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Collections of laws or ordinances, chiefly of the Frankish kings

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Capitularies (Lat. Capitularia), collections of laws or ordinances, chiefly of the Frankish kings, divided into many single laws or chapters (capitula), so that a capitulare meant the sum total of such single laws. Sometimes such collections consisted of only one law or capitulum; even then they were called capitularia. The word capitulare was used officially for the first time (779) in an enactment of Charlemagne (Mon. Germ. Hist: Leges, II, i, 47). It was also applied to certain legislative acts of bishops.

EPISCOPAL CAPITULARIES.—The capitularies or capitula of the bishops were compilations of ecclesiastical laws, drawn as a rule from previous legislation, and proposed to the clergy and people for their guidance. Their general purpose was, on the one hand, to make it easy for ecclesiastics to know the canons or laws of the Church, at least in the summaries thus compiled; on the other, to keep intact and uniform the discipline of the Church, and to maintain the religious life of both clergy and laity at as high a standard as possible. There are yet extant many such compilations, which may. be divided into two categories. Those of the first contain laws whose content shows that they were not restricted to one diocese, but were applicable to several. Those of the second were meant primarily for one diocese and are more properly called capitularies. To the first order of capitularies belong the capitula of St. Martin, Metropolitan of Braga (571-80) in Gallicia, the present Portugal (Mansi, Sacr. Conc. Coll., IX, 845, sqq.). His object was to render more intelligible the canons of the Greek Church by a new translation into Latin, and to arrange them in a systematic order. The collection became very important in subsequent ages, when it was incorporated with the “Collectio Hispana”, and with this passed into the work of Pseudo-Isidore. After the tenth century it formed part of nearly every compilation of ecclesiastical law. Then follow two collections made by St. Boniface (d. 754). The first contains twenty-eight capitula issued about 744 (Mansi, op. cit., XII, App. 107, sqq.); the second has thirty-six statuta issued about 745 (op. cit., XII, 383, sqq.). The collection of Egbert, Archbishop of York (735-51), known as “Excerptiones Egberti Eboracensis Archiepiscopi” (op. cit., XII, 411, sqq.), is but a summary made by the deacon Huncar about 1040 from a larger work of Egbert (q.v.) entitled “De jure sacerdotali”. The collection attributed to Isaac, Bishop of Langres in France (859-80), and known as “Cannes Isaac Episcopi Lingonensis” (op. cit., XVI, App. 633, sqq.), is merely an extract from the three books of capitularies of Benedictus Levita. The capitula of Angilramnus, Bishop of Metz (768-91), are said to have been published by him after he had received them from Adrian I (772-95). They are intimately connected with the pseudo-Isidorian decretals, and hence not genuine; they were written about the middle of the ninth century (Hinschius, Decretales Pseudo-Isidorianie, 757, sqq.).

Among the capitularies of the second class we may mention first the Rule of St. Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz (742-66), written about 760 (Mani, op. cit., XIV, 313, sqq.), which regulated the common or canonical life of his diocesan clergy. These decrees, modified by Amalarius of Metz, were eventually made obligatory upon the clergy of the whole Frankish Empire at the Diet of Aachen (817). Then follow: the capitulary of Theodulf, Bishop of Orleans (797-821), issued towards the end of the eighth century, with several additions (op. cit., XIII, 993, sqq.); the capitulary of Hatto, Bishop of Basle (836), issued about 822 (op. eft., XIV, 393, sqq.); the capitula of Rodulf, Archbishop of Bourges, issued about 850 (op. cit., XIV, 943, sqq.); the capitula of Herard, Archbishop of Tours (855-70), issued in 858 (op. cit., XVI, App. 677, sqq.); the various capitula of Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims (845-82), issued in 852, 856, and 874 (op. cit., XV, 475, sqq., 493, sqq.); the capitula of Walter, Bishop of Orleans, issued about 871 (op. cit., XV, 503, sqq.); finally, the constitutio of Riculf, Bishop of Soissons, issued about 889 (op. cit., XVIII, 81, sqq.). A number of these capitularies were published in diocesan synods, e.g. those of Herard of Tours, of Hincmar of Reims (at least the ones of 852 and 874), and of Walter of Orleans. Perhaps this was the usual custom, since the capitula of Theodulf of Orleans and of Rodulf of Bourges mention the diocesan synod as of obligation at stated intervals.

ROYAL CAPITULARIES.—The capitularies of the Frankish kings were legislative or administrative enactments. In the Merovingian period they were known as epistola, praiceptum, edictum, decretio, or pactus if issued by several kings together. In the present acceptation of the word the capitularies comprise legislative acts issued by the Frankish rulers, either Merovingians or Carlovingians, from the beginning of the sixth century to the end of the ninth. They are usually distinguished from leges, or laws, not because they: lack legislative force, but because since the sixth century the term leges is usually applied to the written or formally codified customs prevailing among the various Germanic nations; thus we have the “Lex Salica”, the “Lex Alamannorum”, and the like. The capitularies, on the contrary, may have a wider application. They were usually drawn up without any specific order and without such formalities as the royal seal or signature; hence they differed from other royal acts, e.g. the diplomats and mandata. The capitularies were executed by the royal officers or by the king himself; therefore they did not need the formalities required for other documents as evidences of the royal will. The contents of the capitularies are manifold. Sometimes they contain only directions given to royal officers, chiefly the missi dominici; sometimes additions to, or modifications of, the leges; more generally they contain ordinances bearing on almost every form of civil and ecclesiastical life. Among the civil ordinances are regulations affecting the royal magistracy, commerce, customs-duties, markets, currency, the army, safety of travellers, procedure in criminal and civil suits, private rights or prerogatives, and many other subjects. Concerning ecclesiastical matters there are regulations on the organization of the Church, its relation, to the civil power, monastic life, discipline of the Church, education, manner of worship, ecclesiastical feast-days, and the like. A division or systematic classification of the capitularies is practically impossible. While some deal exclusively with ecclesiastical matters; in many of them things ecclesiastical and civil are so intermingled that it is difficult to distinguish in them two kinds of capitularies. Nor can the capitularies bearing on civil matters be divided into classes, though some have imagined that they could distinguish three different kinds. Those of the first class were called capitularia legibus addenda, and were said to contain modifications of the leges, made with the consent of the nation whose laws were thus affected. Those of the second class were called capitularia per se scribenda, said to contain ordinances affecting the people of the Frankish Empire generally, issued by the king with or without the consent of the men of rank. Those of the third class were called capitularia missorum, and were said to contain merely instructions for the royal officers or counts known as the missi dominici.

There is no sufficient basis, however, in the text of the capitularies for this classification. While the matter contained therein has a bearing on all those subjects, still it is put together so indiscriminately that no systematic division can be made; in fact, no uniform system was aimed at in this legislation. There is, moreover, no sufficient foundation for the assertion that for a certain class of capitularies the consent of a nation was required. The laws or ordinances were enacted either by the king himself and alone, or after a consultation with his advisers, or with the men of rank in a diet or parliament. It was customary among the Franks, as indeed among the Germanic nations generally, to assemble once a year in the month of March, or at some other time in the spring or summer, for legislative, military, or other purposes. The attendance, which at first was general on the part of all freemen, gradually shrank to the men of rank or the nobles and ecclesiastical dignitaries, such as counts, bishops, and abbots. At such assemblies or diets legislative matters were discussed between the king and his attendants, in which all, bishops, abbots, counts, and other royal officers, took part. Once the subjects were sufficiently debated, they were drawn up as capitula and published as laws. For this reason a certain number of capitularies were prepared and issued in the annual diets. But the same cannot be asserted of all, since there are many which were not issued in the diets, or at least of which this cannot be stated with certainty. If matters of an ecclesiastical character came up for discussion, they were generally, though not always, submitted to the judgment of the bishops alone. In fact, the bishops of the Frankish Empire often held their synods contemporaneously with the diets. Sometimes also the diets presented an almost exclusively ecclesiastical character, and thus they were called synods as well as conventus or placita. In order to preserve the capitularies and through them the written law, they were reduced to writing and kept in the archives of the imperial palace. Copies of them were sent to the royal officers throughout the empire, or else the officers were themselves requested to secure copies, send them to each other, and in turn make them known to the people. In a capitulary of the year 825 Emperor Louis the Pious (814-40) ordered that the archbishops and counts should secure copies of the capitularies from the chancellor, and communicate them to other ecclesiastical or royal dignitaries in their districts for the purpose of publication. This publication was to be done in the judicial assemblies or courts of justice, in the marketplaces of cities, and also in the churches. These orders were apparently not executed conscientiously; otherwise translations into the vernacular would have been made, of which, however, there is practically no trace.

As the number of the capitularies kept growing, the need was felt of uniting them into one work. The first (incomplete) collection of this kind was made in 827 by Ansegisus (q.v.), Abbot of the monastery of Fontanelle, or, as it was called afterwards, St-Vandrille in Normandy. He divided his work into four books: the first contained the ecclesiastical capitularies of Charlemagne, the second the ecclesiastical capitularies of Louis the Pious, the third the capitularies of Charlemagne on civil matters, the fourth the capitularies of Louis the Pious and his son Lothaire on civil matters. Three appendixes were added to the work containing titles of capitularies, or capitularies that were doubled. This collection, though owing to the private initiative of Ansegisus received the sanction of Louis the Pious in 829, and in this way obtained an official character. Towards the middle of the ninth century a new collection in three books appeared, designed to continue and complete the work of Ansegisus. Its author states that it was made by Benedictus Levita, a deacon of Mainz (847), at the suggestion of Bishop Autgar of that city. In reality it contains few genuine capitularies; the greater part of the work is a forgery, the materials for which were taken from the Roman law, the Breviarium Alarici, the leges of the Visigoths and Bavarians, the canons of councils, the decretals of the popes, the penitential books, and the writings of the Fathers. It was published shortly after 847 and is intimately connected with the decretals of Pseudo-Isidore. Hence, according to many, it was most probably written either at Reims or Le Mans, the birthplace of the Isidorian decretals.

The capitularies enjoyed great authority through-out the Middle Ages. Bishops made use of them in their legislation; thus the above mentioned Herard of Tours in his capitula, Isaac of Langres in his canons, and Walter of Orleans in his capitula. The provincial councils of the ninth and tenth centuries recommended their perusal, or else adopted their constitutions, e.g. a synod of Reims (881), a synod of Mainz (888), a synod of Ravenna (904), and a synod of Trosly, Diocese of Soissons (909). Finally, the later compilers of canons, like Regino of Prum, Burchard of Worms, No of Chartres, and Gratian, borrowed much of their material from the capitularies. The text of the capitularies has often been printed. They were first edited by Vitus Aznenpach (Ingolstadt, 1545) from a manuscript of the monastery of Tegernsee (Bavaria). An incomplete edition of the capitularies of Ansegisus and Benedictus Levita was published by Jean du Tillet (Paris, 1548). Five books of capitularies were published by B. J. Herold (Basle, 1557), but this edition is rather incomplete and defective. The edition of du Tillet was completed by Pierre Pithou (Paris, 1588), and again by Francois Pithou (Paris, 1603). Jacques Sirmond published the capitularies of Charles the Bald and his successors (Paris, 1623). A very complete edition of the capitularies was produced by Etienne Baluze (Paris, 1677), was reprinted at Venice in 1772, and reedited by Pierre de Chiniac (Paris, 1780). The edition of Baluze has been inserted in various publications of law and history issued since then in Germany, France, and Italy. A new edition was made by Pertz for the “Monumenta Germanise Historica” (Leges, I-II, Hanover, 1835-37). A later and better edition appeared in the same great collection, the work of A. Boretius and V. Krause (Leges, I, II, Hanover, 1883-97). Baluze, Pertz, Boretius, and Krause sought to give the complete text of all existing capitularies and to arrange them in their chronological order; in their editions, therefore, the reader will find much more than the capitularies of Ansegisus and Benedictus Levita, which latter are now accessible in special reprints.


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