Working Groups in Progress (2018-2019): Jewish and Christian Books in the First Millennium CE

Medieval manuscripts create the conditions for much of our knowledge of the past. The working group on “Jewish and Christian Books in the First Millennium CE” engages Jewish and Christian texts from Late Antiquity to the early modern period, focusing on how material texts and the history of reading enrich our understanding of these texts and their readers. By illuminating the ways in which textual knowledge was—and continues to be—produced, accessed, and preserved, the study of material texts is fundamental to the study of both Judaism and Christianity.

A central emphasis for our working group is the ways that Christian and Jewish communities have oriented themselves around books and reading. For our first meeting of the year, we discussed David Stern’s The Jewish Bible: A Material History(Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017). Stern argues that Jewish books have often been adapted in response to the book technologies of neighboring cultures, but are also marked as Jewish through their physical form.

A recurring theme in the working group is how both physical technologies and cultural practices facilitate the creation of textual knowledge. The production of texts builds on complex interaction between spoken language, written text, and habits of reading. In November, Tzvi Novick introduced us to a particular example of this complexity by presenting his work on “Orality, Writing, and Language Choice in Early Roman Palestine.” In our next meeting (1 March), Hildegund Müller will discuss the medieval manuscript transmission of Augustine’s Enarrationes in Psalmos. Her work engages the ways that medieval manuscripts, their scribes, and their readers have preserved and changed Augustine’s oeuvre.

Scribes and readers also curate texts for the benefit of subsequent readers. One way to do this is by providing paratexts, that is, features like tables of contents, section divisions, or explanatory notes that guide the reader and structure the text. In October, Jeremiah Coogan presented his research on the Eusebian apparatus, a set of Gospel cross-references that occurs in late ancient and medieval manuscripts from Ireland to Ethiopia. He argued that the Eusebian apparatus creates new possibilities for reading the Gospels, which we can see at work in a number of examples from Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. On 12 April, Paul Wheatley will present a paper titled “Behind the Veil of Translation: Onomastics, Interpretation, and Revelation.” Paul will discuss onomastic lists, which often appear in biblical manuscripts and explain the names of biblical people and places. Like the Eusebian apparatus, these manuscript features shape how readers encounter sacred text on the page.

Because such paratexts are added by certain readers for the benefit of other readers, they enable us to glimpse medieval reading in action. Another way that we can observe the history of reading is by attending to what readers write. In our February meeting, Andrew King demonstrated how digital analysis can be applied to ancient texts. Andrew’s paper on “The Big Data of Intertextuality and the Book of Deuteronomy” offers an approach to “distance reading” that illuminates trends in the citation of biblical texts by various authors over time.

Modern practices of collection and conservation likewise generate particular bodies of knowledge to be studied. In our January 2019 meeting, the working group looked at Brent Nongbri’s recent monograph, God’s Library: The Archaeology of the Earliest Christian Manuscripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018). Focusing on late ancient manuscripts from Egypt, Nongbri shows how nineteenth- and twentieth-century archeologists, dealers, and collectors shaped the manuscript collections that modern scholars study and what we know about them. Nongbri’s work also engages the physical features of early Christian books and the challenges of historically contextualizing them.

Physical books are always situated in economic, ritual, and readerly contexts. On 31 May, we will host a conference on “The Material Gospel” to discuss the Gospels as material artifacts. Gospel books were powerful objects. Augustine of Hippo complains that his audiences put Gospel books under their pillows to cure toothache. Amulets attest that even short Gospel excerpts were used for protective power. The Gospel in codex format represented Christian identity. Gospel books were processed in liturgy and imposed on the shoulders of ordinands. As an anthological object, the multiple-Gospel codex contributed to the development of a fourfold canonical Gospel. In times of persecution, Gospel books might even be subject to public execution in place of Christ himself. The conference will explore these and similar questions from the first five centuries CE. This conference will serve as a fitting conclusion to this year’s working group, drawing together a wide range of conversations about books and reading.

Jeremiah Coogan, PhD Candidate
University of Notre Dame

Penitential Justice in Saint Mary’s College, Cushwa-Leighton Library, Ms. 1

My semester at Notre Dame as the Astrik L. Gabriel Postdoctoral Fellow was fortuitous in several ways. As I began to revise my dissertation into a book, I benefited greatly from the resources of the Medieval Institute, the kind guidance of Notre Dame’s faculty, and the friendship of several graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. During my short tenure, Irish football also went undefeated in the regular season! (Take note deans and future hiring committees.) Last but not least, I discovered a remarkable manuscript at Saint Mary’s College: Cushwa-Leighton Library, Ms. 1.

f. 33v-34r

As David Gura notes in his catalog entry, Ms. 1 was probably copied in Germany in the late-twelfth or early-thirteenth century.[1] It contains portions of Peter Lombard’s Sentences and Burchard’s Decretum, as well as minor excerpts from Rather of Verona’s Synodica and Adelgar’s De studio virtutum. When I first came across Ms. 1, I was immediately interested because I had examined many similar copies of Burchard’s Decretum in my dissertation.[2] I was even more excited to discover that Ms. 1 is unknown to historians of canon law![3]

Although there is much work yet to be done, I would like to share some of my initial findings regarding Ms. 1.

In its current form, Ms. 1 consists of two distinct sections. The first section contains the Sentences (ff. 1ra-18vb) while the second section contains Decretum and the other minor texts (ff. 19r-38v). The small hand and two columns of the former section is clearly distinguishable from the larger hand and single column of the latter section. At some point these two sections, originally distinct, must have been bound together.

f. 2r
f. 26r

Burchard’s Decretum and Saint Mary’s Ms. 1

The Decretum was compiled by Burchard, bishop of Worms, between 1012 and 1023, and numbers among the most important canon law collections of the Middle Ages. Divided into twenty books, the Decretum focuses on matters of diocesan administration, including the rights and duties of the bishop, the regulation of clerical (mis)conduct, and the punishment of lay crimes and sins through penance. About 78 complete copies of the Decretum survive today.

As noted by Gura, the Decretum excerpts in Saint Mary’s Ms. 1 mostly come from Book 19. Book 19, which is also known as the Corrector, explains how to judge, assign, and enforce penances.

In recent years, the Corrector has received a great deal of attention from cultural historians due to its strange prescriptions against magic, witchcraft, and sexual deviancy. For example, the Corrector includes one of the earliest known references to werewolves! Consider also this fascinating example:

“Have you done what certain women are accustomed to do? They take a living fish, place it between their legs, and hold it there for a while until it has died. Then, having boiled and roasted the fish, they give it to their husbands to eat. They do this so that [their husbands] might become more inflamed in love for them. If you have done this, you should do penance for two years.”

“Fecisti quod quaedam mulieres facere solent? Tollunt piscem unum vivum, et conmittunt eum in puerperium suum, et tamdiu eum ibi tenent, donec mortuus fuerit, et, cocto pisce vel assato, suis maritis ad comedendum tradunt, ideo faciunt hoc, ut plus in amorem earum inardescant? Si fecisti, duos annos poeniteas.”

f. 27v

The Corrector has traditionally been considered a penitential. The penitentials first emerged in Ireland and England in the fifth and sixth centuries and were brought to the Continent by missionary-monks such as Columbanus and Boniface in the seventh and eighth centuries. According to most scholars, the penitentials describe a process of private, voluntary confession distinct from the mandatory public penances of the canon law collections. As such, scholars often claim that the Corrector was used separately from the rest of the Decretum.

According to my analysis, however, Ms. 1 also contains major excerpts from other parts of the Decretum, including books 2, 6, 9, 12, and 17. These books covers topics such as clerical misconduct (Book 2), homicide (Book 6), marriage law (Book 9), perjury (Book 12), and sexual offenses (Book 17). While most of these texts appear after the Corrector material, there is also some overlap. As can be seen below, several canons from Book 6 on homicide, for example, appear on f. 22v near the beginning of the Corrector section.

f. 22v, containing canons 19.31, 6.12, 6.16, 6.34

As I argued in my dissertation, abbreviations such as Saint Mary’s Ms. 1 reveal that medieval readers and users of the Decretum did not see the Corrector as a manual of private confession separable from the Decretum. Rather, they saw it as a practical summary of the Decretum and did not hesitate to combine it with texts taken from other parts of the collection.

An Augsburg Connection?

Based on my work with similar manuscripts from southern Germany, I have found several indications that Ms. 1 (at least the latter section) has some connection to the diocese of Augsburg:

1. On ff. 20r-22r appear excerpts from the De studio virtutum/Admonitio ad Nonsuindam reclusam, which is printed in Migne’s Patrologia Latina vol. 132. Migne attributed the text to a certain Adalger who was supposedly a bishop of Augsburg in the tenth century.

2. On f. 19rv appear excerpts from Rather of Verona’s Synodica. Only four manuscripts of this text survive and one of them belonged to Diessen Abbey in the diocese of Augsburg. This manuscript is now Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, CLM 5515 (s. xii).

3. On f. 19v appears a text on the duties of archdeacons which begins “Unuscuiusque christi minister…”. I have located this text only in two Augsburg manuscripts: Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, CLM 3851 (s. ixex) and 3853 (s. x3/4).

f. 19v

4. In my dissertation, I argued that Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, CLM 4570 (completed in 1108) was the Augsburg copy of Burchard’s Decretum. If I am correct, Ms. 1 was probably copied from CLM 4570.

For more information on Ms. 1, please refer to my article which will appear in the December 2019 volume of the Journal of Medieval History. Or you can go see it in person at Saint Mary’s College!

John Burden, PhD
Yale University

[1] David T. Gura, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts of the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2016), 558-61.

[2] John Burden, “Between Crime and Sin: Penitential Justice in Medieval Germany, 900-1200” (Ph.D. Dissertation: Yale University, 2008).

[3] Lotte Kéry, Canonical Collections of the Early Middle Ages (ca. 400-1140) (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1999).

Noble Ambition: Requesting a New Confessor in the Late Middle Ages

ASV, Penitenzieria Aposotolica, Reg. 33 f. 270r

As the and papacy and its various offices grew in complexity throughout the Late Middle Ages, a plethora of new religious possibilities opened to non-elites across Western Europe. One such papal office, called the Apostolic Penitentiary, provided the opportunity for common parishioners to have the precious religious privileges that the medieval nobility had fought for two centuries to solidify and perpetuate. The Apostolic Penitentiary granted special dispensation for a variety of religious requests by parishioners across Western Europe, requests beyond the authority of their bishops to grant. Such requests could involve an approval of a marriage that was within four degrees of relationship through blood or marriage, approval for a portable altar so that the petitioner might be able to celebrate mass regardless of location, or an appeal by a supplicant for a new confessor outside of their parish priest. By the fifteenth century, a well-to-do townsperson in Ghent could enjoy many of the same personal religious privileges of the Duke of Burgundy in form, if not in grandeur.

Christians from every diocese in Western Europe could write to the Penitentiary via a special letter called a supplicatio, or a supplication. A supplication contained the name of the supplicant, perhaps some personal information about that person such as their profession or class, the diocese from which the request originated, and the date upon which the supplication was processed by the Penitentiary. Receipts of these supplications were collected by the Penitentiary and organized into yearly registers. One such example of a supplication for a new confessor can be seen below:

ASV, Penitenzieria Aposotolica, Reg. Mat. Div. 6, 28v

As with most supplications, the entry above is heavily abbreviated based on the sheer number of requests the Penitentiary received. It reads: Item Petro van der Ghert de Venrade et Helisabeth eius uxor laici et Gherardo Hermanni de Eyck et Helisabeth Montz eius uxor Leodiensis diocesis petunt litterae confessionalibus fiat de speciali. Datum 16 Maii 1456.

Translated: Peter van der Ghert of Venrade and his wife Elisabeth and Gerard Hermanni of Eyck and his wife Elisabeth Montz, laypeople of the diocese of Liege seek letters of confession (the right to choose a new confessor was called litterae confessionalibus). Granted under special papal mandate on the 16th of May 1456.

The most important part of this entry for our purposes here is the word laici, whereby the supplication indicates that the two couples from Venrade and Eyck were simple laypeople. They were not nobiles or clerici, nobles or clerics, two common appellations within the Penitentiary registers. All that was needed for a layperson to send a supplicatio from their diocese to the Apostolic Penitentiary was a fee. The exact cost of the fee varied, but it was certainly not prohibitively expensive, as many non-elites are represented in the records of the Penitentiary. Indeed, laici appear to have supplicated far more often to the Apostolic Penitentiary than to the similarly suited office, the Papal Chancery.

However, for many elites hoping to replicate their social superiors, they too had to go through the supplication process to the Penitentiary:

ASV, Penitenzieria Aposotolica, Reg. Mat. Div. 6, 16v

Transcription: Johannes Boyssel domicellus et perpetuus mareschallus ducatus Limburgen. Leodiensis diocesis.: petit litteras confessions de gratia speciali fiat de speciali D. s. t. 17 Julii 1456.

Translation: John Boyssel, young lord and ducal marshal in perpetuity of Limburg, in the diocese of Liege seeks a letter of confession…17th of July 1456.

Above we see John Boyssel, who is of a much higher social and political standing than the earlier entry in the supplications above. Boyssel is a perpetuus ducatus mareschallus, or a ducal marshal, and thus a lifetime appointee by either the Duke of Burgundy, or, more likely, the Duke of Limburg to this military position. Such a personage is a particularly striking inclusion in the registers of the Penitentiary. Boyssel’s appointment placed him among secular lords allowed to act in the stead of the dukes themselves. That Boyssel had to go through the same channels as commoners, possibly his own subjects, within the diocese of Liege, speaks to the social leveling effect of the Apostolic Penitentiary.

Sean Sapp, PhD Candidate
University of Notre Dame


Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Penitenzieria Apostolica, Registrum 6, f. 16v, 28v.

Clarke, Peter D. “New evidence of noble and gentry piety in fifteenth-century England and Wales,” Journal of Medieval History 34 (2008): 23-35.