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Pseudoisidor (or pseudoisidoric decretals - Decretales Pseudo-Isidorianae ) is the overarching name for the most extensive and influential canonical forgery of the Middle Ages . These forgeries originated in the second quarter of the 9th century in what is now eastern France.


The entire complex consists of at least four canonical collections:

  1. A falsification of a Spanish collection of councils and papal letters from the 4th to 8th centuries - the so-called Hispana Gallica Augustodunensis after a manuscript with a later provenance from the French city of Autun (Latin Augustodunum), but which was in the Corbie monastery around the middle of the 9th century was written.
  2. A collection of forged legislation by Frankish rulers from the 6th to 9th centuries (capitularies) - the so-called Capitularia Benedicti Levitae - after the alleged author, who in the introduction to his work describes himself as a deacon (Latin levita) Benedictus. The author claims to have only completed the well-known collection of Abbot Ansegis of Fontanelles, who died in 833 , and brought it up to date.
  3. A short collection on criminal procedural law - the so-called Capitula Angilramni - that Pope Hadrian I is said to have given to Bishop Angilram of Metz .
  4. An extensive collection of around 90 forged papal letters , most of which are believed to have come from the Roman bishops of the first three centuries. A bishop Isidorus Mercator (hence the name of the entire complex) describes himself in the foreword as the author of the collection, which, in addition to the forged letters, also contains a large number of genuine (and in some cases falsified) Council texts and papal letters from the 4th to the 8th centuries. The latter come predominantly from the Hispana Gallica Augustodunensis presented under 1..


Bishop Isidorus Mercator is nowhere on file. The address of the preface to Pseudo Dekretalensammlung ( " Isidore Mercator servus Christi Lectori conservo suo et parens in domino fidei salutem ") is literally taken from the works of the African writer Marius Mercator (first half of the 5th century), the pseudo-Isidore, only the first name Marius through the First name Isidorus has replaced. Paul Hinschius assumes that he wanted to give the impression that the whole thing goes back to Isidore of Seville , especially since in the heading to the foreword he gives the author “Saint Isidore”.

Despite many attempts to name the counterfeiters, it is still unknown who exactly is behind the forgeries. Klaus Zechiel-Eckes has shown some evidence that the later abbot of Corbie , Paschasius Radbertus (842-847), appear as one of the authors. At least it seems certain that the entire complex was more or less completed between the years 847 and 852, and that the forgers worked in the ecclesiastical province of Reims . Corbie manuscripts may have been used.

Content and tendencies

The eventful history of the Franconian Empire in the second quarter of the 9th century provides the background for the forgeries. In the 1930s, Emperor Ludwig the Pious was deposed by his sons, only to have his throne back shortly afterwards. Church dignitaries played a role in these dismissals and reinstatements because they had to impose church penances for the supposedly sinful life of the rulers. After the re-establishment of the ruler, this involvement in the political turmoil resulted in the loss of their spiritual dignity for some of those involved in a rather summary form. It is likely that these processes played a significant role in the history of the counterfeit. The ecclesiastical criminal process was the main interest of the forgers.

They have their martyr popes proclaim that every accuser of a bishop has to reckon with perpetual condemnation and punishment from hell, that if a bishop should ever be charged, the bishop must be convicted by 72 witnesses of the same rank (72 would be bishops was difficult to find in the Franconian Empire), that the accused could choose his own judge, that he could appeal to the Bishop of Rome at any time - and other things that should make the trial or a possible conviction impossible.

At the same time we find a marked hostility towards the metropolitans . The counterfeiters are generally suspicious of their actions. They may only act outside their own diocese in agreement with their suffragan bishops . The suffragans have the right at any time to approach their archbishop the Pope in Rome for help. It should be noted that the Roman bishops of the 9th century were still a long way from the power of their high medieval successors - not to mention the current position of the curia in the Catholic Church.

Further passages of the forgeries deal in a conventional way with the right faith, above all with questions of the doctrine of the Trinity , i.e. the relationship of the persons in the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit) to one another. In the emphasis on trinity and unity one has recently wanted to see allusions to the necessity of the unity of the Frankish empire, which in the middle of the century consisted of three parts. The forgers also showed interest in certain questions of the liturgy and the doctrine of the sacraments.

The sheer amount of texts that the forgery workshop has produced is impressive. Isidorus Mercator's collection of decretals alone, which gave the whole complex its name, comprises more than 700 tightly printed pages in the (not always reliable) edition by Paul Hinschius ( Decretales Pseudoisidorianae et Capitula Angilramni , Leipzig 1863). The “achievement” of the forgers becomes even clearer when one realizes that the forgeries are not invented, but are pieced together like a mosaic of real texts. The forgers must have been extremely well-read people. The Bible , Roman law , Franconian legislation, councils , genuine papal letters, obscure diocesan statutes, theological writings, historical works and more had to serve as building blocks for the forgeries. To date, hundreds of sources have been identified, but the work is by no means finished. The forgers, however, by no means simply copied their sources, but rather adapted them again and again with a certain artistry: There are sentences of around ten words that appear in no less than eight different forms at different points in the forgeries.

Influence and spread

For about 150 to 200 years the success of the counterfeiters was rather moderate. On the one hand, a relatively large number of manuscripts from the 9th and 10th centuries have survived - in total we know about 100 more or less complete manuscripts of the false decretals from the 9th to the 16th century - on the other hand, the ecclesiastical legal collections up to the beginning of the 11th century have survived Century took little notice of the alleged letters of the martyr popes.

This changed in the 11th century. Under the impression of monastic reform movements on the one hand and reform efforts of some emperors on the other, a group of cardinals and a whole series of successive popes endeavored from the middle of the century to cleanse the church of abuses. After a while the reformers came into conflict with secular violence. The bishops of the medieval empire had important administrative and government functions. They were the backbone of imperial power. As a result, the emperors understandably tried to maintain considerable influence over the selection of these church dignitaries. This mixture of secular and spiritual violence was a mortal sin for most reformers.

In this situation, the papal letters of the first few centuries from the workshop of the long-buried forgers came as if called for. The close interplay between the bishops and the Pope was welcome evidence that the practice of the emperors was in blatant contradiction to the oldest and most venerable traditions of the church. The canon law collections rediscovered the false decretals. Some even consisted in their majority of extracts from the forgeries. The tendency had, of course, almost turned into its opposite. While the forgers still had the independence of the suffragan bishops in mind, the Pope's right of protection has now turned into a right of control over the bishops, so that they are increasingly subject to the authority of the Roman bishop.

This tendency continued until the middle of the 12th century, when the Decretum Gratiani of the Bolognese canon law scholar Gratian increasingly supplanted the older collections. Gratian also drew a lot of material from the forgeries, albeit mediated by other legal collections. It is unlikely that he made direct use of the counterfeiters' collections. With Gratian's decree, which soon became an authoritative source of canon law, the immediate effect of the forgeries had come to an end. Texts produced by them had, as hoped, become an important basis of the church's procedural law. The tendency, however, had almost turned into its opposite: It was not the independence of the bishops that had been achieved, but their increasing dependence on the Pope in Rome.

Horst Fuhrmann offers a comprehensive analysis of the history and influence of pseudoisidoric forgeries : Influence and spread of pseudoisidoric forgeries (= Monumenta Germaniae Historica , Vol. 24 (1972–1975), I – III); see also P. Fournier and G. Le Bras: Histoire des collections canoniques en Occident depuis les Fausses Décrétales jusqu'au Décret de Gratien . Paris 1931/32.


In the course of the Middle Ages there was little doubt as to the authenticity of the forgeries. This began to change in the 15th century. Some scholars, like the later Cardinal Nikolaus von Kues , noticed inconsistencies and anachronisms . Was it really plausible that the martyr Pope Clement of Rome should have declared the position of certain episcopal seats precisely with the fact that, after all, the pagans also had their high priests in these cities? In the 16th century, Protestant church historians, the " Magdeburg Centuriators ", carried out more systematic attacks against the forgeries, which they, however, still viewed as individual letters and not as a whole coherent complex of forgeries. Only the Calvinist preacher David Blondel from Geneva succeeded in convicting the forgers beyond any doubt. In 1628 he published his evidence ( Pseudoisidorus et Turrianus vapulantes ) that the letters quoted texts by authors who were not born until centuries after the death of the alleged authors and therefore could not possibly be authentic. Catholic theologians and canon lawyers fought a few academic retreats, but no serious historian or theologian had denied the fact of the forgery by the middle of the 19th century at the latest.

Handwritten tradition

Schafer Williams summarized the handwritten tradition in 1973 (see literature below). He has 80 manuscripts, but his overview is not complete.

Autograph / autographs
Mixed form

The handwritten tradition is grouped into at least six or seven different classes. The most complete is the class designated by Hinschius as A1 with Vaticanus latinus Ottobonianus 93 (see IX) as the oldest and best representative in terms of text. Class A / B with the Vaticanus latinus 630 (also see IX, from Corbie) at the top is just as important . The Cluny version , of which the original manuscript has been preserved (Yale Kniecke Library 442, after 858), is to be rated equally highly . Class A2 also dates back to the 9th century, where it is difficult to decide on the best handwriting. Ivrea Bibl. Capitolare 83 from Northern Italy and Rome, Bibl. Vallicelliana D.38 from the ecclesiastical province of Reims, both s. IX are at the top of this class. Three other versions presumably date from the 11th or 12th century: Hinschius class B (e.g. Boulogne-sur-Mer, Bibliothèque municipale 115/116), Hinschius class C (e.g. Montpellier, Bibliothèque de l 'Ecole de Médecine H.3) and finally a hybrid of the Cluny version and the manuscript class A2, which z. B. in Paris Bibliothèque nationale 5141 is handed down.

Classes A1, A / B, B and C pass on all three parts of the collection (first part of the decretal from Clemens to Melchiades, part of the council and second part of the decretal from New Year's Eve to Gregory II ) with the second part of the decretal between A1 on the one hand and A / B , B and C on the other hand vary, the Cluny version and the mixed form listed last offer both decretal parts and A2 contains the first decretal part and the beginning of the second decretal part up to the letters of Damasus I , which are only partially included in A2.

It is difficult to say which class the so to speak "original" fake offers. The fact that A1, A / B, A2 and Cluny are available in handwriting shortly after the forgery has been completed could indicate that the forgers circulated their work in different versions from the very beginning.


The history of the edition efforts to get the forgeries is not an unbroken success story. The Hispana Gallica Augustodunensis is not printed at all. The Benedictus Levita collection has been printed several times. The most recent (at least more than 170 years old) edition in the Leges in folio of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica ( Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Leges in folio vol 2.2, 1831) is editorially a step backwards compared to the 150 years earlier edition of Etienne Baluze (E. Baluze, Capitularia Regum Francorum, vol. 1, 1677, reprinted in Mansi's Council Collection, Volume 17B). Wilfried Hartmann and Gerhard Schmitz are preparing a new edition that is to be made available both as a print and as an online version, or - in parts - has already been made. Isidorus Mercator and the Capitula Angilramni were printed twice, independently of each other. The edition by Paul Hinschius (1863, see above) has occasionally been criticized with exaggerated sharpness, but Hinschius completely misjudged his assessment of the manuscripts. In addition, he printed the genuine (or only falsified) parts of the Pseudoisidor collection based on the unadulterated sources of Pseudoisidor, so that this part of his edition is completely unusable. At least for these parts, any critical investigation must fall back on the edition by Jacques Merlin from the year 1525, which in all probability is based on a manuscript from the 13th century (reprinted in Jacques Paul Mignes Patrologia Latina Vol. 130).


  • Horst Fuhrmann : Pseudoisidor in Rome from the end of the Carolingian era to the reform papacy. A sketch (PDF; 4.5 MB). Reprint from the Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte (I / II 1967), Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1967
    (shorter preparatory work on Fuhrmann's later publications).
  • Horst Fuhrmann: Influence and distribution of the pseudoisidorical forgeries. From their emergence to modern times. 3 volumes. (= Monumenta Germaniae Historica , Writings, Volume 24, 1-3). Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1972–1974, ISBN 3-7772-7204-3
  • Schafer Williams: Codices Pseudo-Isidoriani: A Palaeographico-Historical Study. (= Monumenta Iuris Canonici , Series C; Vol. 3). Fordham University Press, New York 1973, ISBN 0-8232-0910-5
  • James Henderson Burns (Ed.): The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought c. 350-c. 1450. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1991, ISBN 0-521-24324-6 , pp. 268ff.
  • Horst Fuhrmann, Detlev Jasper: Papal Letters in the Early Middle Ages (= History of Medieval Canon Law. Volume 2). Catholic University of America Press, Washington, DC 2001, ISBN 0-8132-0919-6
  • Klaus Zechiel-Eckes : A look into Pseudoisidor's workshop. Studies on the creation process of the false decretals. With an exemplary editorial appendix (pseudo-Julius to the oriental bishops, JK † 196). In: Francia 28/1 (2001), pp. 37-90 ( digitized version )
  • Wilfried Hartmann , Gerhard Schmitz (ed.): Progress through counterfeiting? Origin, shape and effects of the pseudoisidoric forgeries. Contributions to the symposium of the same name at the University of Tübingen on June 27 and 28, 2001 (= Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Studies and Texts. Volume 31). Hahn, Hannover 2002, ISBN 3-7752-5731-4 ; including Klaus Zechiel-Eckes: On Pseudoisidor's Track. Or: attempt to lift a thick veil , pp. 1–28
  • Clara Harder: Pseudoisidor and the Papacy: Function and meaning of the apostolic chair in the pseudoisidoric forgeries (= Papacy in Medieval Europe. Volume 2), Böhlau, Cologne / Vienna / Weimar 2014, ISBN 978-3-412-21742-6 (dissertation University of Cologne 2013, 290 pages).
  • Karl Ubl , Daniel Ziemann (Ed.): Counterfeiting as a means of politics? Pseudoisidor in the light of new research: memorial for Klaus Zechiel-Eckes . (= Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Studies and Texts. Volume 57), Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2015. ISBN 978-3-447-10335-0 .
  • Steffen Patzold: Falsified law from the early Middle Ages. Investigations into the production and transmission of the pseudoisidorical decretals (= writings of the philosophical-historical class of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences. Volume 55). Winter, Heidelberg 2015, ISBN 978-3-8253-6511-0 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Migne, Patrologia Latina 48, Col. 753
  2. ^ Journal of Church Law 6 (1866), pp. 148–152
  3. Mansi's Council Collection, Volume 17B
  4. Online version by Hartmann and Schmitz