Structure and contents

The carefully thought-out systematic division of the Hibemensis is among its most prominent features. The structure of the Hibemensis was more sophisticated than that of previous systematic canonical collections, of which few are known to have existed before the seventh century. Of these, only one systematic collection, structured in a rather rudimentary fashion, was available to the compilers of the Hibemensis: this is the fifth-century Gallic Statuta ecclesiae antiqua. The more comprehensive and elaborately structured seventh-century Roman collection by Cresconius, the Concordia canonum, was not known to them. More on these collections and their relationship with the Hibemensis in Chapter 2.

The Hibemensis went further than previous collections in establishing a systematic structure that could accommodate a wider array of topics, a greater volume of material, and a more nuanced thematic division. The structure of the A-Recension and of the B-Recension is, for the most part, identical. The basic building blocks of the Hibemensis are excerpted quotations from sources such as the Bible, exegetical works (patristic and others), conciliar canons, church histories, and so on. Each excerpt serves either as a testimonium, namely a quoted text from an authoritative source, or an exemplum, namely an example of a rule being applied. These quotations are grouped under headings, which distil rules from the quotations and articulate them concisely. The headings are framed as either descriptive or prescriptive statements. An example of a descriptive heading is Hib 21.1 (p. 116 In 3): Depersonis dignis ad iudicandum 'Concerning the ones worthy of judging'. And Hib 18.2 (p. 105 In. 1) is an example of a prescriptive heading: De eo quod in sepulchropatemo sepeliendum est 'That it is necessary to be buried in the ancestral cemetery'. The exempla and testimonia that are grouped under headings of either kind form units that are termed capitula 'chapters' in the manuscripts.

Most copies of the Hibemensis (BDHLOPSV) open with a long and detailed table of contents, which sometimes precedes and sometimes follows the preface to the Hibemensis. The preface itself states that the Hibemensis was compiled with a view to bringing order and harmony to a forest of conciliar rulings. The preface is followed by an introductory text on synods (pp. 1-4) which cites passages from Isidore’s Etymologiae, which also occur in the preface to the seventh-century

Collectio Hispana.[1] However, unlike the Hispana, which paraphrased them, the Hibernensis only abridged them, but otherwise remained faithful to the wording of the Isidorian original. That the compilers of the Hibernensis knew the Hispana in one form or another is undeniable. One of the more curious ways in which the Hibernensis resembles the Hispana, and in particular its Gallic tradition, is by attributing canons from the Statuta ecclesiae antiqua to the fourth synod of Carthage of 398. Citations from the Statuta in the Hibernensis sometimes agree with the Spanish and sometimes with the Gallic tradition of that collection. Limed Davies interpreted this ambiguity as evidence that the compilers of the Hibernensis had access to both traditions or, alternatively, that they were citing canons indirectly via a ‘fused’ version. Although the earliest attested systematic version of the Hispana dates from the late seventh century, it is tempting to speculate that the compilers of the Hibernensis had access to an earlier version, which they drew upon as a general template for a systematic structure and for a preamble (namely the introductory text of synods). However, since the Hibernensis does not follow the exact systematic division of the Hispana, nor, as we have seen, does it follow the wording of its preamble, the Hibernensis cannot be said to be directly dependent on the Hispana. In fact, it is possible that the opening texts in the Hibernensis were chosen deliberately as a way of paying homage to the major canonical collections of its day: apart from a nod to the Hispana, the Hibernensis also cites from Dionysius Exiguus’s letter to Stephen, bishop of Salona, which was incorporated into the preface to the second redaction of the Dionysiana collection of canons. We see, therefore, a debt to late antique or early medieval canonical collections, which manifests itself also in the borrowing of structural elements.

The preface and introductory text on synods are followed by ten books on the sacramental grades, which together comprise the longest contiguous set of books in the Hibernensis devoted to a single topic. The first seven books in this group expound the seven grades in descending hierarchical order, from bishop to doorkeeper. This order contrasts with the sequence that is normally found in what Roger Reynolds characterised as the ‘Hibernian Ordinals of Christ’. These are not arranged according to hierarchical dignity, but chronologically, according to the sayings of Christ which can be associated with each of the grades. The ordinal of the Hibernensis, being an exception, has been styled a hierarchical ‘Hibernian Ordinal’. The ordinal of the Hibernensis is peculiar in another way: it uses sacerdos as well as presbyter to denote ‘priest’, although sometimes these terms are given distinct meanings, and sacerdos can also designate bishop (Hib 1.1 [p. 4 In. 18-19]). This usage is in evidence in later Ordinals which were influenced by

the Hibemensis.5'1 The remaining three books of this group are devoted to summing up the differences between the clerical orders, describing the acolyte and psalmist, and reviewing the rights and duties of clerics. The B-Recension adds another book in this sequence, titled De clerico.

After this group of ten books, the arrangement of books does not seem to follow any systematic pattern. Although the chapters within each individual book are thematically consistent, there is no obvious thematic link that governs the order by which the books themselves were arranged. However, there are ten pairs of books which are devoted to related matters: De indicia and De ueritate (justice), De dominate et subiectione and De regno (lordship), De sceleribus and De ciuitatibus refugii (criminals and fugitives), De patribus et filiis and De paren-tibus et eorinn heredibus (parents, their offspring and inheritance), De debitis et pignoribus et usuris and De fideiusoribus et ratis et stipulationibus (exchange transactions), De locis and De locis consecratis (sites for churches). De ques-tionibus mulierum and De ratione matrimonii (women), De bestiis mitibus and De camibus edendis (eating and other uses of animals), De uera innocentia and De infantibus (children and adolescents), and De maledictionibus and De benedictionibus.

The two final books in the Hibemensis, 65 De uariis causis and 66 De contrariis causis (their order is inverted in the B-Recension), are not concerned with any specific themes. Rather, as their titles imply, one brings together a miscellany of rulings on various matters, and the other gives examples of cases where authoritative sources disagree with one another. All the contradictory texts in De contrariis are excerpted from sources that had hitherto not been used by canonical collections: the Bible and patristic exegesis. In this respect De contrariis can be said to contend with challenges that arise as a consequence of an attempt to expand the pool of authoritative sources. But the book is also redolent of an attitude encountered in previous books of the Hibemensis, many of which deliberately juxtapose contradictory rulings perhaps as a way of echoing (in writing) a debate culture which was the staple of church councils.[2]

Ultimately, the elaborate systematic structure of the Hibemensis was meant to accommodate the various innovations that this canonical collection introduced especially in relation to sources and themes (see Chapter 5). Its sources consist mostly of excerpted material from the Bible. Church Fathers and doctors, hagiography, church histories, and wisdom texts, in addition to sources that had long been in use by canonical collections, such as the acta of church councils and papal letters. Of special importance are insular sources, from Ireland and Britain, for which the Hibemensis is either the only or the best secondary witness (see Chapters 3,4). The volume of sources quoted in the Hibemensis, consisting altogether of 105 different works of both insular and non-insular origin, is the best index for books that were known in Ireland at the time of its compilation, and as such is an important complement to the works of the likes of Adomnan, Boniface, and Bede in allowing us to form a sharper picture of insular learning c. 700.

The matters with which the Hibernensis deals include the staple themes of contemporary canonical collections, like the ecclesiastical hierarchy, ordination, the duties of the clergy, and the role of monks, but also unprecedented topics such as burials, legal procedure, the place of women in cloistered and lay society, marriage, kingship, offences and punishments, contracts, debts, inheritance, theft, and even fair wages to workmen. The sum total of innovations pioneered by the Hibernensis—consisting of a meticulously planned systematic structure, new sources, and new themes—renders this collection more than a mere miscellany of derivative material, but a collection in which the contextual arrangement of the material and the interpretative headings given to the books and chapters under which the material is grouped, make an important new statement about compiling normative material and engaging in adjudication.

  • [1] Martinez Diez, ed., La colección Hispana, 3:43-46. 2 For a synopsis of the Isidorian and the Hispana versions, see Martínez Diez, ed., La colección Hispana, 1:264-269. 3 Reynolds, ‘Law’, 39S. 4 Davies, ‘Statuta ecclesiae antiqua and the Gallic councils in the Hibernensis’, 89, 101. 5 Stickler, Historia Juris Canonici, 41. 6 Reynolds, Ordinals of Christ, 53-61. 7 Ibid. 61-62.
  • [2] Crehan, ‘Seven Orders of Christ’, 89. 2 On contradictions in the Hibemensis, see Chapter 6, and Flechner, ‘Problem of originality’.
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