Collectio Canonum Hibernensis

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The Collectio Canonum Hibernensis , or Hibernensis for short , is a systematic collection of canon law that was created in Ireland in the 8th century , spread across England and France throughout Western Europe and was used intensively for four centuries. It is considered the most important canonical collection of the early Middle Ages. Despite the widespread use of the collection across Western Europe, it did not have a significant lasting impact on canon law of the Roman Catholic Church . One reason for this are the many Irish peculiarities of the collection, which must have appeared strange on the continent outside the direct influence of the Irish monks .

Task and origin

Collectio Canonum Hibernensis (United Kingdom)
The Irish monasteries of Dairinis and Iona , which published the Hibernensis, were both located on islands with access to the sea.

Very early on, the Catholic Church required its clerics to have precise knowledge of canon law. For example, Celestine I demanded in a message to the bishops of Apulia and Calabria :

“Nulli sacerdotum suos licet canones ignorare.”

"No priest is allowed not to know his canons."

Accordingly, it was already common in early Christian times to collect papal decretals and council resolutions. This was initially done in chronological order until the abundance of material made this impractical. A solution to this problem was found in systematic collections that presented only a selection and systematically arranged them according to subject areas.

Exactly this problem is already addressed in the foreword of the two editors of the Hibernensis, Rubin von Dairinis and Cú Chuimne von Iona , who compiled the Hibernensis around 735. In their foreword, the two editors refer to the increasingly confusing number of synods, which could lead to the risk of different interpretations with the consequence of possible conflicts. Therefore, according to the authors, the aim of Hibernensis was to use the abundance of material to achieve a clear, clear and harmonious arrangement in one volume.

Apart from the Trier fragment , a copy of the text from Iona or Ireland in general has not been preserved. Nevertheless, the text can be assigned to the two Irish monasteries because the names of the two authors are known thanks to a colophon from a manuscript preserved in France.

The structure of the collection

Page 15v of manuscript 210 in the cathedral library in Cologne from the second half of the 8th century. The first chapter with the title De nomine prespiteri from the second book begins with the large initial P. A quote from Isidore begins in the second sentence of this chapter.

The collection itself consists of a total of 67 books, each divided into individual chapters. Each of the books highlight a topic, and the chapters give individual guidelines and then explain what they are based on. It is extensively quoted and documented, so that the collection also gives an impression of the works that were available to the authors at the time and how they worked.

In total, there are around 500 Bible quotes in the collection, most of which refer to the Old Testament . As far as biblical passages are quoted literally, they largely correspond to the text of the Vulgate . In addition, there are numerous excerpts from Greek, African and Gallic council resolutions , the Statuta ecclesiae antiqua , which was created in the second half of the 5th century, and papal decretals . Furthermore, the writings of Origen , Hieronymus , Augustine , Isidore , Gregory I and Gregor von Nazianz are quoted extensively .

The canons are by no means free from contradictions. On the contrary, they sometimes give indications as to how a point can be viewed from several sides. This gives the decision-makers a lot more freedom, but also a sound background for a decision at the same time. Charles-Edwards shows this in his essay with an example where it is a question of where a deceased is to be buried.

In Book XVIII, entitled De iure sepulturae , there are several guidelines on this. The first chapter, entitled De vivis et uxoribus in uno sepulcro sepeliendis , states that married couples should be buried in a common grave. The corresponding content of the chapter provides the justification for this by quoting Eucherius of Lyon , the Book of Tobit (4th chapter, verses 3 and 4), Jerome, Augustine and the Acts of the Apostles (5th chapter, verses 6 and 10). However, the second chapter, entitled De eo, quod in paterno sepulcro sepeliendum est, gives the guideline that the deceased should be buried in their father's home. Here is quoted from the decisions of a Roman synod and reference is made to Genesis (50th chapter from verse 24). In the next chapter, entitled De eo, quod debet homo sepeliri in ecclesia, cui monachus est, there is an exception based only on Irish law, which stipulates that these rules do not apply to monks, so that they can be buried at their monastery. In the fourth chapter, De eo, quod mulier post mortem viri libera sit sicut in vita, ita in morte, there is another exception, which allows widows complete freedom of movement after the death of their husband and thus also gives them a corresponding freedom to choose the burial place. This is evidenced by a quotation from Jerome and Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (7th chapter, verse 39).

This structuring of a chapter in statements ( testimonia ) and exemplary evidence or models ( exempla ) arises in the view of Charles-Edwards from the fact that the collection was written by scribes and was therefore not approved by synods in this form. And accordingly, the collection can also be viewed as a practical guide for a Christian life based on the teachings of the Bible, the accompanying commentaries of the Church Fathers and the Synods.

However, this does not mean, as Charles-Edwards expressly emphasizes, that the role of the collection can be limited to that of a moral theological work. The book XXI De judicio in the first chapter De personis dignis ad judicandum expressly states that the scribe ( scriba ) must have the ability to make a judgment according to the quote from Faustus : Scrutatus sum et interrogavi et constitui judicium , translated I have researched, asked and made a judgment . The chapter stipulates that the bishop must convene the elders and the scribes, and the latter will give his judgment. Correspondingly, canonical decisions are ultimately based on the interpretation of the Bible, for which the hibernensis represented a suitable aid.

The Irish style of the collection

In some cases, the Hibernensis documents rules that were only practiced in Ireland (and perhaps Wales ) and thus contradicted the practices on the continent. An example of this is tonsure , in which Book LII, Chapter 6, according to Gildas, specifies that the front part of the head is to be sheared to the line connecting the two ears. This is the so-called tonsure of Paul , which was in contrast to the Roman tonsure of Peter , in which a circular disc on the skull was shaved off.

In addition, however, there are also Irish influences on the canons, which stem from the influence of secular Irish law, which was also written down in the 8th century and which strive to reconcile the two. These tendencies can only be demonstrated by a more detailed analysis of the differences between the individual manuscripts.

As Maurice Sheehy explains in his essay, the texts from the traditional manuscripts are not uniform, so that he essentially differentiates between two versions A and B. According to his analysis, version A dates from the beginning of the 8th century and served as a preparatory collection for the actual work. Compared to the B version, the A version contains even more references to Irish synods, but it does not yet show any attempts to adapt the collection more to Irish law.

An example of the adaptation in the B version is the way in which Exodus , chapter 21, verses 28 to 30 is quoted in book LIII. In order to harmonize this excerpt with chapter 21, verses 35–36, part of verse 29 has been omitted. And to align with Irish law, verse 30 has been rephrased. In this way, a demand that a victim could make himself became a demand that must be judged. This unauthorized change was not due to an incorrect copy of the Bible text, as this passage was quoted correctly in another text that was created at the same time. Such changes were later regarded by copyists as copying errors and copied in corrected form, so that in this way the Irish subtleties were lost again in many copies.

The hibernensis as a mirror of the Irish Church in the 8th century

The hibernensis is one of the most important sources that allows conclusions to be drawn about the organization of the Irish Church in the 8th century. This is particularly interesting and relevant because quite a few scientists suspected a development from the episcopal to the monk's church that took place in the 7th century. Although this thesis was advanced quite early, it was not until 1966 that Kathleen Hughes carried out the first detailed analysis of this text in relation to ecclesiastical organization .

The first book in the collection, with a total of 22 chapters, is dedicated exclusively to the episcopate. This book, and this is confirmed by Kathleen Hughes, sees the Church as being directed by bishops. For example, bishops are only to be judged by God and not by people (Chapter 16a), they administer church property in trust and not as property (Chapter 10, Section o), they are responsible for their own diocese and are not allowed to interfere with other dioceses ( Chapter 22, a and c; Book XLIII, Chapter 2). Furthermore, the clerics of a bishop may not appeal to secular courts without his consent (Book XXI, Chapter 27b). Instead, clerics can turn to the synod if they have been treated unfairly by their bishop (Book X, Section n). It is also expressly forbidden to found churches without the consent of the responsible bishop (Book XLIII, Chapter 4).

Hughes believed, however, that the reality in Ireland was significantly different in that abbots had taken control instead of bishops and their spheres of influence had replaced those of the dioceses. She saw an indication of this, which found its way into the collection, in the quotation of the first canon from the first synod of Patrick, dated by Bieler to 457, which deals with the release of prisoners. Here it says in the original:

Si quis in questionem captiuis quesierit in plebe suo iure sine permissione meruit excommonicari.
Translated: If someone has collected for prisoners in his own community without permission, he deserves to be excommunicated.

From the broader context of the canons of this Synod it becomes clear that the permission of the responsible bishop is required here. In Book XLII, Chapter 25, this canon is quoted as follows:

Si quis redemptionem captivi inquisierit in plebe suo jure, sine permissione abbatis, meruit excommunicari.
Translated: If someone has collected ransom for a prisoner in his own community without the abbot's consent, he deserves to be excommunicated.

The authors replaced the reference to the bishop with a reference to the abbot .

However, the interpretation of the collection is made more difficult by book XXXVII entitled De principatu , which, as Maurice Sheehy saw in his contribution from 1982, deals with a confusing mixture of ecclesiastical and secular authority. Hughes assumed that the Latin term princeps used here , which can be translated as head, could be equated with that of the abbot and that all chapters of this book would describe the official powers of an abbot, including the administration of church property (Chapter 7).

Later, however, in works such as Etchingham in 1999, Book XXXVII is seen as a rather abstract concept of leadership in the general sense, which is used in both ecclesiastical and secular areas and can thus also be applied to bishops and parish priests. As Etchingham points out, this book does not cover ordination or the ability to pronounce justice, and it does not list specific pastoral duties. Nevertheless, the pastoral ministry is spoken of as the duty to serve (in the sense of Matthew, chapter 20, verse 28), and a quote from an Irish synod in chapter 37 mentions monks to be led. However, the focus in this compilation lies in the interpretation of Etchingham in the dealings of a chief with his subordinate persons and the administration of possessions.

In her analysis, Hughes found another interesting place in Chapter 6 of Book XLIII. This chapter deals with the farewell of a head and quotes from an Irish synod, which makes different regulations depending on whether the head is a priest or not. Hughes interpreted this to mean that this also applies accordingly to abbots who have not been ordained as priests.

In her analysis, Hughes assumed that there were two different forms of organization starting in the second half of the 6th century. One followed the Roman tradition with the church dominated by bishops, and with the other a church led by abbots prevailed, in which the sphere of influence of a monastery, the so-called paruchiae , replaced the diocese. In the course of the disputes of the 7th century, the monk's church largely prevailed, so that this was the predominant form of organization at the time the Hibernensis was put together. Nevertheless, according to Hughes, the authors did not want to exclude the Irish who turned to the Roman regulations, so that these regulations were included.

More recent research, however, as Etchingham or later Dáibhí Ó Cróinín see in his commentary on this point of view by Hughes, has developed a new model that assumes a complex interaction of secular and monastic elements. In this model, the economic importance of the monasteries grew, so that the abbots not only controlled their own monks, but also larger lands and their inhabitants. Nevertheless, bishops retained their absolute sovereignty in spiritual matters and continued to lead the secular priests.


The Trier City Library contains fragments of a copy from the 8th century, which was made either in Ireland or in one of the Irish centers on the continent. In the 11th century, the parchment sheets were, however, re-used for a text from the work De Civitate Dei of Augustine . The traces of the Irish manuscript can therefore only be seen vaguely on the lower part of the depicted fragment.

With the exception of a fragment in the Trier City Library from the 8th century, no copies from Ireland or from Irish hands have survived. Due to the differences in the surviving manuscripts in England and on the continent, two original Irish versions, A and B, can be derived, which served as the basis for the later copies. The original version A is attributed to the beginning of the 8th century, while the B version was not completed until the end of the 8th century. The edition of Wasserschleben is primarily based on the manuscripts from St. Gallen and Paris, all of which are based on the A version. Compared to the A version with 67 books, the B version has added two more books. The edition by Roy Flechner is primarily based on the manuscripts from Paris (A version) and Oxford (B version).

The following list names only the most important copies, which are either complete or at least contain essential parts of the text. A complete list can be found in the work of Kéry, which lists a total of 86 manuscripts that are scattered across Europe.

Copies of the A version

Complete copies

  • The manuscript 243 from the St. Gallen Abbey Library from the 9th century is the most important copy used by Wasserschleben, in which the 10th book and some leaves from the beginning of the text have been lost.
  • The handwriting Lat. 12021 of the National Library in Paris , which Bieler dates to the 10th century, was created in Brittany . A colophon reveals that it was written by Arbedoc for an abbot named Haeb-Hucar. We owe Arbedoc the reference to the two publishers in Ireland in this copy. This manuscript originally belonged to the Corbie Abbey before it came into the possession of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Abbey in 1638 , where Luc d'Achery used it in 1669 as the basis for a first printed edition of a selection of the Hibernensis. After the library was closed in 1791 by the French Revolution , the manuscript became the property of the city of Amiens , from where it was transferred to the National Library in August 1803 as part of a rescue operation for the most valuable manuscripts.
  • The manuscript Lat also comes from Brittany . 3182 of the National Library in Paris, also called Codex Bigotianus . This 10th century manuscript contains Breton glosses and was written by a copyist named Maeloc. The manuscript later became the property of the Fécamp Benedictine Abbey .
  • The manuscript Cotton Otho E XIII of the British Library is classified in the 10th or 11th century, Bieler narrowing this down to the 10th century. This copy previously belonged to the Benedictine monastery of St. Augustine in Canterbury and was badly damaged by fire in 1731. In addition to the text of the A version, in accordance with Bieler's analysis, it also contains additions to the B version with the MS. Hatton 42 (see below) are related. It is provided with Breton glosses .
  • The Orléans City Library has a copy of manuscript 221 from the 9th century from the property that used to belong to Fleury .

Abridged copies

The following copies of the A version are limited to Books I up to and including XXXVIII:

Colophon from manuscript 679 of the city library in Cambrai , which identifies Bishop Alberik, who was in office between 763 and 790, as the client of the copy.
  • The Codex Cameracensis 679 (previously 619) from the city library in Cambrai from the 8th century consists of 72 sheets. Wasserschleben limits the date of origin of this manuscript to the time between 763 and 790, when Alberik held the bishopric of Cambrai and Arras . Interestingly, when transferring the text, the copyist inadvertently copied a sermon in Old Irish, which otherwise has not been preserved.
  • The manuscript Codex 210 , which dates from the second half of the 8th century, belongs to the library of the Cologne Cathedral Chapter . It is believed that the manuscript was made in northern France and there possibly in Cambrai.
  • The 11th century manuscript 124 (previously 127) of the city library in Chartres was lost in a bomb attack during the Second World War.
  • Another loss due to the Second World War concerned manuscript 556 in the Tours City Library , which was dated to the end of the 9th century and was originally in the possession of Marmoutier Abbey .

Copies of the B version

  • The handwriting MS. Hatton 42 from the Bodleian Library at Oxford University was owned by the Priory of St. Mary in Worcester . It bears the title Liber Sancti Dunstani and can thus be assigned to the time of Bishop Dunstan . This is the best copy of the longer B-version. It is dated by Bieler to the 9th century and is provided with Breton glosses.
  • Some parts of the collection from books 17 to 42 can be found on pages 75t-90v of the 9th century manuscript no. XVIII of the Baden State Library , which formerly belonged to the Reichenau Monastery .
  • The Vallicelliana T XVIII from the library of the Oratorians at S. Maria Valicella in Rome dates from the 10th century according to Mordek and contains the complete collection on sheets 58–136. Compared to the copies of the B version in England, some of the Irish peculiarities have been removed again in the course of restoring correct quotations.
  • In the library Labronica in Livorno there is a copy, probably from northern Italy and derived from the Vallicelliana, which is dated to the 11th or 12th century.


  • Roy Flechner, The Hibernensis: Volume 1. A Study and Edition (2019). Google Books
  • Roy Flechner, The Hibernensis: Volume 2. Translation, Commentary, and Indexes (2019). Google Books
  • Hermann Wasserschleben : The Irish cannon collection . First edition, Gießen 1874 [ digitized at / digitized at BSB ]. Second revised and supplemented edition, Leipzig 1885. An unchanged reprint was made in 1966 by the Scienta publishing house in Aalen.
  • James F. Kenney , The Sources for the Early History of Ireland: Ecclesiastical , Columbia University Press, 1929. An expanded version was published by Four Courts Press in 1997, ISBN 1-85182-115-5 . (Here you can find an overview in entry 82 on pages 247 to 250, which also deals with the historical meaning.)
  • Kathleen Hughes : The Church in Early Irish Society . Methuen, London, 1966. (Chapter 12 of this book, Irish canonists and the secular law, contains the first in-depth analysis of hibernensis in relation to the organization of the Irish Church at the beginning of the 8th century. Another example mentioned in the article from Hibernensis is dealt with at the beginning of Chapter 15.)
  • Hubert Mordek : Canon Law and Reform in the Franconian Empire . Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 3-11-001826-8 . (This work primarily contains the critical edition of the Collectio Vetus Gallica , a systematic collection from Gaul that preceded the Irish collection by about a century. This work, however, also sheds light on all contemporary works of canon law including the Irish collection and offers here on page 255 –259 including a list of the manuscripts that were used for this article in addition to Kéry.)
  • Ludwig Bieler: The Irish Penitentials . The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1975, ISBN 1-85500-066-0 . (This work analyzes the manuscripts which, in addition to the Hibernensis, also contain Irish penitential catalogs. In particular, the relationship between the Cotton Otho E. XIII and the Lat. 12021 of the Paris National Library is examined in detail. This is the most important source for the dating of the manuscripts, provided that They have been assessed by him. Furthermore, the quoted original Latin text of Patrick's first synod and the corresponding English translation can be found here.)
  • Maurice P. Sheehy : The Collectio Canonum Hibernensis - a Celtic Phenomenon . From Heinz Löwe (Ed.): The Irish and Europe in the Early Middle Ages , Volume 1, 1982, ISBN 3-12-915470-1 , pages 525-535. (In his work, Sheehy sheds light on what, from his point of view, the very limited influence of hibernensis on later canon law and shows some examples of how secular Irish law influenced hibernensis. The classification of the manuscripts in versions A and B was taken from this essay. )
  • Lotte Kéry: Canonical Collections of the Early Middle Ages (approx. 400-1140) . The Catholic University of America Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8132-0918-8 . (This reference work lists all known medieval manuscripts with canonical content and supplements them with comprehensive bibliographies. Hibernensis is dealt with on pages 73 to 80.)
  • David Howlett: The Prologue to the Collectio Canonum Hibernensis . From the magazine Peritia , issue 17-18, year 2003-2004, pages 144-149, ISBN 2-503-51575-4 . (This essay provides a detailed analysis and translation of the collection's preface, which can be found in some of the copies.)
  • TM Charles-Edwards: Early Irish Law . From Prehistoric and Early Ireland , first volume in the A New History of Ireland series , 2005, ISBN 0-19-821737-4 , pages 331-370. (This work deals in particular on pages 362–366 with the dual character of hibernensis, which served both legal and moral aspects.)
  • Dáibhí Ó Cróinín: A New History of Ireland . Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-821737-4 . (On page 311 there is a longer footnote by Ó Cróinín in his capacity as editor of a text by Hughes, in which he comments on the development of research after her death.)


  1. David Howlett: The Collectio canonum hibernensis, long recognized as the most important collection of canons of the early medieval church [...] , from the beginning of the cited article.
  2. ^ Mordek, page 1. Mordek further refers to Jaffé-Kaltenbrunner, Regesta Pontificum Romanorum , 371 and Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologia cursus completus. Series Latina , PL. 50, col. 436 A.
  3. The date, the names of the authors and the content of the preface were taken from Howlett's essay.
  4. Manuscript 137 of the Trier City Library from the 8th century comes either from Ireland or from one of the Irish centers on the continent. See Codices Latini Antiquiores , Volume IX, edited by Elias Avery Lowe , page 37, entry 1368.
  5. ^ The Breton copyist Arbedoc, who obtained the manuscript Lat. 12021 , left these two names in his copy. The corresponding gloss was first deciphered by Rudolf Thurneysen in 1908. More on this can be found in the article by David Howlett.
  6. ^ See EA Lowe: Codices Latini Antiquiores , Volume IX, Entry 1368 on page 37.
  7. Catalog entry for manuscript 243 in the St. Gallen Abbey Library  ( page no longer available , search in web archives ); Digitized@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /
  8. Manuscript catalogs of the National Library in Paris (Here the western manuscripts Manuscrits - Occident must first be selected and then the range 11504-14231 must be selected for the manuscripts written in Latin in order to view the corresponding catalog, where the entry 12021 is on page 33. )
  9. See page 148 in the article by David Howlett.
  10. See Rudolf Thurneysen : To the Irish cannon collection . From: Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie , year 1908, issue vi, pages 1–5.
  11. See Ludwig Bieler, page 14, entry P.
  12. See Manfred Weitlauff : The Mauriners and their historical-critical work . In: Historical criticism in theology , edited by Georg Schwaiger, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, ISBN 3-525-87492-8 , pages 153-209 (entire article). On page 175 it is described how a total of 400 volumes from the library of Corbie came to St. Germain-des-Prés on the initiative of Luc d'Achery. The 1640s are given as the period. For dating to 1638, see page 194 of the essay by Leslie Webber Jones: The Scriptorium at Corbie: I. The Library , published in the Medieval Academy of America's Speculum , Volume 22, Issue 2, April 1947, pages 191-204 .
  13. See Friedrich Maassen: History of the sources and the literature of canon law in the West up to the end of the Middle Ages . First volume, Graz, 1870, page 877. The year of issue 1669 was taken from the corresponding catalog entry in the Württemberg State Library in Stuttgart, call number: Allg.G.qt.2-9.
  14. See pages 203 and 204 of the essay by Leslie Webber Jones: The Scriptorium at Corbie: I. The Library , published in the Medieval Academy of America's Speculum , Volume 22, Issue 2, April 1947, pages 191-204.
  15. See Ludwig Bieler, page 12, entry B.
  16. Catalog entry for the manuscript Cotton Otho E XIII in the British Library  ( page no longer available , search in web archives )@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /
  17. See also entry BF697 from Marco Mostert: The library of Fleury: A provisional list of manuscripts , Hilversum Verloren Publishers, 1989, ISBN 90-6550-210-6 . This also shows that the glosses can be used to determine the Breton origin. Iunobrus can be proven as a copyist.
  18. See entry 741 on page 12 in Volume VI from the series Codices Latini Antiquiores , published by EA Lowe, Oxford 1953, reprinted in 1982 by Otto Zeller Verlag in Osnabrück.
  19. ^ Bernhard Bischoff: Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne . Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-03711-5 . Page 13.
  20. Catalog entry on Codex 210 of the Cologne Cathedral Library (This manuscript is also available here in fully digitized form as part of the CEEC project .)
  21. Lotte Kéry confirms the origin from northern France, but does not mention Cambrai, see page 74. The speculative reference to Cambrai can be found in the Cologne catalog entry, which in turn refers to a work by Lowe.
  22. See Lotte Kéry on page 74. There is also an article on the bomb attack and its consequences in the French Wikipedia.
  23. See Lotte Kéry on page 74.
  24. MS. Hatton 42 within the catalog entries for the Hatton collection at the Bodleian Library ( Memento from January 27, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  25. See Wasserschleben, p. Xxxiii, who did not see the manuscript himself, but refers to the research of W. Stubbs and the librarians at Corpus Christi College .
  26. ^ Catalog entries for the hibernensis in the copy of the Badische Landesbibliothek
  27. See Mordek, page 134, footnote 172, and page 257. Regarding the indication of the leaves, see Wasserschleben, page xxxii, entry 6.
  28. See Maurice Sheehy, pp. 534 and 535.
  29. See Lotte Kéry, page 73.