Antonio Agustín, a pioneer of the history of medieval canon law

During the sixteenth century European humanists developed their interest in the history of texts. Instead of just printing texts from old manuscripts they started comparing different versions of texts. Thus they stood at the cradle of philology and modern philological methods. The majority of these humanists devoted themselves to texts from Classical Antiquity, few of them set feet on the field of textual criticism for the Bible, and even less looked to legal texts other than the sources of Roman law. Antonio Agustín (1517-1586) was the first scholar to deal with the text of the Decretum Gratiani, the most important medieval collection of texts concerning canon law that held a central place in the study of canon law until 1917. In this post I will give an overview of his works, their accessibility online, and I will point to modern studies on his work and life.

A prince of scholars

Antonio Agustín

Antonio Agustín – portrait early seventeenth century

Antonio Agustín y Albanell was born in 1517 in the Spanish town Zaragoza. His father was the vice-chancellor of Aragon. Already in 1526 Agustín went for his studies to university, first at Alcalá de Henares, two years later at Salamanca. In 1535 he started to study law at the university of Bologna, where he met Andrea Alciato (1492-1550), one of the foremost humanistic lawyers. In 1537 he went to Padua to study Greek. In 1541 Agustín received at Bologna the degree of doctor utriusque iuris, for both Roman and canon law.

In the field of the history of Roman law Agustín made himself immediately known with his first published work. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century a small number of scholars examined the Codex Florentinus, the manuscript of Justinian’s Digest, since 1406 kept as a treasure in Florence. In 1543 Agustín published a study in which he argued that this manuscript is closer to the original text from the sixth century than the vulgate version of the Digest found in countless manuscripts since the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and reprinted in many editions since the late fifteenth century. The Emendationum et opinionum libri quattuor were first published in Venice, and soon reprinted in Basel (1544) and Lyons. Using the Hathi Trust Digital Library it is possible to consult online two copies of the first edition held at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. The edition Basel 1544 can be consulted online (Digitale Sammlungen, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich), and also the editions Lyons 1559, Lyons 1574 and Heidelberg 1594, all present at Munich.

Agustín’s career can be summarised fairly quickly, but this does not do justice to his scholarly activities. In 1544 Agustin became an auditor, judge, of the Rota Romana, one of the highest courts of the Catholic Church. Charles Lefebvre edited an unpublished text by Agustín on the practices of the Rota Romana in the volume Antonii Augustini Praxis Rotae. Jacobi Emerix Tractatus seu Notitiae S. Rotae Romanae : deux traités inédits sur la procédure de la S. Rote Romaine (Tournai, s.d. (1961)). The popes sent him on several diplomatic missions. In 1562 and 1563 he attended sessions of the Council of Trent. He became bishop of Alife in the Kingdom of Naples in 1556. In 1561 Agustín was called to the see of Lérida in Spain, and in 1576 he became archbishop of Tarragona, where he died in 1586.

In the sixteenth century leading scholars wrote many letters to keep in touch with each other. Cándido Flores Sellés edited an Epistolario de Antonio Agustín (Salamanca 1980). Letters by Agustín are included in the Correspondance de Lelio Torelli avec Antonio Agustín et Jean Matal (1542-1553), Jean-Louis Ferrary (ed.) (Como 1992). Juan E. Alcina Rovira and Joan Salvadó Recasens have recently studied Agustín’s library, La biblioteca de Antonio Agustín. Los impresos de un humanista de la Contrarreforma (Alcañiz 2007). Many of his books and a number of manuscripts with Greek texts stemming from Agustin’s library found their way to the library of the Escorial.

In this post I will not discuss Agustín as a scholar of Roman law, even though he kept working in this field, too. In 1567 he even published two text editions in one volume, the Constitutiones Graecarum Codicis Justiniani imperatoris collectio et interpretatio, with the Greek constitutions in the Codex Justinianus, and Novellarum Juliani antecessoris Epitome, cum notis et constitutionibus, graece (Lérida 1567), with the Epitome Juliani. Pietro Fiorelli and Anna Maria Bartoletti Colombo edited the volume Iuliani epitome latina Novellarum Justiniani, secondo l’edizione di Gustavo Haenel e col glossario d’Antonio Agustín (Florence 1996) which uses Agustín’s work. Agustín edited also texts by Marcus Terentius Varro, Sextus Pomponius Festus and Marcus Verrius Flaccus, and he wrote about Roman antiquities and inscriptions. On Roman law he published further in particular De nominibus propriis tou Pandektou Florentini (Tarragona 1579; online in the Hathi Trust Digital Library) and De legibus et senatus consultis (Rome 1583; online at the Hathi Trust, at Granada and at Munich). For brevity’s sake I have skipped later editions of these works. In the eighteenth century appeared the collection Antonii Augustini Archiepiscopi Tarraconensis Opera omnia (8 vol., Lucca 1765-1774; online, Hathi Trust) which contains also a number of his letters.

Agustín and medieval canon law

The Council of Trent (1545-1563) had addressed many aspects of church life, but not canon law. Ecclesiastical law came under review during the pontificate of pope Pius V. He decided in 1566 that an official edition of the various sources within the Corpus Iuris Canonici should be made. The correctores Romani, a team of scholars, was charged with this task. Originally the commission would have been led by Antonio Agustín, but he declined this position. He kept in touch with the scholarly team. In 1580 pope Gregory XIII could finally promulgate the new edition, published in three volumes (Rome 1582), consultable online at the library of the University of California at Los Angeles. Recently Mary Sommar has published a study about the project for this edition, The Correctores Romani: Gratian’s Decretum and the counter-reformation humanists (Berlin 2009).

The sheer width of Agustín’s activity comes into sight when you realize he did not forget his episcopal duties. As bishop of Lérida he personally supervised the making of the Sacerdotale (…) Ilerdense (Lérida 1567), nowadays a rare work. The Institut d’Estudis Ilerdenc in Lérida has digitized its copy. As an archbishop he helped starting a printing firm at Tarragona. Agustín was responsible for the Constitutionum prouincialium Tarraconensium libri quinque (Tarragona 1580; online, Hathi Trust) and Constitutionum synodalium Tarraconensium partes quinque (Tarragona 1581; online, Hathi Trust). In the third volume of the Italian Opera omnia you can find a reprint of these constitutions, and also the synodal constitutions for this archdiocese.

At Lérida appeared in 1576 the first edition of the Compilationes antiquae, with four of the five decretal collections before the Decretalium liber Gregorii IX – more commonly called the Liber Extra – was promulgated in 1234. Using the Hispana portal the Antiquae collectiones decretalium (Lérida 1576) can be found in digitized form at several Spanish libraries. They offer this work in the PDF format. At Munich you can consult a page by page version of this edition. Agustín’s edition has been reprinted in source editions by scholars ever since, but no new edition of the Compilationes antiquae has appeared until now, for Emil Friedberg presented in his Quinque compilationes antiquae (…) (Leipzig 1882; reprint Graz 1956) only the incipits of the papal decretals included in these collections. Stephan Kuttner discussed Agustín’s edition in ‘Antonio Agustín’s edition of the Compilationes antiquae’, Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law, New Series 7 (1977) 1-14.

For the history of medieval canon law Agustín’s De emendatione Gratiani dialogorum libri duo (Tarragona 1587) is no doubt his most important work. I could find an online version of the first edition, again at the Hathi Trust Digital Library, but not for the important reprint edited by Étienne Baluze (Antonii Augustini archiepiscopi Tarraconensis dialogorum libri duo de emendatione Gratiani (Paris 1672)). Agustín discusses matters such as the original title of Gratian’s work, the problem of misleading inscriptions of various canones, the sources used by Gratian and their supposed or real origin, in particular for canons stemming from church councils. He did notice at many turns erroneous attributions of canons. In particular canons from the collection ascribed to Isidorus Mercator got his attention, but even though Agustin expressed grave doubt about the quality of this collection he did not proceed here or elsewhere to a full examination of the complex of the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals. In the so-called Magdeburg Centuries (Historia ecclesiastica (…) (13 volumes, Basle, 1559-1574)) protestant historians had unmasked this collection as a massive falsification. For catholic writers in the sixteenth century it was difficult to support this view. As few others Agustín was certainly equipped to deal with this problem.

The Epitome iuris pontificii veteris is the companion work to De emendatione Gratiani, and indeed without this compendium of canon law the latter would not have appeared at all. The first part of this Epitome was published at Tarragona in 1587; a digital version (PDF) has been created by the Universidad de Granada. In the first volume with the subtitle De personis Agustín deals with ecclesiastical functions, with laity and heretics, and at the end briefly with the position of Jews and pagans. The second and third volume were published posthumously for the first time as Iuris pontificii veteris epitome (…) at Rome between 1611 and 1614. The second volume deals with de rebus, matters, the third with de iudiciis, verdicts. At Ghent only the first and second volume of the 1611 edition have been digitized. In the second part Agustín starts with an overview of the history of conciliar collections before Gratian with the title De quibusdam veteribus canonum ecclesiasticorum collectoribus iudicium, et censura.

In the volume Canones paenitentiales (…) (Venice 1584; online, Hathi Trust) Agustín edited six texts concerning penance, including a Poenitentiale Romanum. He gives an introduction to the history of penance, penitential canones and in particular the early medieval libri paenitentiales. One of the reasons he adduces in his preface for taking interest in these sources is the fact that the Decretum Gratiani has not the same authority as papal decretals and conciliar canons, and therefore it is necessary to look at the original sources. The first edition of this edition appeared again in Tarragona in 1582.

In an Epistola decretalis Innocentii III. Summi Pontificii (…) (Paris 1609; online, University Library, Ghent) the text of the famous decretal Per venerabilem (X. 4.7.13) of pope Innocent III from 1202 is given, a letter first included in the Compilatio Tertia (3 Comp. 4.12.2). The text of the decretal is taken from Agustín’s 1576 edition of the Compilationes quinque - at f. 209r-210r -, but the source of the following commentary is not clear. The core of the short introductory text is a defense of the prerogatives of the French king and the traditional independent ecclesiastical position of France.

Studying Antonio Agustín

Up to the twentieth century only a small group of scholars endeavoured on the paths first walked by Agustín. I mentioned already Étienne Baluze. Praise for Agustín came directly after his death in a work by Andreas Schott, a Flemish scholar, in his Laudatio funebris. V.Cl. Antonii Augustini (…) (Antwerp 1586). About this text José C. Miralles Maldonado recently wrote an article which can be consulted online, ‘Andreas Schott y su laudatio funebris en memoria del humanista aragonés Antonio Agustín’Myrtia 23 (2008) 315-342. Gregorio Mayáns y Siscár (1699-1781) published a Vida de D. Antonio Agustín arzobispo de Tarragona (Madrid 1734), online in Munich. This work helped in the long run resuscitating interest in this sixteenth-century scholar. It led to the publication of his Opera omnia at Lucca between 1765 and 1774, and to several editions of his letters from manuscripts scattered around Europe.

You can find online more interesting articles about Agustín and his correspondance, for example Jean-Louis Ferrary, ‘Les travaux d’Antonio Agustín à travers la lumière de lettres inédites à Lelio Torelli,’ Faventia (1992) 60-83, and Joan Carbonell Manils, ‘La relación epistolar inédita entro Antonio Agustín y el papa Gregorio XIII’Faventia 22 (2000) 121-138. To these online articles one should add in particular an article by Cándido Flores Selles, ‘Respuestas ineditas de Antonio Agustín a consultas de amigos’, Revista de la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid 73 (1987-1988) 111-185. Francis M. de Zulueta devoted his 1939 David Murray Lecture to Don Antonio Agustín (Glsagow 1939), an eminently useful starting point if you would like to start with or stick to literature in English. M.H. Crawford edited a volume of essays on Agustín, Antonio Agustín between Renaissance and Counter-Reform (London 1993). Crawford wrote the article on Agustín for the Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, Paul F. Grendler (ed.) (6 vol. New York 1999), in volume I, pp. 26-27. For sources about Agustíns library, his life and correspondence Marc Mayer’s article, ‘Towards a History of the Library of Antonio Agustín’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 60 (1997) 262-272, is well worth reading.

Agustín deserves his position among the pioneers of the history of Roman and canon law in particular for his unflagging interest in both fields. His interests in legal history were accompanied by studies on Classical Antiquity in the widest sense, including for example inscriptions. He wrote also about medals and even about heraldry. His Dialogos de las armas, i linages de la nobleza de España was published by Mayáns y Siscár (Madrid 1734), of which a facsimile edition appeared recently (Valencia 2005). It is again in the Digitale Sammlungen at Munich that you can find an online version of the 1734 edition, and for example also at Santiago de Compostela. Using the search functionalities at the Hispana portal you can find in Spain more digital versions of his works, and also some library catalogues with manuscripts of his works. Mentioning this work should not diminish the fact that Agustín was a scholar with a mind to work in major legal disciplines and the auxiliary historical sciences. He did not devote himself exclusively to one field, something which scholars nowadays all too often simply have to do. I hope this post shows you something of Agustíns versatility and his lasting importance for those who are working in the field of medieval canon law.

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