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Decretals

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DECRETALS, The (Decretales), signify ing pontifical disciplinary decisions, (1) the second part of the Canon Law or Corpus Ittris Canonici which contains in five books the papal constitutions, laws, and decisions from the time of Gratian's Decretum, 1151 to 1234, when this second part was compiled by Saint Raymond of Pennafort at the order of Gregory IX. The subject matter of each of the five books is ex pressed in the mnemonic hexameter verse: Judicium, judex, dente, connubia. crimes; meaning that the decretals of the first book re late to the constitution of tribunals, those of the second to the duties of judges, those of the third to the rights, privileges, etc., of the clergy, those of the fourth to marriage, and those of the fifth to offenses against the Church's laws.

(2) The False Decretals, or the Pseudo Isidorian Decretals, a collection of decretals, gathered ostensibly by Isidorus Mercator, in the middle of the 9th century. The exact date and authorship of the document are not known; but as a canon of the Council of Paris (829) is quoted, the collection must have been made later than the year in which the council was held. Some modern historians claim that the collec tion was well known before the year 845; the period has been narrowed down to 847-850. Rheims and Mayence are each given as the place where the work of collating and writing was done. The writer called himself Isidore Mer cator (the and in some MSS uPeccator° (the °Sinnerp). (The writer may have had in mind the great Saint Isidore, who had previously made a compilation of decrees and canons). Historians claim that the name was, like the decretals, false, and that evidence points to Benedict Levita of Mainz as the com piler. The collection was received at first as authentic. To have at hand and in convenient form all the decrees of councils and the decretal letters of deceased popes, was indeed a boon to be highly appreciated. It was known that letters and documents existed other than those to be found in any collection, so when this collection made its appearance, it was regarded as worthy of praise and thanks.

The collection opened with the 50 apostolic canons received and collected by Dionysius Exignus; and these were followed by a number of decretal letters said to have been written by early popes, from Clement of Rome, one of the apostolic fathers, to Mekhiades, at the end of the 3d century. None of the letters claimed to have been written by popes are genuine. De crees purporting to have been promulgated at the councils of Nicma and Seville, came next.

Some of these are true. Then came other let ters said to have been written by popes, begin ning with Sylvester (who succeeded Melchiades) and ending with Gregory the Great. One letter in this collection credited to Pope Siricus (384-399) is genuine. The last part of the com pilation is a copy of the canons passed by Gregory II (731) at the council held in Rome. Mohler, the German theologian, in commenting upon the fact that these decretals were at first so well received, almost without a dissenting voice, says: "Pseudo-Isidore seized exactly that in his own age which corresponded to the wishes of all the higher and better order of men. Thence it was that this legislation was so joyfully received. No one suspected anything false, because it contained so much that was weighty and true. If we examine carefully these invented decretals, and try to characterize their composer in accordance with their general im port and spirit, we must confess that he was a very learned man, perhaps the most learned man of his time, and at the same time an ex tremely intelligent and wise man, who knew his age and its wants as few did. Rightly he perceived that he must exalt the power of the centre — that is, of the Pope — because by that way only was deliverance possible. Nay, if we would pass an unconstrained judgment, we may venture even to call him a great man." At the time of the appearance of the collec tion and for centuries afterward, its contents were so in harmony with the leading thoughts of Europe that the whole was accepted without thorough examination or criticism. Nicholas of Cusa, an able theologian of the 15th century, was the first one to express a doubt of the genuineness of the collection, and to advance proofs of the truth of his assertion. The Mag deburg Centuriators began investigations, and then many Protestant critics followed the same line of study, arriving at the same conclusion as that of Nicholas of Cusa. Finally, when the Isidore decretals were examined critically by theologians and historians, it was ascertained that nearly all were forgeries, and that anach ronisms and blunders existed in large num bers. Phillips, Hefele, Mohler and others show that in the whole collection there was nothing against the supremacy of the Pope, as had been advanced by some writers; that the letters said to have been written by popes were nearly all false, also that several of the spurious docu ments existed prior to the 9th century and may have been used in good faith See CANON LAW ; CHRISTIAN INE, DE