haddan and Stubbs,[27] and by Schmitz.[28]   Schmitz has given the variants of the Continental manuscripts known to him but has ignored the superior manuscript of the Corpus Christi College Library, used by Haddan and Stubbs. The translation is based upon the edition of Finsterwalder[29] amended at many points from the manuscripts. The document shows evidence of a few later comments and indicates that the scribe consulted various copies in which he found differences and did a little critical editing of his own.[30]




[1] Bussordnungen, pp. 14-37. 

[2] L. Duchesne, Le Liber pontificalis, II, xxv.

[3] Cf. W. Levison’s review of Finsterwalder’s work cited below, p. 181, n. 21, in Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, kan. Abt. , XIX ( 1930), 706.

[4] History of the Lombards, V, 30. Paul wrote this work after his retirement in 786; he died in 795.

[5] Migne P.L., CX, 491; 1085. Cf. Schmitz II, p. 511. Although Raban quotes passages found in both books of the present Penitential of Theodore Schmitz thinks it unlikely that he knew the book as one work. The reference to “the penitential which Theodore, archbishop of Britain, with the other bishops established,” in the work On the Penance of Laymen, ascribed to Raban Maur and published in the Cologne ( 1626) edition of his works, VI, 114 (cf. Wasserschleben, Bussordnungen, p. 15) may not be from his pen.

[6] See below, pp. 217, 314.

[7] can. Hib. , I, 22; LIV, 12, 13, 14. Theodore is named in the last three of these quotations, all of which are from Book II of the penitential

[8] See below, p. 223, and Haddan and Stubbs, III, 418. 

[9] Joh. Morinus, Commentarius historicus de disciplina in administratione sacramenti penitentiae ( Paris, 1651; 2d ed., Antwerp, 1682), lib. x, chap. 17. -180-

[10] II, 1 - 62.

[11] Petit’s material will be found reprinted in Migne P.L., XCIX, 959.

[12] For details of the manuscripts used see Wasserschleben, Bussordnungen, pp. 19 ff., 182. Most important is the early ninth-century Vienna codex 2195.

[13] Haddan and Stubbs, III, 173. For a full statement of the manuscripts and editions see pp. 173-76.

[14] Haddan and Stubbs, III, 173.

[15] Watkins, II, 649-50.

[16] Die Canones Theodori,” Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, kan. Abt., XII ( 1922), 387-410; see p. 401. 

[17] Die Canones Theodori Cantuariensis und ihre Ueberlieferungsformen, Weimar, 1929. The work contains, pp. 285 - 334, a new text of the penitential, in which the author relies largely on the Codex Vat. Pal. Lat. 485, discovered by him. 

[18] Bede, Ecclesiastical History, V, 10.

[19] Finsterwalder, op. cit., pp. 170 ff.

[20] Ibid., pp. 177 ff.

[21] Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, kan. Abt., XIX ( 1930), 699-707.

[22] “Notes pour servir à l’histoire des collections canoniques. 1. Judicia Theodori,” Revue historique de droit français et étranger, 4 ser., 10 an. ( 1931), pp. 95-131.

[23] Oakley, pp. 105-13. McNeill, p. 61 ( Rev. celt., XXXIX, 295).

[24] Finsterwalder, op. cit., pp. 201 ff. Cf. J. T. McNeill, “Note on Cummean the Long and His Penitential,” Rev. celt., L ( 1933), 289 ff. -181-

[25] S. Aldhelmi, Ep. iii, Migne, P.L. LXXXIX, 94. Cf. Bede, Ecclesiastical History, III, 27.

[26] Bussordnungen, pp. 182-219.

[27] Op. cit., III, 173-204.

[28] Op. cit., II, 545-80.

[29] Op. cit., pp. 285-334. For a discussion of Finsterwalder’s treatment of the manuscripts see Introduction, pp. 54 f., 57 ff., 63, n. 36.

[30] See V, 6; IX, 12; XIV, 29. A translation of the greater part of the Penitential of Theodore is presented by Sir Henry H. Howorth in The Golden Days of the English Church, III,  238 ff. The work is marred, however, by unindicated omissions and numerous incredibly false renderings.




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