Pope Pelagius I writes to patrician John regarding the detrimental consequences of the schism within the Church (the so-called Three Chapters Controversy), especially concerning the recent election of a schismatic patriarch of Aquileia, urging the Byzantine official not to recognize their authority as they had not been canonically elected.
[Pelagius papa]a Iohanni patricio [caburtario]b.
Peto utrum aliquando in ipsis generalibus quas veneramur sinodis vel interfuit quispiam Venetiarum, ut ipsi putant, atque Histrye patriacac, vel legatos aliquando direxerit. Quod si hoc, nec confictis quidem approbationibus, nulla rerum poterit ratione monstrari, discant aliquando non modo se generalem Ecclesiam non esse, sed nec generalis quidem partem dici posse, nisi cum fundamento apostolicarum adunata sedium, a precisionis sue ariditate liberata, in Christi membris cepted numerari. Sed contrarium nos sinodise aliquid gessisse contendunt, vel aliquid suspicantur; neque enim posse dicendus est, qui precipiti credulitate facili lapsu in precipicio aurem falsitatibus prestat. Si ergo suspicatur, nos aliquid in cuiusque sinodi prevaricationem gessisse, [id ipsum prius diligenter quaerere debuerunt; quod si et quessisse]f et aput se perhibent constitisse, probare illis necesse est quod intendunt.
Item: Quid autem iam de eorum principe loquar, qui et monachum, si tamen aliquando fuit, invadendi Episcopatum ambitu perdidit, et Episcopatum nec contra morem factus nec scismaticus potuit obtinere?
Item: [Quid enim in eiusdem ordinatione vel potius destructione, legitimo iure vel consuetudine canonica factum esse poterit dici? Nonne hereticorum etiam temporibus principum, cum ipsorum tamen notitia vel iussione, illarum partium est pontifex ordinatus, adhuc in catholici contemptu principis, magis autem in ipsius catholicae fidei iniuria, quae non prohibebat ut fieret, sed ned scismaticus fieret,]g pudenda ut ita dicam rapina, in divisione est non consecratus sed exercatus episcopus? Si enim ipsum consecrationis nomen rationabili ac vivaci intellectu discutimus, is qui cum [in] universali consecrari detrectat Aecclesia, consecratus dici [esse]h nulla poterit ratione.i
Consecrare enim est simul sacrare. Sed ab Ecclesie visceribus divisus et ab Apostolicis Sedibus separatus desecrat ipse potius, non consecrat. Iure ergo execratus tantum, non consecratus poterit dici, quem simul secum sacrare in unitate coniunctis membris non agnoscit Ecclesia.
Videamus tamen utrum vel ipsarum consuetudinem partium in sua exordinatione servaverit; nempe hic mos antiquitus fuit, ut, quia pro longinquitate vel difficultate itineris ab Apostolico onerosum illis fuerat ordinari, ipsi se invicem Mediolanensis et Aquileiensis ordinare episcopi debuissent; ita tamen, ut, in ea civitate in qua erat ordinandus episcopus, alterius civitatis pontifex occurrere debuisset, ut et ordinandi electio a presenti ordinatore, ex consensu universalis cui preficiendus erat Ecclesie , melius ac facilius potuisset agnosci, et in sua, qui ad Episcopatum provehendus erat nec tamen ordinatori suo subdendus fuerat, ordinaretur Ecclesia.
[Speramus in illo qui ipsa vertias est, et qui Petri fidem licet titubari pertulerit, deficere tamen omnino non pertulit. Ecce agnovisti unam esse Ecclesiam, et eam in radice Sedis Apostolice constitutam extingui non posse.]j [Noli catholicam super mentem aliqua scismaticorum communione polluere. Unam Christi corpus, unam constat esse Ecclesiam. Divisum ab unitate altare, veritatem Christi corporis non potest consecrare. Toleranda sunt in compage corporis positorum etiam illa nonnumquam vitia, que unitati interdum parcentes resecare non possumus. Quia et evengelicum agricolam minus afferentem fructum palmitem, [si tamen in vite maneat purgare posse noster salvator edocuit. Abscissum autem a vite palmitem]k nisi igni ad comburendum aptum esse non posse, eiusdem celestis magistri veritate didicimus. Noli ergo eorum qui igni apti sunt non consecrationibus sed execrationibus consentire, nec existimes illos vel esse vel dici Ecclesiam posse.]l
Etenim cum, sicut diximus, Ecclesia una sit, cui in Canticis Canticorum dicitur: “Una est columba mea,” nullam esse aliam constat, nisi que in apostolica est radice fundata, a quibus ipsam fidem in universo propagatam orbe non potest dubitari. Quod ut vobis, licet notissimum omnino sit, beati tamen Augustini testimonio comprobemus, audite quid in quodam opere suo preclarissimus doctor dicat Ecclesie. Ait enim: “Quod si nullo modo recte dici potest Ecclesia in qua schisma est,” restat ut quoniam Ecclesia nulla esse non potest, ea sit quam in Sedis Apostolice per successiones episcoporum radice constitutam nullorum hominum malicia, etiam si nota et excludi non possit, sed pro temporis ratione toleranda iudicetur, ullo modo valeat extinguere.
a) om. B. b) om. B. c) sic B: pro patriarca. d) sic B: pro cepit. e) seq. aliquid canc. B. f) id ipus — et quessisse om. B; pars legitur in C. g) quid enim — scismaticus fieret om. B; pars legitur in C. h) om. B. i) des. B; seq. lect. ex D. j) speramus — non posse om. D; pars legitur in C. k) si tamen — vite palmitatem om. F; pars legitur in E. l) Noli catholicam — Ecclesiam posse om. CD; pars legitur in EF.
The letter marks the official beginning of the escalation of Three Chapters Controversy in the ecclesiastical province of Aquileia, which encompassed Venice and Istria.
Namely, the three writings authored by Theodoret of Cyrus, Ibas of Edessa, and Theodoret of Mopsuestia - the so-called tria capitula, - were first condemned by Emperor Justinian I in two edicts (the first, whose text is lost, issued in 544/5, the second, dubbed On the Orthodox Faith, issued in mid-July 551) and subsequently officially condemned at the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 553.
[The critical editions of these texts are the following: Eduard Schwartz, "Drei dogmatische Schriften Iustinians," Abhandlungen der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften: Philosophisch-historische Abteilung, Neue Folge, 18 (1939): pp. 71-111; Johannes Straub (ed.), Concilium universale Constantinopolitanum sub Iustiniano habitum vol. 1: Concilii actiones VIII - Appendices Graecae - Indices, Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum 4 (Berlin 1971), pp. 3-231. Translations of both texts into modern English, together with introductory studies, are featured in Richard Price (trans.), The Acts of the Council of Constantinople of 553 with related texts on the Three Chapters Controversy, 2 vols., Translated Texts for Historians 51 (Liverpool 2009).]
As many metropolitans refused to acknowledge the condemnation, interpreted as contrary to the conclusions of the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), the Schism of the Three Chapters was born.
Pope Pelagius I, although originally a defender of the Three Chapters before being installed as Roman pontiff by Emperor Justinian, sought to heal the schism, especially in Italian ecclesiastical provinces. While the pope had been successful in persuading a number of prelates to acknowledge the condemnation of the Three Chapters and break away from the schism, he was not able to "turn" two bishops of Tuscany (Secundus of Taormina and Paulinus of Fossombrone) and the bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Milan and Aquileia - the bulwarks in defense of tria capitula.
It was at this time, the beginning of 559, that Pelagius I changed his policy and began to enlist the help of Byzantine temporal officials to aid in his battle against the schismatics and in his plan to restore unity to the Christian Church. The election of Paulinus, a known schismatic, as the new head of Aquileian Church was definitely an event that catalyzed this change of policy.
From February of 559 to mid-April of the same year, the pope issued a number of letters aimed at defeating the tricapitularian schism in Northern Italy, of which six which touch upon Istria have been fragmentarily preserved to this day. These are:
- The first letter to patrician John regarding the election of a schismatic as the head of the ecclesiastical province of Aquileia (called "Istrian patriarch" by the pope) - the letter hereby edited.
- The first letter to patrician Valerian urging him to repress the schismatics and support the papal quest to restore unity to the Chruch - edited here.
- The second letter to patrician John explaining the dangers of the schism and urging him to take action by singling out Euphrasius, the bishop of Poreč, as a particularly unscrupulous schismatic (a murderer and an adulterer) - edited here.
- The second letter to patrician Valerian detailing why Paulinus, the head of the Aquileian Church, is but a pseudo-bishop who should not be allowed any jurisdictions whatsoever - edited here.
- The letter to patrician Narses urging him to repress the schismatics in Liguria, Venetia and Istria - edited here.
- The letter to Charles, magister militum, regarding the schism in Tuscany (at times erroneously interpreted as being in reference to Istria) - edited here.
Pope Gregory I wrote numerous letters to clergy and lay officials regarding the Schism of the Three Chapters, which he often dubbed "the Istrian Schism."
The Schism also engendered three local synods:
- The synod of Grado held sometime between 572 and 577, customarily dated to 579) - see the acts here.
- The synod of Marano held in 591 - see the primary sources attesting to it here.
- The synod of Pavia held in 698/9 which officially ended the schism - see the primary sources attesting to it here.
Finally, it was the consequence of the Schism of the Three Chapters that ultimately led to the election of a counter-patriarch of Aquileia in 607 whereby the unity of the ecclesiastical province of the former Decima regio Venetia et Histria was shattered and two patriarchates emerged: Grado and Aquileia, both fighting over the ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Istrian bishoprics - see the primary sources attesting to it here.
In the end, it must be concluded that the Three Chapters controversy fatefully influenced the course of Istrian history but in essence, the schismatics were conservatives who refused to accept changes ushered in by 6th-century dynamic ecclesiastical and political landscape:
"The social and economic disaster of the Gothic war, the inability of Constantinople to restore functioning imperial institutions acceptable to the populations, the brutal change of perspective brought about by the reintegration of the church of Rome in the Byzantine ecclesiastical geography, were all traumatic for Italy," argues Claire Sotinel, concluding that "[r]efusing to condemn the Three Chapters entailed rejecting the cluster of such changes in the name of another imperial model, that of which Rome had been the center long before the coming of Christianity, and in the name of another ecclesiastical model, dating back to pre-Constantinian times, that of churches united behind their bishops and made one through communion. [...] It is certainly no accident that the region in which the debate was sharpest was also the region most profoundly affected by the vicissitudes of sixth-century political history" (Sotinel, "The Three Chapters," pp. 199-20).
The images of ms. B, are taken from the digitized manuscript available on the official web pages of the British Museum.
The editor has subsequently marked both images with red vertical lines simply to denote the parts of the manuscript that are hereby edited.
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