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  • De presbiteris criminosis: Ein Memorandum Erzbischof Hinkmars von Reims über straffällige Kleriker
  • Abigail Firey
De presbiteris criminosis: Ein Memorandum Erzbischof Hinkmars von Reims über straffällige Kleriker. Edited by Gerhard Schmitz, [Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Studien und Texte, Band 34.] (Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung. 2004. Pp. xii, 124. €20,00.)

Watching scholars edit early medieval canon law is a bit like watching men walk on the moon. In an alien world, they bounce about where gravity does not securely hold. Although from afar almost indistinguishable in their special suits, they are individuals with their own special responses to their environment and task; yet they do not have normal communication with earthlings or even each other. And they are heroes. The moon-walker Gerhard Schmitz brings to us important juridical material from the latter part of the ninth century, and he does so with élan. His edition of archbishop Hincmar's De presbiteris [End Page 135] criminosis combines innovative and conservative editorial practices. This is thus a work important both to historians of the Carolingian era and also to editors striving to represent professional (as opposed to literary) medieval texts, for which the weight of sources and variant readings is uncertain in the lunar gravitational field.

Schmitz's discussion of Hincmar's arguments regarding the legal processes applicable to accused clerics is in itself a great contribution to our understanding of Carolingian episcopal authority and early medieval legal proceedings. Like so many early medieval juridical writings, De presbiteris survives as an anonymous and undated compilation of excerpts from a mixture of legal sources, with no explication of the circumstances of its composition. Authorship, occasion, and meaning must be deduced. Accepting the long-held ascription of the text to Hincmar, Schmitz chooses in his study to concentrate on the text's context, intent, and import.

Schmitz's initial detailed examination of the text's title opens the question of the text's nature. While summative titles, often supplied by early modern editors, imply that little texts such as De presbiteris had a somewhat static and normative quality, in their original context they were more likely untitled briefs for arguments about what, in the proponent's view, should be normative, but in fact might not be. After inviting us to imagine De presbiteris criminosis as an untitled schedula, such as that mentioned in the reference to "alia schedula" in Hincmar's brief entitled (by the editor Jacques Sirmond) De iudiciis et appellationibus, Schmitz proposes that the text was written not long before 877 (when De iudiciis was composed); he then reconstructs the possible precipitating events for the composition of De presbiteris. Again his method is to use other texts to supply missing data in a speculative, but prudent, triangulation of circumstances and references. Drawing especially upon Flodoard's reports of priests accused of crimes, Schmitz conjectures that direct appeals to Rome by priests seeking to evade the disciplinary power of their bishops or the more normal judicial forum of an ecclesiastical council must have frustrated Hincmar; even more frustrating were Roman interventions based upon incomplete and one-sided pleas. In Schmitz's view, De presbiteris was Hincmar's "memorandum" to the Roman See that there should be limits to such appeals.

Schmitz's lively recapitulation of cases noted in the historical record usefully belies the common scholarly lament that we have no surviving traces of Carolingian trials. Furthermore, by presenting evidence from other legal briefs, from councils of the same period, and from Flodoard's historical account, Schmitz circumvents a disconcerting aspect of Hincmariana: its exceptional quantity and quality. Hincmar's opinions create their own monumental isolation; they continued to be cited in the classical canon law of Gratian and later canonists; hence it is difficult to keep Hincmar's works situated in a context of jurisprudential training, debate, and action that must have [End Page 136] had other participants, now usually invisible to us. Schmitz shows us a technically sophisticated jurist and his presumed audience at work. Here are carefully selected citations of Roman law (the Breviarium Alarici, the Codex Theodosianus, the Epitome Iuliani, the Sententiae Pauli) integrated with the decrees of church councils, the opinions of popes, and biblical precepts...


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