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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.


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Formularies ( LIBRI FORMULARUM), medieval collections of models for the execution of documents (acta), public or private; a space being left for the insertion of names, dates, and circumstances peculiar to each case. As is well known, it is practically inevitable that documents of the same nature, issued from the same office, or even from distinct offices, will bear a close resemblance to one another. Those charged with the execution and expedition of such documents come naturally to employ the same formulae in similar cases; moreover, the use of such formulae permits the drafting of important documents to be entrusted to minor officials, since all they have to do is to insert in the allotted space the particular information previously supplied them. Finally, in this way every document is clothed with all possible efficiency, since each of its clauses, and almost every word, has a meaning clearly and definitely intended. Uncertainties and difficulties of interpretation are thus avoided, and not unfrequently lawsuits. This legal formalism is usuallyknown as the “style” or habitual diction of chanceries and the documents that issue therefrom. It represents long efforts to bring into the document all necessary and useful elements in their most appropriate order, and to use technical expressions suited to the case, some of them more or less essential, others merely as a matter of tradition. In this way arose a true art of drafting public documents or private acta, which became the monopoly of chanceries and notaries, which the mere layman could only imperfectly imitate, and which in time developed to such a point that the mere “style” of a supposititious deed has often been sufficient to enable a skillful critic to detect the forgery. The earlier Roman notaries (tabelliones) had their own traditional formulae, and the drafting of their acta was subject to an infinity of detail (see “Novels” of Justinian, xliv, lxvi); the imperial chanceries of Rome and Byzantium were more remarkable still for their formulae. The chanceries of the barbarian kingdoms and that of the papacy followed in their footsteps. Nevertheless it is not directly from the chanceries that the formularies drawn up in the Middle Ages have come down to us, but rather from the monastic and ecclesiastical schools. Therein was taught, as pertaining to the study of law, the art of drafting public and private documents (see Du Cange, “Glossarium med. et infimae Latinitatis”, s.v. “Dictare”). It was called dictare as opposed to scribere, i. e. the mere material execution of such documents.

To train the dictatores, as they were known, specimens of public and private acta were placed before them, and they had to listen to commentaries thereon. Thus arose the yet extant formularies, between the fifth and the ninth centuries. These models were sometimes of a purely academic nature, but the number of such is small; in almost every case they are taken from real documents, in the transcription of which the individualizing references were suppressed so as to make them take on the appearance of general formulae; in many instances, too, nothing was suppressed. The formulae deal with public documents: royal decrees on civil matters, ordinances, etc.; with documents relative to legal processes and the administration of justice; or with private deeds drawn up by a notary: sales, exchanges, gifts to churches and monasteries, transference of ecclesiastical property, the manumission of slaves, the settlement of matrimonial dowries, the execution of wills, etc. Finally, there are deeds which refer solely to ecclesiastical concerns: consecrations of churches, blessings of various kinds, excommunications, etc. The study of the medieval formularies is of importance for students of the history of legislation, the rise of institutions, the development of manners and customs, of civil history, above all for the criticism of charters and diplomas, and for researches in medieval philology. In those times the ecclesiastical and civil orders were closely related. Many civil functions and some of the highest state offices were held by ecclesiastics and monks. The ars dictandi was taught in the schools connected with the monasteries and those under ecclesiastical control. For quite a long time all acta were drawn up only in Latin, and as the vernacular languages, in Romance lands, gradually fell away from classical Latin, recourse to ecclesiastics and monks became a matter of necessity. The formularies are, of course, anything but models of good Latinity; with the exception of the Letters (Variae) of Cassiodorus, and the St. Gall collection “Sub Salomone”, they are written in careless or even barbarous Latin, though it is possible that their wretched “style” is intentional, so as to render them intelligible to the multitude.

The formularies of the Middle Ages date from the sixth to the ninth or tenth century, and we still possess many once used in one or other of the barbarian kingdoms. Many were edited in the seventeenth century by Jerome Bignon, Baluze, Mabillon, and others; and many more in the nineteenth century, especially by two savants who compiled collections of them: (I) Eugene de Roziere, “Recueil general des formules usitees clans l’empire des Francs du cinquieme au dixieme siecle” (3 vols., Paris, 1859-71). He groups these early medieval formula? under five principal heads: “Formulae ad jus publicum, ad jus privatum, ad judiciorum ordinem, ad jus canonicum, et ad ritus ecclesiasticos spectantes”. And he follows up this arrangement by a very complete set of tables of concordance. (2) Karl Zeumer, “Formulae Merovingici et Karolini aevi” (Hanover, 1886) in “Mon. Germ. Hist.: Leg.”, V; he reproduces the formulai in the work and gives a more complete study than de Roziere. In his pages will be found a complete bibliography of all written on the subject before that time; or Chevalier, “Topo-Bibl.”, may be consulted under the word “Formules”.

Some brief observations will here suffice on the formulsi used between the sixth and the ninth centuries in the various barbarian kingdoms.

The Ostrogoths.—Cassiodorus, secretary and afterwards prime minister of King Theodoric, included in his “Variarum (epistolarum) libri XII”, particularly in books six and seven, and, as he says, for the guidance of his successors, a great number of acta and letters drawn up by him for his royal master. It is a genuine formulary, though standing apart by itself. This collection dates from before 538 (P.L., LXIX). The Servite Canciani took ninety-two of these formulae of Cassiodorus and included them in his “Barbarorum leges antiqu” (Venice, 1781, I, 19-56).

(2) The Visigoths.—”Formule Visigothici”, a collection of the forty-six formulae made under King Sisebut (612-621). The king’s name occurs twice in the curious formula xx, a dowry settlement in hexameter verse. Roman and Gothic law are followed either separately or together, according to the nationality of the covenanters. This collection was published in 1854 by de Roziere from a Madrid MS., which was copied in turn from an Oviedo MS. of the twelfth century, now lost.

(3) The Franks.—Their formularies are numerous: (a) “Formulae Andecavenses”, a collection made at Angers, consisting of sixty formulae for private acta, some of them dating from the sixth century, but the greater number from the early part of the seventh; the last three of the collection belong to the end of the seventh century. They were first edited in 1685 by Mabillon from an eighth-century manuscript preserved at Fulda.—(b) “Formuls Arvernenses” (also known as “Baluzianae”, from Baluze, their first editor, who issued the works in 1713), a collection of eight‚Ä¢ formulie of private acta made at Clermont in Auvergne during the eighth century. The first of them is dated from the consulate of Honorius and Theodosius (407-422).—(c) “Marculfi monachi formularum libri duo”, the most important of these collections, and dedicated by its author to a Bishop Landri, doubtless identical with the Bishop of Paris (650-656). The first book contains thirty-seven formulae of royal documents; the second, cartae pagenses, or private acta to the number of fifty-two. The work, which was well done, was very favorably received, and became popular as an official textbook, if not in the time of the mayors of the palace, at least under the early Carlovingians. During the reign of Charlemagne it received a few additions, and was rearranged under the title “Formulae Marculfinae aevi Karolini”. Zeumer edited six formulae closely related to this collection.—(d) “Formulae Turonenses”, also known as “irmondicae” (Baluze edited them under this title because they had been discovered by Pere Sirmond in a Langres manuscript). This collection, made at Tours, contains forty-five formulae, two of which are royal documents, many being judicial decisions, and the remainder private acta. It seems to belong to the middle of the eighth century. Zeumer added to the list twelve other formulie taken from various manuscripts.—(e) “Formulae Bituricenses”, a name given to nineteen formulae taken from different collections, but all drafted at Bourges; they date from 720 to the close of the eighth century. Zeumer added to them twelve formulae taken from the Abbey of Saint-Pierre de Vierzon.—(f) “Formulae Senonenses”, two distinct collections, both of which were made at Sens, and preserved in the same ninth-century manuscript. The first, “Cart Senonicae”, dates from before 775, and contains fifty-one formulae, of which seven are for royal documents, two are letters to the king, and forty-two are private charters. Zeumer added six Merovingian formulae. The second collection, “Formulae Senonenses recentiores”, dates from the reign of Louis the Pious, and contains eighteen formulae, of which seven deal with judicial acts. Zeumer added five metrical formulae, and two Merovingian formulae written in Tironian notes.—(g) “Formulae Pithoei”. In a manuscript loaned by Pithou to Du Cange for his “Glossarium” of medieval Latin there was a rich collection of at least one hundred and eight formulae, drawn up originally in territory governed by Salic law. This manuscript has disappeared. Under the above heading Zeumer has collected the various quotations made by Du Cange from this formulary.—(h) “Formulae Salic ar Bignoniana?”, so called from the name of their first editor, Bignon. It contains twenty-seven formulae, one of which is for a royal decree; they were collected in a country subject to Salic law, about the year 770.—(i) “Formulae Salle ae Merkelianae”, so called from the name of their editor, Merkel (about 1850), a collection of sixty-six formulae taken from a Vatican manuscript; they were not brought to completion until after 817. The first part (I-30) consists of formulae for private acta, modeled on “Marculf”and the “Formulae Turonenses”; the second part (31-42) follows the “Formulae Bignonianae”; the third (43-45) contains three formulae drawn up in some abbey; the fourth (46-66) has formulae dating from the close of the eighth century and probably compiled in some episcopal town. Two formulae of decrees of the bishops of Paris were discovered by Zeumer in the same manuscript.—(k) “Formulae Salicae Lindenbrogianae”, so called from the name of their first editor, Friedrich Lindenbrog, a Frankfort lawyer (1613) who edited them together with other documents. The collection contains twenty-one formulae of private acta, drawn up in Salic law territory. Four others were added by Zeumer.—(I) “Formulie Imperiales e curia Ludovici Pii”, also known as “Carpenterianae” from Carpentier who first edited them in his “Alphabetum Tironianum” (Paris, 1747). This is an important collection of fifty-five formulae, drawn up after the fashion of the charters of Louis the Pious at the Abbey of St. Martin of Tours, between 828 and 832. The manuscript is written mainly in Tironian notes. This collection was used by the Carlovingian chancery of the ninth century. Zeumer has added to the list two formulae.—(m) “Collectio Flaviniensis”, one hundred and seventeen formulae compiled at the Abbey of Flavigny in the ninth century; of these, ten only are not to be met with elsewhere.—(n) “Formulae collectionis Sancti Dionysii”, a collection of twenty-five formulae made at the Abbey of St-Denys under Charlemagne; for the most part it is taken from the archives of the abbey.—(o) “Formulae codicis Laudunensis”, a Laon manuscript containing seventeen formulae, of which the first five were drawn up at the Abbey of St-Bavon in Ghent, and the remainder at Laon.

The Alamanni.—The most important of their formulae are: (a) “Formulae Alsaticae”, under which name we have two collections, one made at the Abbey of Murbach (Formulae Morbacenses) at the end of the eighth century and preserved in a manuscript of St. Gall, containing twenty-seven formulae, one of which is for a royal decree; the other embodies three formulae made at Strasburg (Formulae Argentinenses) and preserved in a Berne manuscript.—(b) “Formulae Augienses”, from the Abbey of Reichenau. This consists of three distinct collections: one from the end of the eighth century containing twenty-three formulae of private acta; another belonging to the eighth and ninth centuries contains forty-three formulae of private documents; the third, “Formulae epistolares Augienses”, is a “correct letter-writer” with twenty-six formulae.—(c) “Formulae Sangallenses” (from the Abbey of St. Gall), in two collections of this name. The “Formulae Sangallenses miscellanese” consists of twenty-five formulae, many of which are accompanied by directions for their use. They date from the middle of the eighth to the end of the ninth century. The important “Collectio Sangallensis Salomonis III tempore conscripta” is so called because it seems to have been compiled by the monk Notker at St. Gall, under Abbot Salomon III (890-920), who was also Bishop of Constance. Notker died in 912. It contains, in forty-seven formulae, models of royal decrees, of private documents, of littercr formatae and other episcopal documents. Zeumer added six formulae taken from the same manuscript.

The Bavarians.—Among their formulae are: (a) “Formulae Salisburgenses”, a very fine collection of one hundred and twenty-six models of documents and letters, published in 1858, by Rockinger, and drawn up at Salzburg in the early part of the ninth century: (b) “Collectio Pataviensis” (of Passau), containing seven formulae, five of which are of royal decrees, executed at Passau under Louis the German.—(c) “Formulae codicis S. Emmerami”, fragments of a large collection made at St. Emmeram’s, Ratisbon.

Rome.—The most important of all ancient formularies is certainly the “Liber diurnus romanorum pontificum”, a collection of one hundred and seven formularies long used by the Apostolic chancery. If it was not drawn up for the papal chancery, it copies its documents, and is largely compiled from the “Registrum” or letter-book of St. Gregory the Great (590-604). It was certainly in official use by the Roman chancery from the ninth to the end of the eleventh century. This collection was known to the medieval canonists, and is often quoted by Cardinal Deusdedit and Yves of Chartres; four of its documents were incorporated into the “Decretum” of Gratian. The best manuscript of the “Liber diurnus”, written at the beginning of the ninth century, comes from the Roman monastery of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, and was discovered in the Vatican Library. About the middle of the seventeenth century, the learned Lucas Holstenius used it when preparing an edition of the work which was officially stopped and suppressed on the eve of its appearance, because it contained an ancient profession of faith in which the popes anathematized their predecessor Honorius. In 1680 the Jesuit Garnier, using another manuscript of the College of Clermont (Paris), brought out an edition of the “Liber diurnus” not approved by Rome (P.L., CV). In the nineteenth century the Vatican manuscript was utilized for two editions, one by de Roziere aris, 1869), the other by von Sickel (Vienna, 1889). In 1891 the Abbate Ceriani discovered at the Ambrosiana (Milan) a third manuscript as yet unused. For a full bibliography of recent researches concerning the “Liber diurnus” see the “Topo-Bibl.” of Chevalier, s.v. While, in its complete form, the “Liber diurnus” cannot date back further than 786, the earliest forms of it go back to the end of the seventh century. Von Sickel holds that its opening formulae (I-63) are even fifty years earlier than that date. It is badly arranged as a collection, but wonderfully complete. After a series of addresses and conclusions for papal letters, that vary according to the addressees, there are formulae concerning the installation of bishops, the consecration of churches, the administration of church property, the grant of the pallium, and various other privileges. Then follow models for the official correspondence on the occasion of a vacancy of the Holy See and the election of a pope, also directions for the consecration and the profession of faith of the pope-elect; finally a group of formulae affecting various matters of ecclesiastical administration.

In the tenth century these formularies cease to be in universal use; in the eleventh, recourse is had to them still more rarely; other methods of training notaries are introduced. Copies of letters are no longer placed before them. In their stead, special treatises of instruction are prepared for these officials, and manuals of epistolary rhetoric appear, with examples scattered here and there throughout the text, or collected in separate books. Such treatises on composition, artes dictaminis, have hitherto been only partially studied and classified, chiefly by Rockinger in “Briefsteller and Formelbucher des XI. bis XIV. Jahrhunderts” (Munich, 1863). The most ancient of these manuals known to us is the “Breviarium de dictamine” of Alberic of Monte Cassino, about 1075; in the twelfth century treatises of this kind become more frequent, first in Italy, then in France, especially along the banks of the Loire at Orleans and at Tours. Side by side with these works of epistolary rhetoric we meet special treatises for the use of clerks in different chanceries, and formularies to guide notaries public. Such are the “Formularium tabellionum” of Irnerius of Bologna in the twelfth century, and the “Summa artis notarise” of Ranieri of Perugia in the thirteenth; that of Salathiel of Bologna printed at Strasburg, in 1516, and the very popular one of Rolandino that went through many editions, beginning with the Turin edition of 1479.

As to the papal chancery, in general very faithful to its customs and its “style”, after the reform of Innocent III many formularies and practical treatises appeared, none of them possessing an official value. The writings of Dietrich of Nieheim (an employe of the chancery in 1380), “De Stilo” and “Liber Cancellarise”, have been the subject of critical studies. At a more recent date we meet many treatises on the Roman chancery and on pontifical letters, but they are not formularies, though their text often contains many models.

Quite recently, however, there has appeared an official publication of certain formulae of the Roman Curia, i.e. the collection of formulae for matrimonial dispensations granted by the Dataria Apostolica, published in 1901 as “Formulae Apostolicae Datariw pro matrimonialibus dispensationibus, jussu Emi. Card. Pro Datarii Cajetani Aloisi-Masella reformatae”.

Lastly, in a different order of ideas, it may be well to mention a collection of formulae for use in episcopal courts, the “Formularium legale-practicum” of Francesco Monacelli (Venice, 1737), reedited by the Cam-era Apostolica (3 vols. fol., Rome, 1834).

From the twelfth century onward the formularies of the papal Curia bee more numerous but less-interesting, since it is no longer necessary to have if course to them to supplement the documents.

The formularies of the Cancellaria Apostolica are collections drawn up by its clerks, almost exclusively for their own guidance; they interest us only through their relation to the “Rules of the Chancery” (see Roman Curia). The formularies of the Poenitentiaria have a higher interest for us; they appear during the twelfth century when that department of Roman administration was not restricted, as it now is, to questions of conscience and the forum internum, but served as a sort of clearing-house for lesser favors granted by the Holy See, especially for dispensations. These interesting documents, including the formularies, have been collected and edited by Goller in “Die papstliche Poenitentiarie bis Eugen IV.” (Rome, 1907).

Previously, Lea had published “A Formulary of the Papal Penitentiary in the Thirteenth Century” (Philadelphia, 1892), probably the work of Cardinal Thomathus of Capua (d. 1243). We must mention the “Summa de absolutionibus et dispensationibus” of Nicholas IV; of particular value also is the formulary of Benedict XII (1336 at the latest), made by order of that pope and long in use. It contains five hundred and seventy letters of which more than two hundred are taken from the collection of Thomasius. Attention is also directed to the list of “faculties” conferred, in 1357, on Cardinal Albornoz, first edited by Lecacheux in “Melanges d’Archeologie et d’Histoire des ecoles francaises de Rome et d’Athenes”, in 1898; and to later texts in Goller. It will suffice if we make a bare mention of the taxce or “taxes” in use at the Poenitentiaria, to which were occasionally joined those imposed by the Cancellaria; in the opinion of the writer, they are not in any way related to the formularies.


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