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Chapter One "A Strange Man" Opposition Emerges at the Council of Saragossa
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The Form of the Conciliar Acta

The Transcript of the Judgments of the Bishops of the Saragossan Council, October 4, 380 , as the original document was entitled, has come down to us as


part of a seventh-century canonical collection known as the Hispana .[35] A prefatory clause sets the scene of the council, identifying the consistory of Saragossa as the place of meeting and listing the names of the twelve episcopal participants. The account of the proceeding begins to unfold with the recording of the bishops' command that their judgments be read aloud. One of their number, Lucius, recites a series of eight judgments. After the reading of each judgment, the gathered bishops pronounce their approval in unison: "It is agreed"; "Let it be so."

Hamilton Hess has identified the Acts of the Council of Saragossa as belonging to a small group of conciliar documents that represent a "rudimentary stage of canonical preservation, being simply a stenographic record of the essential phases of the parliamentary process."[36] While these documents are admittedly not as detailed as other extant verbal transcriptions, their form nonetheless identifies them as procedural minutes, "either in abridgement or as the only minutes which were taken at the sittings in question."[37] According to Hess, the distinguishing characteristics of the form are:

(1) the introductory phrase ". . . Episcopus dixit "; (2) the putting of the question: si omnibus (hoc) placet ; and the vote: placet, placere sibi or other expressions of assent, usually introduced by omni or universi dixerunt ; (3) the informal, discursive phraseology of each proposal.[38]

Behind these verbal patterns, we can glimpse elements of the procedure adopted by the Christian synods in imitation either of the Roman Senate or—more likely—of local town councils:[39] a speaker, usually but not always the presider, briefly set forth the problem (relatio ); each council member offered his judgment (sententia ); a "vote" was taken by reading the proposed judgments aloud until one received majority approval; and, finally, the majority judgment was officially recorded by the presider as the formal judgment of the council. Alternatively, a speaker might incorporate both problem and proposed judgment into a single proposal, which could be ratified immediately by acclamation without other judgments being offered; this streamlined procedure was commonly followed in the late empire.[40]

Hess distinguishes conciliar documents that take the form of procedural minutes from those modeled on the liber sententiarum , or published resolutions of the Senate.[41] He designates the latter the "placuit form," since its judgments are typically introduced by the clause "it was agreed that." The placuit documents abandon the direct discourse of the procedural minutes, and the phraseology of their judgments tends to be somewhat more concise and consistently patterned. Hess's analysis would indicate that the Acts of the Council of Saragossa , like other documents of its


type, reflects the actual discussions of the council to a greater extent than do the majority of contemporary conciliar documents, which are in the placuit form. The casting of the Saragossan Acts in the form of direct discourse and the inclusion of the formulaic language of acclamation actually used in such assemblies suggests that the Acts derives directly from the procedural minutes of the council. In addition, the discursive, informal phraseology of the judgments appears to result from the relatively close adherence of the Acts to the wording of the original discussion.

The Acts of the Council of Saragossa departs, however, from the typical form of procedural minutes in at least one respect. The document is presented as a transcript of only the final moments of the council: the reading and approval of the council's previously recorded judgments. Thus, whereas typical minutes of a council's proceedings introduce each judgment with the name of the bishop who originally proposed the problem or opinion—"Bishop X said "—the Saragossan document substitutes the name of the council's secretary—"Bishop Lucius read ." Curiously, the Acts nevertheless gives the illusion of representing an abridged form of the minutes of the council's entire proceedings. Whereas in the case of the final reading and approval of the council's minutes one would expect introductory and closing formulae to be found only at the end and beginning of the recitation, the Acts repeats both the introductory phrase—"Bishop Lucius read"—and the episcopal acclamation—"It is agreed"—before and after each judgment. It furthermore interweaves the acclamations with the judgments in such a way as to suggest that those acclamations are emerging out of the original discussion.[42] The unusual literary form of the document thus paradoxically combines the dramatic immediacy of procedural minutes with the anonymous unanimity of a recorded secondary approval of those minutes. The official authority that all conciliar acts implicitly claim is thereby heightened, while the roles of individual bishops are masked.

Samuel Laeuchli has suggested that even conciliar judgments like those of the earlier Spanish council of Elvira, published in the more formalized placuit form, preserve traces of the sequence of encounters and conflicts that produced those judgments. The conciliar documents reveal the Christian appropriation of the secular decision-making process, as Hess and others before him have shown; even more important for the analysis of an individual council, they also preserve the original, seemingly spontaneous, order in which topics were raised and discussed. This fact allows the reconstruction of the "flow" of the original meeting: by noting which topics were raised earliest and which recur most frequently, the highest priorities and concerns of the gathered bishops can be identi-


fied; by observing the juxtaposition of topics, the chain of associations that linked one to another can be reconstructed; by analyzing the use of more and less highly charged language, shifts in emotional intensity can be detected. In addition to calling attention to the order of judgments, Laeuchli highlights the significance of inconsistencies, first, in the language of the published judgments and, second, in the punishments threatened. These inconsistencies may reveal relative levels of agreement or conflict, indifference or anger, hesitancy or strength of authority.[43]

Because the judgments of the Council of Saragossa are relatively few in number (eight compared to the eighty-one drafted at Elvira), there is only limited basis for comparison among them. However, this limitation is balanced by the advantage of the Saragossan Acts ' seemingly closer adherence to the original language of the discussion. A careful reading of the Acts allows one, not only to identify and analyze the council's major concerns and strategies of opposition, but also tentatively to reconstruct the dramatic event of the meeting itself, mapping probable shifts in levels of passion, agreement, and confidence in the bishops' discussions.

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Chapter One "A Strange Man" Opposition Emerges at the Council of Saragossa
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