Journal of Theological Studies 14 (1913) pp. 469-471


Das Decretum Gelasianum de libris recipiendis et non recipiendis in kritischem Text herausgegeben und untersucht von ERNST VON DOBSCHÜTZ (T. & U. vol. xxxviii). (J. C. Hinrichs, Leipzig, 1912.)

SCHOLARS often refer to the Gelasian Decretal and they sometimes quote it. But it may be questioned whether many have ever read it as a whole. They are content to know (I quote from Westcott On the Canon, 5th ed., p. 453) that 'Credner has examined at great length the triple recension of the famous decretal On Ecclesiastical Books. His conclusion briefly is that (1) In its original form it was drawn up in the time of Gelasius, c. 500 A.D. (2) It was then enlarged in Spain, c. 500-700 A. D. (3) Next published as a decretal of Hormisdas (Pope 514-523 A.D.) in Spain, with additions. (4) And lastly variously altered at later times '. |470 

The Decretum Gelasianum consists of five chapters : 

I. About Christ and the Spirit.

II. List of Canonical Books.

III. About the three chief Sees : Rome, Alexandria, Antioch.

IV. List of Books to be received.

V. List of Apocryphal Books.

In 1794 F. Arevalo, the editor of Sedulius, started the theory that the first three of these five chapters were really the decrees of a Roman Council held a century earlier than Gelasius, under Damasus, in 382 A.D. Certain MSS seemed to give this earlier document separately, and Arevalo's conclusions have been widely accepted, notably by Maassen and Zahn. Readers of this JOURNAL will remember that in vol. i pp. 554-560, Mr C. H. Turner edited from four MSS of the eighth and ninth centuries the text of these first three chapters with the title of 'The Roman Council under Damasus'. On this theory the 'Damasine' List is the earliest Conciliar Western List of the Canonical Books, a List, in fact, two years earlier than the publication of the first instalment of the Latin Vulgate. It had been Professor v. Dobschütz's intention to publish the Damasine and Gelasian forms side by side (i. e. I, II, III and III, IV, V, c. III being common to both), but in the course of his investigation he came to very different conclusions. According to v. Dobschütz all five chapters belong to the same original work, which is no genuine decree or letter either of Damasus or Gelasius, but a pseudonymous literary production of the first half of the sixth century (between 519 and 553).

There can, I think, be little doubt that v. Dobschütz has made out his case. The really decisive point is that in I 3, in the part most directly associated with Damasus, there is a quotation of some length from Augustine in Joh. ix 7 (Migne, xxxv 146l).1 As Augustine was writing about 416, it is evident that the Title Incipit Concilium Vrbis Romae sub Damaso Papa de Explanatione Fidei is of no historical value.

The proof that the document is not a real Decretal of Gelasius or any other Pope is almost as decisive, if not quite so startling. In the first place v. Dobschütz makes it clear (p. 213) that the shorter form I-III implies the longer form,2 and therefore is derived from it. Further, the short form III-V, which was supposed to contain the genuine decree of Gelasius, turns out to be a recension of the whole work, in which the phrases which refer back to I and II have been carefully suppressed or altered (p. 214). This recension appears to |471 have been made in Gaul in the seventh century (p. 399) : that known as Hormisdas, containing II-V, is a Spanish recension, but the Spaniard Isidor used chap. I, in fact he is the earliest witness to the work. Had it been an official decree of Gelasius it would have been known and used by Dionysius Exiguus and Cassiodorus.

Thus these famous Lists represent no Papal ordinance, but are the production of an anonymous scholar of the sixth century. He must have been a fairly well-read man for that time and shews a good acquaintance with the writings of St Jerome, but v. Dobschütz does not believe that he had read, or even seen, most of. the 'Apocryphal' books which he condemns (pp. 333-334). For various reasons the work can hardly have been compiled in Africa or Spain, and Gaul is on the whole unlikely : 'es bleibt für den Ursprung des Dokuments nur Italien übrig' (p. 350). Certainly the description of the last book in the N. T. as Iudae Zelotis apostoli epistula una makes for N. Italy or Gaul, the only evidence for the apostle Judas Zelotes coming from those regions. In Matt. x 3, in the place of Thaddaeus, Judas Zelotes is found in a b g h q gatcorr mm, and the Mosaics of the great Baptistery at Ravenna (fifth century).3 So far as I know there is no evidence for this name from Africa, Spain, or the British Isles.

A word should be said in conclusion upon the amazing mass of detail collected by Prof. v. Dobschütz and the clearness with which he has presented it. He has used eighty-six manuscripts, besides six (class D') which contain the text in a second recension. To make this vast quantity of material intelligible he has first printed the full original text with only the real variants of the 'Gelasian' recension at the foot of the page. This leaves room for a clear indication of Biblical references and for the incipits and explicits of the several recensions. After this he repeats the text line for line with full apparatus, excluding only the spelling of the Proper Names, which are given separately in alphabetical order. Praise is often bestowed on our German fellow-workers for industry and fault found with their style, but very few Frenchmen or Englishmen would have marshalled the vast and unwieldy army of authorities so skilfully as is done in this book. It is a work that should be studied by all editors of much-copied texts.


[Footnotes have been renumbered and placed at the end]

1. 1 The passage is printed J. T. S. 1 556 f, ll. 23-27 : v. Dobschütz, p. 245 f.

2. 2 Chap. II, title, post haec quid uitare debeat implies a list of rejected Books, such as chap. V.

3. 1 A relic of this confusion no doubt survives in the coupling together of St Simon and St Jude for purposes of commemoration.

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