Insular elements in the Collectio 400 capitulorum

The Collectio quadrigentorum capitulorum, the Collection in 400 chapters (or: Collectio 400 from hereon) has caught my interest some years back and it has continued to intrigue me. There are several reasons for it, but one must be Friedrich Maassen’s remark on the collection in his 1870 important work Geschichte der Quellen und Literatur des kanonischen Rechtes that the arrangement of this seemingly very sophisticated systematic collection is ‘ohne Plan’, – ‘without a plan’ – observing that the text abruptly jumps from one subject to the other. Hubert Mordek confessed that ’with the best will in the world’ he could find no system in this systematically arranged collection either.[1] Reconciling the obvious richness in source material available to the compiler of the Collectio 400 with its perceived disorganisation offers a very attractive challenge. But just as challenging, as I found out, is the puzzle of identifying the collection’s sources and their provenances, and digging deeper it produces more insular connections than obvious at first instance. Before exploring these connections, though, let me first very briefly introduce the Collectio 400.

BnF lat. 2316
A friendly fellow in BnF lat. 2316

The canonical collection named ‘Die Sammlung in 400 Capiteln’ by Friedrich Maassen (in one of his less inspired moments) is one of the many products of the vigorous canonical activity of the eighth and ninth centuries. It is a systematically arranged collection featuring just over 400 chapters comprising ecclesiastical rules from a wealth of sources ranging from Roman secular law, ecumenical councils, papal letters, Gallic synods, Irish and Anglo-Saxon penitentials, to theological treatises and, importantly, the Bible.[2] 

The collection’s bold selection of canons is an important witness to the creativity of canonists in the heady days of the eighth century, and the open-mindedness of copyists in the ninth centuries. It is also a valuable product of the connections between continental and insular learning, in no small part facilitated by the innovation of systematic collection making itself. Systematic collections reflect, what Roy Flechner described as, a more ‘progressive’ mode of medieval canonical thinking, governed by the notion that authoritative works, such as papal decretals and synodal acts, did not have to be transmitted intact, but that they could be mined for individual rules and passages. This opened up the possibility of including canons from a larger variety of texts in which medieval intellectuals had invested authority for a long time, including the Bible, patristic works, but also penitential booklets and synodal acts from peripheral churches.[3] The Collectio 400 certainly subscribes to these innovative insights, and also includes a fair chunk of insular authoritative texts.

The youngest datable source of the collection appears to be an unknown letter from Pope Sergius (687-701), who is mentioned by name, in ch. 159 and 160. This terminus ante quem non is also supported by the use of the various redactions of Archbishop Theodore’s Iudicia, which are roughly contemporary. The terminus post quem non for the collection is provided by the date of its manuscript witnesses; all three surviving manuscripts can be dated to the second quarter of the ninth century. The absence of material taken directly from the Collectio canonum Hibernensis, the Vetus Gallica or the Dionysio-Hadriana might suggest an earlier date in this time frame, rather than later.

The two Bavarian manuscript witnesses, as well as the use from a number of insular sources, may be interpreted to suggest an origin in Bavaria in an environment with access to a large number of insular texts, but ‘Gaul’ (the origin of the third manuscript) has also been proposed as a possible origin.[4]

My paper today is rather straightforward: I should like to draw your attention to the influence of three different texts within the Collectio 400 and the evidence provided by the collection for insular-continental canonical communication and exchange. The first is positively insular, namely the ‘Second Synod of St Patrick’, while the other two, the Collectio Sanblasiana and the Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua have undisputed continental origins.


The Synodus II S. Patricii

Paul Fournier was the first to notice the presence of canons from the Second Synod in the Collectio 400.[5] Attributed to “Interrogandae romanis’ and ‘Interrogatio romanis’, the Collectio 400 contains two clusters of in total eight canons from the Second Synod. This Irish text originates from circles within the romanising faction of the Irish church (hence the reference to ‘Romans’ in the rubrics). It does not represent the decrees of a synod as such, but rather a collection of judgments upon specific points of issue relevant to this particular group within the Irish Church. It survives in two different recensions: appended to the continental Collectio Vetus Gallica, the ‘Second Synod’ survives in its full form in six manuscripts. Independent of the Vetus Gallica, the whole text also survives in two south-German manuscripts dating from the early ninth century in the so-called BV-recension, named by its editor, the late Aidan Breen, after the sigla of the two manuscripts. The latter is considered to be the earlier version of the two, with the Vetus Gallica text representing a later revision. Hubert Mordek argued that the ‘Second Synod’ canons in the Collectio 400 were closer to this older recension than to that appended to the Vetus Gallica.[6] Closer scrutiny of the text, however, demonstrates otherwise; generally, the text of the Collectio 400 corresponds with the later revision, the Vetus Gallica-version of Second Synod. It preserves words peculiar to the Vetus Gallica-version and absent in the BV-version, including et missa in canon 4 on excommunication.[7]

Vetus Gallica-version, c. 4 BV-version, c. 4 Collectio 400 capitulorum, ch. 260
Non maledices; sed repellis excommunicatum a communione et mensa et missa et pace […] Non maledices sed reuelles eum excommunicatum a communione et menta et pace […] Non maledices; sed repelles excommunicatum a communione et mensa et missa et pace

It also includes the biblical reference uiuit Dominus et uiuit anima mea, ‘the Lord liveth and my soul liveth’ in its rendering of canon 23, omitted in the BV-version.[8]

Vetus Gallica-version, c. 23 BV-version, c. 23 Collectio 400 capitulorum, ch. 326
[…] ut prophetis mos est: Uiuit Dominus et uiuet anima mea. Et: Uiuit Dominus, cui adsisto hodie. […] ut prophetis mos erat: uiuit Dominus cui adsto hodie. […] ut mos est prophetis: Uiuit Dominus et uiuit anima mea et uiuit Dominus, cui adsisto hodie

It furthermore accords with the word order in the Vetus Gallica-text, against the BV-version, where these differ and mostly omits readings peculiar to the BV-version. [Also on your hand-out, you find an instance of a unique reading of the Second Synod in the Collectio 400, independent of either of the two versions]:

Vetus Gallica-version, c. 4 BV-version, c. 4 Collectio 400 capitulorum, ch. 260
Si tibi non audierit sit tibi uelut gentilis et publicanus […] sit tibi sicus gentilis et publicanus. Si te non audierit, sit tibi sicut ethnicus* et publicanus.*Paris MS has: et inimicus

Contrary to Mordek’s statement, the compiler of the Collectio 400 apparently had access to a copy of Second Synod that preserved a text closely resembling the version appended to the Vetus Gallica; a version, therefore, that was at Corbie in the early eighth century. This need not be the area from which the compiler of the Collectio 400 took its source, though. Since there is no hard evidence of the use of texts from the Vetus Gallica proper in the Collectio 400 (or from the Hibernensis – also available at Corbie at the same time), it is quite possible that the material from the Second Synod did not reach the compiler of the Collectio 400 directly or indirectly from Corbie, but rather that it arrived at the compiler’s workplace independently, possibly among other insular canonical texts (perhaps with other source material for the Hibernensis) and possibly directly from the British Isles. Some years ago I argued that the Vetus Gallica-version, the revised version of the Second Synod, was in fact produced in Ireland instead of on the Continent, as argued by Breen earlier. So, provided you accept my reasoning in this case, such a direct link between the Collectio 400 and an insular provenance of its Second Synod material is no longer a problematic thesis. 

The links between this insular text and the Collectio 400 are therefore shown to be even more strongly insular.

Collectio Sanblasiana

This insular connection is not limited to texts originating from the British Isles; we can extend this observation to certain continental texts as well. The Collectio 400 features a number of canons taken from the most important ecumenical councils: Nicaea, Ancyra, Neocaesarea, Gangra, Chalcedon, Constantinople, Sardica, Antioch, and Carthage. It appears that the compiler of the Collectio 400, in addition to the biblical, penitential and Gallic material, had access to a collection which included the conciliary decrees and a number of papal letters.[9] To be precise, the text of the Collectio 400 points to a collection which combines the Dionysian translation of some councils with uersio antiqua (or Isidori) versions of others, resembling the Collectio 400. Friedrich Maassen suspected that the compiler of the collection had access, direct or indirect, to the Collectio Sanblasiana.[10]

The Collectio Sanblasiana, discussed at length in Michael Elliot’s recent dissertation, is a chronologically arranged canon law collection, dated generally to the beginning of the sixth century (possibly under Pope Hormisdas, 514-523), probably composed in Italy, perhaps Rome.[11] It comprises conciliar decrees and decretals, including the so-called Symmachian forgeries,[12] a group of spurious texts composed within the context of Pope Symmachus’s (498-514) conflict with anti-pope Laurence and the church of Constantinople.

Maassen’s suspicion that the Collectio 400 was influenced in some way by the Sanblasiana can be confirmed. Eckhardt Wirbelauer in his study on the Symmachian documents demonstrated that the version of said texts in the Collectio 400 in fact points to one extant manuscript of the Sanblasiana in particular:[13] namely Cologne, Dombibliothek 213. He cites, as the clearest example, chapter 213 of the Collectio, in which we find a reading in which an explanatory gloss appears to have been incorporated uniquely into the main text of the Cologne manuscript:[14]

Sanblasiana (Turner) Cologne 213, f. 79r Collectio 400 capitulorum, ch. 213
[…] nisi – sicut scriptum est –   in septem testimonia filios et uxores habentes et omnino Christum praedicantes. sic datur mistica ueritas.[15] […] nisi sicut scriptum estII uel Ill in testimonia filios et uxorem habentem et omnino Christum praedicantes. sic datur mystica ueritas. […] nisi sicut scriptum estduo uel tres sic datur mistica ueritas in testimonia.[16]

Cologne 213 is possibly the oldest witness to the Sanblasiana,[17] and copied in an insular script. It dates to the early eighth century and origins ranging from Ireland to Lindisfarne, York, and an insular-influenced centre on the Continent have been proposed.[18] Recently, Michael Elliot made a good case for a Lindisfarne or (more generally) Northumbrian origin of the book. Yet, it is clear that the manuscript was on the Continent shortly after its composition, as evidenced by the presence of a datable mid-eighth-century Old High German gloss. Its connections with the Collectio 400 are not limited to the Symmachian documents.

Conc. Ancyra, 24 (Isidori uulgata version, as per Sanblasiana): Cologne 213, f. 24v Collectio 400 capitulorum, ch. 169
Qui auguria auspiciaque siue omnia uel diuinationes quaslibet secundum more gentium obseruant, aut in domos suas huiusmodi homines introducunt in exquirendis aliqua arte maleficia aut ut domos [suas] lustrent, confessi paenitentiam quinquennio agant secundum antiquas regulas constitutas. Qui auguria auspiciaque siue somnia uel diuinationes quaslibet secundum mores gentium obseruant, aut in domus suas huiusmodi homines introducunt in exquirendis aliquam artem maleficiorum aut ut domus suas inlustrent, confessi penitentiam si de clero sunt abiciantur si uero saeculares quinquennio agant secundum regulam antiquas constitutas. Collectio 400: Anquirinensium: Qui auguria auspitiaque, siue somnia, uel diuinationes quaslibet sacerdotum mores gentium obseruant, aut in domos suas huiusmodi homines introducunt in exquirendis aliquam artem malefitiorum, aut ut domos suas inlustrent, confessi penitat, si de clero sunt abiciantur, si uero seculares u annis angant sacerdos regulas antiquas constitutas.In alia: Si mulier in canone u annis et nunc uno anno uel tribus xlmis, vel xl iuxta qualitatem culpae penitat. Mulier si qua ponit filium suum supra tectum uel in fornacem pro sanitate febris, u annis penitat.

This fragment is in fact the evidence offered by Michael Lapidge to argue for a connection between the Cologne copy of the Sanblasiana, Theodore of Canterbury, and his Iudicia and the so-called Leiden glossaries. The latter part of chapter 169 of the Collectio 400, in fact, is from Theodore’s Iudicia, which also included the Ancyrian part. It is therefore possible that the compiler of the Collectio 400 sourced this entire chapter from the Iudicia (a source for other chapters). However, the fact that the order is different than that of Theodore and that the compiler signals that this is another authority he is citing (in alia) suggests that the compiler might in fact have used separate sources.

Another, arguably less spectacular, instance is provided by chapter 176 which reproduces a unique reading of Ancyra 25 in Cologne 213 over other Sanblasiana specimens, and a canon that (to the best of my knowledge) is not included in Theodore’s penitential text.

Conc. Ancyra, 25 (Isidori uulgata version, as per Sanblasiana): Cologne 213, f. 24v Collectio 400 capitulorum, ch. 176
Si quis sponsam habens sorori eius forsitan intulerit uiolentiam eique inheserit tamquam suae hanc autem deceptam postea uxorem duxerit desponsatam illa uero quae uitium passa est si forte necem sibi intulerit omnes hii qui facti huius conscii sunt decim annis in penitentiam redigantur saecundum canones constitutos Si quis sponsam habens sorori eius forsitan intulerit uiolentiam eique inheserit tamquam suae hanc autem deceptam postea duxerit uxorem desponsatam illa uero quae uitium passa est si forte necem sibi intulerit omnes hii qui facti huius conscii sunt decim annis in penitentiam redigantur saecundum canones constitutos Anquirinensium: Si quis sponsam habens sorori eius forsitan intulerit uiolentiam, eique inheresit tamquam suae: hanc autem deceptam, postea duxerit uxorem desponsatam, illa uero quae uitium passa est, si forte necem sibi intulerit: omnes hii qui facti huius conscii sunt, x annis in penitentia redigantur secundum canones constitutos.

This canon from the council of Antioch provides another example of a textual link, independent of the Theodorian material, between the Cologne manuscript and the Collectio 400. The Collectio 400, then, is quite clearly linked to an insular tradition of the late Antique Italian Sanblasiana.

Statuta ecclesiae antiqua

The text known as the Statuta ecclesiae antiqua is a small collection of 102 canons on church discipline. Although continually misattributed to the fourth council of Carthage (389) throughout the Middle Ages, historians have identified its origin as southern Gaul in the last quarter of the fifth century. Despite its local character, the Statuta feature in a large number of canonical collections, especially in the Collectio hispana and its revised version known to scholars in Gaul, the Hispana Gallica Augustodunensis. In Ireland the text was known by the compilers of the Hibernensis,[19] and it also became part of the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries.

In the Collectio 400 the Statuta ecclesiae antiqua is consequently referred to as unica ecclesia, ‘the single church’ or the ‘sole church’, or Statuta ecclesiastica unica. Maassen assumed that unica was a corrupted form of antiqua.[20] The version of the Statuta ecclesiae antiqua used by the compiler is not easily determined. Munier identified three main textual traditions of the collection, the Spanish, Gallic and Italian. The Italian version can be discarded: very few of the variants peculiar to this tradition are shared with the Collectio 400. Distinguishing between the Spanish and Gallic traditions is more difficult. The Collectio 400 preserves many variants not paralleled by manuscript witnesses of the Statuta ecclesiae antiqua proper.

A few canons demonstrate an intriguing connection with the Statuta ecclesiae antiqua tradition drawn upon by the compilers of the Hibernensis. Chapter 225, concerning bishops not reading the books of heretics and pa- gans, reads:

Statuta Ecclesia Antiqua, c. 5 Collectio can. Hibernensis, c. 1.10 Collectio 400 capitulorum, ch. 225
Episcopus gentilium libros non legat hereticorum autem pro necessitate et tempore. Vt aepiscopus gentilium libros non legat; hereticorum autem pro necessitate et tempore perlegat Episcopus gentilium libros non legat hereticorum autem pro necessitate et tempore perlegat.

The final word, ‘perlegat’, is not present in any of the Statuta ecclesiae antiqua witnesses; the Hibernensis, however, has ‘perlegat’.[21]

More striking is the version of Statuta ecclesiae antiqua 75 in chapter 235. In the Statuta it is stated that a cleric who sings between courses is to be punished with the same severe sentence as is outlined in the previous canon (74), namely excommunication. The Collectio 400, which does not include canon 74, paraphrases and embellishes:

Statuta Ecclesia Antiqua, c. 74-5 Collectio can. Hibernensis, c. 10 and 60:3b Collectio 400 capitulorum, ch. 235
74. Clericum per creaturas iurantem acerrime obiurgandum; si perstiterit in uitio, excommunicandum75. Clericum inter epulas cantatem supradictae sententiae severitate coercendum Sinodus: Clericus inter epulas decantans, fidem utique non edificans, excommonicatus sit. Clericus inter epulas cantans, fidem utique non edificans, sed auribus tantum pruriens, excommunitur.

The same canon is copied by the compilers of the Hibernensis, in their book 10 and book 60.3, with reference (in most manuscripts) to the Synod of Carthage.[22]

Not all Statuta ecclesiae antiqua canons used by the compiler of the Collectio 400 are preserved in the Hibernensis, so he cannot have taken his Statuta ecclesiae antiqua material solely from the Hibernensis.[23] Furthermore, in her research on the Statuta ecclesiae antiqua in the Hibernensis, Luned Mair Davies was unable to determine from which of the three textual traditions the Hibernensis compiler drew his canons, when she concluded the compiler probably had access to ‘either the Gallic and the Spanish recensions of the SEA and possibly also the Italian, or to a fused version of all three recensions – perhaps in some cases via Irish synodal decrees.’[24] This is the same impression that we get from the Collectio 400. The unique embellishment of canon 75 appears to demonstrate that the compiler of the Collectio 400 used an insular tradition of the Statuta ecclesiae antiqua.

Finally, there are some small signs pointing to insular influence in the exemplars used by the scribes of two of the surviving copies. In the Vienna manuscript, we witness a valiant attempt by the scribe to replicate an insular sign for the word autem. The other manuscripts readings confirm at least that this was the aim of this feat of penmanship. It seems implausible that the scribe would have made this attempt on his own accord, so we may assume that he found it in his exemplar. The same seems to be the case twice in the Paris manuscript, where the scribe ostensibly did a better job at copying the sign, only to have it removed later (possibly by another person). In this case, this insular symptom combined with the many spelling errors in the manuscript (and we have seen one instance of it above) might be witness to a continental scribe copying from an insular exemplar which he found hard to read. If so, the case for insular connections only gains in strength.

I would not want to go so far as to claim that the Collectio 400 is an insular collection, not yet at least. Yet, I think it is fair to say that the eighth and ninth centuries display a dynamic exchange of canonical material and ideas between the British Isles and the Continent to such an extent, in fact, that the local characteristics of canonical material is no longer determines where it might turn up. It is, in other words, part of a pan-European repository of learning.

[This paper was presented at the International Medieval Conference, Leeds 2015]


[1] Maassen, Geschichte der Quellen, 844 (‘Es wird von einer Materie ohne innere Begründung plötzlich zu einer andern übergesprungen’); Hubert Mordek, Kirchenrecht und Reform im Frankenreich: die Collectio Vetus Gallica, die Älteste systematische Kanonessammlung des Fränkischen Gallien, Beiträge zur Geschichte und Quellenkunde des Mittelalters 1 (Berlin, 1975), 163 (‘. . . der Verfasser der Sammlung in 400 Kapiteln, bei der ein System beim besten Willen nicht zu ergründen ist…’).

[2] Friedrich Maassen, Geschichte der Quellen und Literatur des kanonischen Rechtes (Graz, 1870), 842, 6, at 844.

[3] See Roy Flechner, ‘An insular tradition of ecclesiastical law: fifth to eighth century’, in James Graham-Campbell and Michael Ryan (eds.), Anglo-Saxon/Irish relations before the Vikings, Proceedings of the British Academy 157 (Oxford, 2009), 23–46.

[4] Jean Gaudemet, ‘Survivances romaines dans le droit de la monarchie francque du Ve au Xe siècle’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 23 (1955), 149–206; followed by Kéry, Canonical collections, 163. The fourth manuscript is Metz, BM MS 236 (perhaps Metz/Rhine Valley, saec. viii/ix), see Speculum 29 (1954), 337

[5] Paul Fournier, ‘Le Liber ex lege Moysi et les tendances bibliques du droit canonique Irlandais’, Revue Celtique 30 (1909), 221–34, at 227 n. 2, 229-30 n. 2.

[6] ‘Die in der Collectio zitierten Kanones der sogenannten 2. Synode des hl. Patricius sind nicht aus der Vetus Gallica geschöpft; sie entstammen vielmehr jenem anderen Traditionszweig der Synode, der durch die Handschriften München Lat. 14468 und Wien Lat. 2232 repräsentiert wird’.

[7] Collectio 400 Capitulorum, c. 260; cf. Synodus II S. Patricii, c. 4.

[8] Collectio 400 Capitulorum, c. 326; cf. Synodus II S. Patricii, c. 23.
 Cf. Kings 20:3 (‘anima tua’).

[9] An (incomplete) edition of the various Latin versions of the Canones apostolorum and the councils of Nicaea, Ancyra, Neocaesarea, Gangra, Antioch, and Sardica is Cuthbert Hamilton Turner, Ecclesiae Occidentalis Monumenta Iuris Antiquissima: Canonum et Conciliorum Graecorum Interpretationes Latinae, 2 vols. in 7 pts (Oxford, 1899-1939). [hereafter EOMIA].

[10] ‘Neben einer Sammlung gallischer Concilien und den für die Pönitentialcanonen benutzten Quellen scheint die Sammlung der Handschrift von Sanct Blasien, mittelbar oder unmittelbar, benutzt zu sein’, Maassen, Geschichte der Quellen, 846.

[11] The Sanblasiana is named after one of its manuscripts witnesses which at one time was preserved in the monastery of Sankt Blasien in Austria (now Sankt Paul im Lavanttal, Stiftsbibliothek, Codex 7/1).See idem, Geschichte der Quellen, 504-12; see also the sites at/lit/fr_7550.htm and; for another manuscript witness, see

[12] For the decretals in the Sanblasiana see EOMIA. Hubert Wurm, Studien und Texte zur De- cretalensammlung des Dionysius Exiguus (Rome, 1939), 88-9 and 261-4. The central thread in these documents is the confirmation of the independent position of the Bishop of Rome and his position above secular and indeed ecclesiastical law. Based on the inclusion of this material the Sanblasiana is thought to have been compiled shortly after the conflict, under the supervision of a supporter of the Symmachian party, as Pope Hormisdas was.

[13] Cologne, Erzbischöfliche Diözesan- und Dombiblithek 213 (saec. viiiin), Lucca, Biblioteca Capitolare Feliniana 490 (saec. viii-ix), Paris, BN lat. 1455 (saec. ix2), Paris, BN lat. 3836 (saec. viii2), Paris, BN lat. 4279 (saec. ixmed), and Sankt Paul im Lavanttal, Stiftsbibliothek 7/1 (saec. viii), see Kéry, Canonical collections, 30.

[14] Wirbelauer, Zum Umgang, 215.

[15] Wirbelauer 1992, SCl, Z.114-116

[16] Paris, BnF lat. 2316, fol. 108v und München, Clm. 4592, foI.194v.

[17] Rosamond McKitterick, ‘Knowledge of canon law in the Frankish kingdoms before 789: the manuscript evidence’, Journal of Theological Studies 36 (1985), 97–117, at 111-12.

[18] Cologne 213 has some parallels with Paris 4279 (in particular the Dion. preface and the Can. Apost.). The latter also has the SEA.

[19] Charles Munier, Les statuta ecclesiae antiqua. Édition, études critiques, Bibliothèque de l’Institut de Droit Canonique de l’Université de Strasbourg 5 (Paris, 1960), 107-24, 209-36.

[20] Maassen, Geschichte der Quellen, 845, n. 14.

[21] Collectio 400 Capitulorum, 225; Collectio canonum Hibernensis, 1:10e

[22] Collectio canonum Hibernensis, 10i

[23] In the Coll. 400, but not the Hib: SEA 31, 43, 70.

[24] Davies, ‘Statuta ecclesiae antiqua’, 101.

See also