Category Archives: theology

The Cadaver Synod (the Synodus Horrenda)

laurens-le-pape-formose-et-etienne-vii-1870the posthumous ecclesiastical trial of Pope Formosus, held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome during January of 897.  Before the proceedings the body of Formosus was exhumed &, according to some sources, seated on a throne while his successor, Pope Stephen VI, read the charges against him & conducted the trial. [The council acta do not survive, but the proceedings are described by Hincmar, Annales, entry for 878, ed. in Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores vol. I, p. 507]

In the years surrounding the Cadaver Synod (872-965) there were 24 popes. Often, these brief papal reigns were the result of the political machinations of local Roman factions. One such faction involved Guido, Duke of Spoleto, who had been crowned Emperor of Rome by Formosus’ predecessor, & Formosus had been pressured into crowning Guido’s son Lambert as co-emperor in 892.  But when Guido died in 894, Formosus had Arnulf, the Carolingian king of Carinthia, crowned emperor instead. Soon, however, Arnulf was forced to withdrawal his army to Germany. The Spoleto’s saw their chance for revenge on Formosus.  But before they could act the Pope died of natural causes on April 4 896. (He was succeeded by Boniface, whose papacy lasted only 15 days before he died).

In May 896 Stephen VI was elected pope, due in part to the intercession of the Spoleto family, in particular Lambert. Lambert’s anger at Formosus’ death knew no bounds, for the Pope, by dying, had eluded his revenge.  Nine months after the death of his Corsican predecessor Formosus, Stephen conveyed a synod.  All of Formosus acts as pope & bishop were invalidated, including every clerical appointment & ordination he had made; three fingers of his right hand were cut off, the ones used to give blessings.  Initially, as legend has it, Formosus’ corpse was ignominiously buried, but then dug up again & thrown into the Tiber; seruptiously rescued from the river & reburied.  Eventually support, including that of the Spoletos, for Stephen wained.  He was deposed, stripped of his vestments & thrown into prison where he was strangled to death in August 897.

In November 897, Pope Theodore II, a member of a pro-Formosan faction, held a synod invalidating the Cadaver Synod, announced that all of Formosus’ ordinations were valid & ordered that Formosus be dug up once again (by this time Formosus, who was 76 at the time he was elected, probably wasn’t ‘living’ up to the Latin meaning of his name, “looking good”).  The corpse was then dressed in papal vestments brought to St. Peters & reburied.  In 898 John IX (898-900) also nullified the Cadaver Synod, convening two synods (one in Rome, one in Ravenna) which confirmed the findings of Theodore II’s synod, ordered the acta of the Cadaver Synod destroyed, & prohibited any future trial of a dead person. However, Pope Sergius III (904-911), who as bishop had taken part in the Cadaver Synod, overturned the rulings of Theodore II & John IX, reaffirming Formosus’ conviction. Sergius’ decisions were never reversed — the nullification of Formosus’ ordinations, having never been reversed, raises more questions about a  mechanistic understanding of apostolic succession. Dan Ellis-Killian


Plurality of Benefices: Nice work if you can get it

Rt Rev Richard Watson (1737-1816) Anglican prelate & academic, the Bishop of Llandaff from 1782 to 1816.
Elected Fellow of Trinity, Cambridge in 1760; received MA in 1762. He would go on to become a professor of chemistry in 1764, even though, he confessed, “At the time this honour was conferred upon me, I knew nothing at all of chemistry, had never read a syllable on the subject, nor seen a single experiment in it!” Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1769. At the age of 34 the ambitious Watson was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity in 1771, & not surprisingly, his qualifications in academic theology were non-existent. The day after his marriage in 1773 he took a sinecure rectory in North Wales, a living which he soon exchanged for a prebend in the church at Ely. All told, while still holding his university chair, as cleric he held 14 other widely scattered, but nevertheless stipended livings. As bishop it was reported that he only visited his diocese once, “preferring the life of a country gentlemen at Windermere.” It was there that the likes of Coleridge & Wordsworth came calling. Among his notable writings were an Apology for Christianity (1776), in reply to Gibbon & an Apology for the Bible (1796), in reply to Paine. During his tenure in the House of Lords, Watson supported many unpopular causes, e.g., Irish & American independence.
In the late medieval period, the abuse of clerical non-residence was relatively common. Obviously, since one can’t be in two or fourteen places at the same time, it would have been immensely helpful to have had direct deposit for pay checks. In spite of reforms & canon law, the practice continued unabated. According to returns made to Parliament in 1831, some 33% of the beneficed clergy in England & Wales held more than one living, & 6% held three or more. Only 44% of the parishes of England & Wales had an incumbent who actually resided within the parish boundaries.

Brain, Timothy J. “Some Aspects of the Life & Work of Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, 1782–1816,” PhD dissertation, University of Wales (Aberystwyth), 1982
Brown, Stewart J. “‘Guardians of the Faith’: The Established Churches of the United Kingdom, 1801–1828,” in The National Churches of England, Ireland, & Scotland 1801-46 Oxford: OUP, 2002

addendum: other Welsh compatriots of the diocese –
Charlotte Church, born in Llandaff February 21, 1986
Francis Lewis, signer of the US Declaration of Independence as a representative of New York, was born in Llandaff on March 21, 1713

Lest we forget, of all the bishops who had survived the flu epidemic of 1557-58 (which claimed Mary) but refused Elizabeth’s Oath of Supremacy on her accession, were deprived of office, save one.   Only one of all the English bishops took the oath of royal supremacy: Anthony Kitchin.  He had been a bishop under Henry, Edward, Mary, & upon Elizabeth’s reign he was a bishop still in the see of Llandaff.

Council of Elvira (c.306)

Council of Elvira – Spanish bishops attempt to regularize a code of Christian morality for both clergy & laity. cf. Womer [ed]. Morality & Ethics in Early Xnity.

  • A woman who is baptized or is a catechumen must not associate with hairdressers or men with long hair. If she does this, she is to be denied communion. [67]
  • A woman may not write to other lay Christians without her husband̓s consent; nor receive letters of friendship addressed to her only & not to her husband as well. [81]
  • decree #43: a priest who sleeps with his wife the night before Mass will lose his job.

Oecolampadius, Johannes

Johannes Oecolampadius (aka, Heussgen; aka, Hausschein; aka, “house lamp”) married Wibrandis Rosenblatt, the widow of Reformer Ludwig Keller.  She was 26, & was to be in turn the wife of Oecolampadius, of his friends Capito, & Bucer.  Oecolampadius named his three children: Eusebius (godly), Irene (peace), & Aletheia (truth).

Karlstadt, Andreas

Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt on Christmas Day, 1521, celebrated mass without vestments, dressed as a lay person, pronounced the consecration in German & distributed communion in both kinds.  The next day he was betrothed to 16 year old Anna von Mochau, & a fortnight later secured his place in history by becoming the first reformer to marry

His ‘pentecostalist’ pneumatology earned him one of the best comments of the Reformation by erstwhile colleague, Martin Luther: “Karlstadt… devoured the Holy Spirit feathers and all”. Against the Heavenly Prophets (1525)

Macarius of Alexandria

Macarius of Alexandria, according to Palladius (author of Historia Lausiaca) spent an entire season of Lent on his feet, day & night, subsisting on nothing but cabbage leaves.

Harnack, Adolf von (1851-1930)

After the appearance of the first volume of The History of Dogma, Theodosius Harnack wrote to his son in Marburg: “Our difference is not theological, but rather one which is profoundly and directly Christian…. He who views the resurrection as you do, is in my view no longer a Christian theologian.”

“Superseded but never surpassed, Harnack’s work remains, after more than eighty years, the one interpretation of early Christian doctrine with which every other scholar in the field must contend”. Pelikan, Jaroslav The Christian Tradition vol. 1 (Chicago, 1971) p.359.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s (1906-1945) tribute to his mentor, Harnack: “That I was his student for a time is but a passing thing, that I am his pupil remains always.”

As the Director-General of Berlin’s Royal Library, 1906–21 (re-named the Prussian State Library in 1919), Harnack insisted upon the circulation of books outside of the library when that procedure was questioned by German libraries. Libraries are “neither museums nor cabinets of curiosities; that their function was not so much to conserve books as to put them to use, and that the best adornment of a library was a book worn in service.”

Hirsch, Felix E. “The Scholar as Librarian: To the Memory of Adolf von Harnack,” The Library Quarterly 9 (July, 1939) 3:299-320

A contemporary Roman theologian, Alfred Loisy, who criticized (IMHO bested) Harnack over the later’s Marcionism, understanding of the development & function of doctrine & tradition, etc., once made the trenchant observation: “Jesus annoncait le royaume, et c’est l’Eglise qui est venue” – loosely translated: “Jesus expected the kingdom of God, & instead He got the church”. (L’Evangile et l’Eglise, 5th ed., 1929, p.153) Such remarks (plus a little modernism) got Loisy excommunicated, & ironically, it was a quote which came to represent the position of Harnack himself!

Cassiodorus (c.485-c.585)

  • In Cassiodorus’ (aka, Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator) Institutiones divinarum et humanarum lectionum there’s a chapter entitled, “On Scribes & the Remembering of Correct Spelling.” He also wrote On Orthography, a manual on spelling for his copyists. Contrary to popular opinion, he did not invent “spell-check”.
  • first known Christian writer to use the term “the seven liberal arts” [from Martianus Capella, a Carthaginian, who brought the elements of the Trivium & the Quadrivium together to shape European education from the early medieval period through the Carolingian renaissance. Dorothy Sayers “The Lost Tools of Learning,” advocates a return to medieval education, to the education described by Capella & Cassiodorus].  For Cassiodorus, the liberal arts were propaideutic to sacred learning.
  • Wilken, Robert Louis Amo, Amas, Amat: Christianity & Culture

Barth, Karl

  • Barth’s Commentary on Romans was rejected by three Swiss publishers; eventually published by a company in Berne, in an edition of 1000; first volume of Church Dogmatics (1932) actually a rewrite of an earlier book called Christian Dogmatics (1927).
  • Charlotte von Kirschbaum was a struggling nursing student in the 1920’s who took an interest in Barth’s writings.  In 1929, Karl, a reasonably married father-of-five who had an affair with Charlotte three years before, invited her to enter his household. There she remained, alongside the rest of the family, including the wife Nelly, until after Karl’s death in 1968. She was his closest collaborator, & as far as we know, she & the rest of the family were at complete ease in their unconventional home.

Bushnell, Horace

Usually associated with his ideas of a nurtured faith & a moral influence theory of the atonement, he attended Yale Law School, passing the bar in 1831. He held two U. S. patents on home heating devices. He charted routes for the railroads & the canals to speed communication links with the frontier settlements. Almost single-handedly brought about construction of the first parks to be set aside in the nation, including NYC’s Central Park.