Sources and translations

This blog provides our draft translation of Carolingian texts, mostly linked to Hincmar of Rheims or the divorce of Lothar II and Theutberga.


The texts translated are as follows:

Page references are given in square brackets in the translation. All these translations are works in progress and have not been checked for errors or readability. Readers are strongly advised to check the Latin text themselves.


Monday, 14 March 2016

Hincmar of Rheims: First Episcopal Capitulary

This is the first of five episcopal statutes issued by Archbishop Hincmar over his long career. The second, not translated here, instructed archdeacons in how they should assess compliance with these requirements.
Translated by Charles West, 2016.  Source: MGH Capitula Episcoporum II, pp. 34-45


In the year 852, on 1 November, at the meeting of priests held in the metropolitan city of Rheims, Bishop Hincmar discussed the laws and ecclesiastical matters. Amongst other very healthy advice, these things were brought forward at the end, to be commended to the memory and carefully observed.

1. That each of the priests should learn in full the exposition on the creed and on the Lord's prayer, according to the traditions of the orthodox Fathers, and carefully instruct the people entrusted to him by preaching about it. Let him understand too the preface of the Canon [of the Mass], and the Canon itself, and be able to recite it clearly from memory. And he should be able to read well the prayers of the mass, the Apostle [reading], and the Gospel [reading]. Let him know to how to pronounce the words and sentences of the Psalms, properly, off by heart, with the customary canticles. And let him commend to memory the sermon of Athanasius On Faith, which begins “Whoever wishes to be saved”. And let him understand the meaning and be able to explain it in common words.

2. That no one is allowed not to know the [baptismal] scrutinies, and the liturgical order for baptism.

3. Let him commend to memory distinctly and rationally the [baptismal] exorcisms, the prayers to make catechumens, the prayers to consecrate the fonts, and the other prayers for males and females, in groups and individually. And similarly the liturgy of baptism for succouring the ill. And whoever is unable to have stone fonts, let him have a suitable vessel for this office of baptism alone. Similarly, let him have clean vessels for washing the corporale and the altar cloths, not used for any other purpose.

4. Let him learn by heart the liturgy for reconciliation [of penitents] according to the level canonically reserved to him, and the liturgy for anointing the sick, and also the prayers appropriate for this necessity. Similarly, let him learn the liturgy and prayers for funerals and for other matters of the dead, and equally exorcisms and the blessings of water and salt.

5. That on every Sunday, each priest shall make in his own church, before the service of the mass, holy water in a clean vessel appropriate for such a mystery, with which he can sprinkle the people entering the church. And whoever wishes, let them take some of it in clean little vessels, and sprinkle it through their dwellings and fields and vineyards, over their livestock and their fodder, and over their own food and drink.

6. That every priest should have a thurible and incense, so that when the Gospels are read, and the offertory for the oblations has been finished, incense may be placed in it, as on the death of the Redeemer.

7. That the priest should cut up in a clean and suitable container the oblations which were offered by the people and were left over after consecration, and the bread which the faithful brought to church, or his own bread. After the service of mass, those who were not prepared for communion may take them as gifts [eulogia], on every Sunday and on feast days. And let the priest bless it with these words before he gives it out as eulogia to those who take it, and let him take care the crumbs do not carelessly fall out: PRAYER
“O Lord, holy Father, omnipotent eternal God, deign to bless this bread with your holy and spiritual blessing, so that to all those eating it with faith, reverence and gratitude to you, it shall be the safety of mind and body, and a defence against all diseases and all attacks of their enemies. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your son, the bread of life, who descended from heaven and gives life and salvation to the world, and lives and reigns with you as God, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.”

8. Let every priest studiously read the 40 homilies of Gregory, and understand them. And, so that he should realise that he has been promoted into the church’s ministry in the form of the 72 disciples, let him learn the sermon of the aforementioned doctor about the 70 disciples sent by the Lord for preaching, in full and off by heart. Let him be instructed too in the necessary computus [date calculation] and chant throughout the cycle of year.

9. Once the morning service is over, let him pay the debts of his duty by singing prime, terce, sext and nones. Then the remaining hours [ie, daily liturgy] will be publicly completed as far as possible either by himself or by his pupils. Then, once the service of the masses over, and the sick have been visited, let him turn to agricultural work, and whatever else is needed, keeping the fast so that he is able to attend to the necessities of pilgrims, guests or various travellers, the sick and dying, up to the agreed time, according to the quality of the season and the opportunity.

10. That he should take care of guests, especially the poor and crippled, orphans and pilgrims; and he should invite them to his lunch every day, as far as possible, and give them hospitality appropriately.

11. That no priest should dare to give the chalice or paten, altar cloth or sacerdotal vestment or book to an innkeeper or merchant or any lay man or lay woman as a pledge. For such is the sanctity of the holy ministry, as Lord forbade through the prophet, with understanding of the higher mystery, that no priest should go forth to the people in his holy garments, but should remove them within the sanctuary as he returns to the people from the holy colloquium. And for whom it is prohibited by the holy canons to enter taverns to drink, lest the holy items of the holy ministry be touched by the impure, how much less should he give them as a pledge? This the holy Pope and Martyr Stephen taught in his decretals to St Hilarus.

12. That no priest should bury anyone in the church without consulting the bishop, except those people whom we have designated individually and personally in a synod. Nor should he demand or extort anything for burial. If however something is given freely by any devout people, to the altar or to the church or to himself, we do not forbid him to accept it courteously.

13. That no priest should take any gift (exenium) or temporal emolument, or rather spiritual detriment, from any public sinner or incestuous person, in order that he will keep quiet about their sin to us or our ministers. Nor should he hesitate, on account of respect of persons or kinship or closeness, sharing in the sin of others, to let us or our ministers know about it. Nor should he presume to take any grace or favour or gift from any penitent, in order that he bring him to reconciliation while he is not worthily penitent and provide him with a testimony of reconciliation, while by spite he removes another, perhaps more worthily penitent person, from reconciliation. This is simony, and abominable to God and man.

14. That when the priests go to a gathering for an anniversary, or the 30th or 3rd or 7th [commemoration dates] of a dead person, or any other occasion, no priest shall dare to get drunk, nor be asked to drink in honour of the saints or his own soul. Nor should he force others to drink or himself gulp it down on someone else’s request, nor should he dare to have raucous applause and laughter, or to tell silly stories, or to sing. Nor shall he allow shameful games with a bear and tornatrices to take place in front of him. Nor should he allow masks of demons, which are commonly called talamascas, to be brought out, since this is devilish and prohibited by the sacred canons. Rather let him eat with honesty and religion and go back to his church at the right time. Above all, let each take care that, as he wishes to rejoice in his status, he shall not for some reason and by some words annoy or provoke his peer or anyone else, to anger and disagreement and arguing, still less to fighting and murder. Nor if provoked should he rise to these things. For the devil is always involved in these joint dinners and drinks, which the unreligious arrange.
When however priests meet for some dinner, let the deacon or someone senior amongst them begin the verse in front of the table, and bless the food. And let them be seated according to order, each doing honour to the others, and let them bless the food and drink in turn, and let one of these clerics read something from the holy writings. And after they have eaten, let them recite a sacred hymn, by the example of the Lord and saviour and his disciples, as we read they did at dinner. And let priests control themselves in every place, especially in such things, lest, as the apostle says, ‘our ministry should be brought into disrepute’.

15. That when the priests meet together on the first of every month, after the holy mystery and the necessary collatio has been celebrated, let them not sit down at table as if for a feast (prandium), and weigh themselves down with unsuitable dishes, because this is shameful and burdensome. Often returning late to their churches, they complain about the damage of reprimand, and argue amongst one another about their mutual burden more than they do anything of profit. For Paul the Apostle chastises the Corinthians about this kind of meeting, which takes place under the cover of religion: they used to meet together to take the Lord's supper, unsuitably. Thus those who come to the Lord’s supper, that is to the collatio of the word, as an excuse and in truth are joined together for the sake of their stomachs, will be held as reprehensible before both God and men.
And so once everything they wanted has been carried out, let them break bread in the house of their co-brother, with their other brothers, with thanks and love, and let them have individual drinks, and above all let them not take the cup more than three times, and return to their churches.

16. About the groups which are popularly called geldonia [cf English 'guilds'] or confratriae, we have advised verbally and now we expressly warn in writing, that there should be so much as pertains to reason, authority and usefulness; and that none, whether priest or member of the faithful, should dare to go beyond this in our diocese. That is, that they may join together for every religious duty, that is in gifts, lighting, mutual prayers, funerals for the dead, almsgiving and other offices of piety. Those who wish to offer a candle, whether individually or as a group, may bring it to the altar either before the mass or during it, before the gospel is read. They may make one offering and oblation only, for themselves and all those conjoined and close to them. If he brings more wine in a barrel or a jug or more oblations, then let him give them to the priest or his minister either before or after the mass, from which the people may take eulogiae in alms and blessing from it, or the priests may have a supplement.
But feasting and joint dinners, which holy authority prohibits, and where arguments and un-owed exactions and shameful and stupid mirth and disorder often take place, leading, as we have seen, to murder and hatred and dissension – these things we absolutely forbid. If anyone dares to do this, then if he is a priest or some cleric, he will be deprived of his grade; if he is a layman or woman, he or she will be separated from the church until satisfaction is done.
If it is necessary that the co-brothers should all come together for a meeting, for example if someone has an argument with his peer which must be reconciled, but which cannot be without a meeting of the priest and the others, then, after these things which are of God and are fitting to the Christian religion have been carried out, and after the required admonitions, if it happens that everyone comes together for refreshments by the law of love and fraternal consolation, we permit this to happen. Let them preserve modesty and temperance and sobriety and the concord of peace, as befits co-brothers, so that everything is for fraternal edification and the praise and glory of God. And let what the Saviour says particularly be watched out for, ‘Watch out lest your hearts be weighted down in intoxication and drunkenness.’ (1). Let those who wish take eulogiae from the priest, and break bread only, and let each person have a single drink and dare to take nothing else. And then let each one go home with the Lord's blessing.


17. That if any priest should die, the neighbouring priest should not obtain from the secular lord by request or by some gift a church which was previously independent, nor even a chapel, without our permission. If he should do this, let him receive a sentence that follows, as decreed by the canonical authority about the bishop who through ambitions seeks a greater city: he should lose that which he holds, and not obtain that which he tried to usurp.



(1). This section in italics is not present in all manuscripts.