AUDIENTIA EPISCOPALIS

AUDIENTIA EPISCOPALIS I. Ecclesiastical constitutions and secular legislation – II. Canonical sources and ecclesiastical authors. I. Ecclesiastical constitutions and secular legislation. St. Paul, developing the gospel precept Mt 18:15, exhorted Christians to resolve their disputes within the community, using one of themselves as judge 1 Cor 6:1-8. This procedure, inspired by Jewish models, was adopted in Christian communities, and with the gradual institutionalization of the Christian religion the role of arbitrator and reconciler was naturally assumed by the bishop, who had authority and, more often than not, the legal knowledge necessary for this task. The Didache XV and the Apostolic Constitutions II, 5,46.47.49 confirmed the apostle’s proposal, stressing the need for Christians to have recourse to the bishop’s tribunal rather than appealing to civil authorities. This kind of judgment by the religious authorities, though confirmed by the sources, was of course neither regulated nor sanctioned by any imperial law: the audientia episcopalis remained something within the church and responded to purely religious demands. In judging, the bishop based himself on the lex christiana, which complied with a series of disciplinary moral rules that followed from gospel precepts. From the time of the proclamation of religious peace, Constantine officially recognized the audientia episcopalis, affirming the principle in the constitution of 23 June 318 CTh I, 27, 1, which was further specified in the imperial rescript of 333 C. Sirmondiana 1. The emperor thus rendered the college of bishops licitum in every respect, and in particular attributed to the bishop the authority to decide, without limitation, ratione materiae et personae. Whenever one of the two litigants in a private dispute requested recourse to the bishop’s tribunal, the imperial judge was obligated to accept the proposal without hesitation: the provocatio to the bishop had to be accepted even without the other party’s consent; finally, the bishop’s verdict had full force and could not be appealed. Bishops could judge in both civil and penal cases; they could accuse and judge a pagan, a heretic or a schismatic; the civil authority in effect kept only the simple executive function. The imperial power was not slow in reconsidering these privileges, and in 376 the emperors Valens, Gratian and Valentinian signed a constitution CTh XVI, 2, 23 with which they reserved penal cases to secular tribunals and limited the application of the episcopale iudicium only to civil cases. A new intervention 398 by the emperors Arcadius and Honorius introduced the consent of both parties as a necessary prerequisite for moving a case to the bishop’s tribunal CI 1, 4, 7. The following year Honorius, with the specific intention of limiting episcopal power, which as the sources show had increased tremendously Augustine, De opere monachorum XXIX, 37; Ep. XLVIII, 1; Enarratio II in Psalmum XXV, 13; Confessioni VI, 3, 3; Ambrose, Ep. LXXXII; John Chrysostom, De sacerdotio, III, 17, ordered that all cases in matters of faith were to be submitted to the bishop’s judgment, whereas in civil and penal cases, Roman law and the will of the imperial judge had to be respected CTh XVI, 11, 1. With the constitution of Arcadius, Honorius and Theodosius CI I, 4, 8 = CTh 1, 27, 2: year 408, there was a return to a greater autonomy for ecclesiastical tribunals: the legislator conceded the possibility of recourse, in an appeal, to the episcopal tribunal for whoever requested it, confirming the authority of the ecclesiastical cognitor and that his verdict could not be appealed. Emperor Valentinian III introduced a new constitution, recorded as Novella XXXV of 15 April 452, in which he confirmed the need for consent between the parties in order to defer the case to a religious tribunal, whether the litigants were clergy or laity, thus excluding recourse to the privilegium fori. Valentinian’s Novella XXXV was abrogated in 460 by the emperor Majorian with Novella XI. The audientia episcopalis was again considered by jurists under Justinian in the writing of the Corpus Iuris Civilis Codex repetitae praelectionis I, 4: De episcopali audientia et de diversis capitulis. In line with the constitutions of 398 and 408, the possibility of recourse to the bishop’s arbitration based on the agreement of both parties was confirmed; in particular, the question was treated in Novellae LXXXIII and LXXXVI, published in 539: the legislator allowed recourse to the episcopal tribunal for both civil and criminal cases, when the latter regarded crimes in ecclesiastical matters, and when one of the two litigants was not fully satisfied with the judgment of the secular tribunal. Extremely important was Novella CXXIII of 546, in which the Byzantine emperor, respecting the institution of the privilegium fori, esp. in cases where a bishop was a plaintiff or defendant, made episcopal verdicts subject to appeal, offering both clergy and laity the full right to a civil tribunal, either to confirm or enforce the bishop’s decision or to defer the case to a local judge. II. Canonical sources and ecclesiastical authors. The conciliar acts we have Conc. Carthag. III 397, can. IX: Mansi III, 882; Conc. Chalced. IV 451, can. IX: Hfl-Lecl II, 2, 791-797 and the ample written evidence of the fathers of the church allow us to assert that recourse to the institution of the audientia episcopalis was a practice rooted in the life of the various Christian communities, especially in the period following Constantine’s legislation. In some of his works St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, attests how burdensome his judicial tasks were to him, saying that almost all of his time was taken up in settling disputes between believers; he also tried to specify the legitimacy of his legal power, confirmed by the tradition as well as by the imperial provisions that had placed bishops’ verdicts absolutely beyond appeal De opere Monachorum XXIX, 37; Enarratio II in Psalmum XXV, 13; see also Possidius, Vita S. Agostini XIX. An important text that addresses the problem of ecclesiastical tribunals, and that to a certain extent also explains the modus agendi in civil cases, is the letter sent by Ambrose, bishop of Milan, to Marcellus Ambr., Epistolarum Classis II, Ep. LXXXII. We have various evidence concerning Ambrose’s legal activity Ambr., Ep. Classis I; Ep. XXI, 2; Aug., Confessionum Libri VI, 3, 3; Theodoret, Historia Ecclesiastica IV, 6. We also have much evidence from the Eastern church. Basil of Caesarea Regulae fusius tractatae, interrogatio XLIX; Epistolarum Classis III, Epistula CCCVII, Gregory of Nazianzus Oratio XLIII, 34 and John Chrysostom De sacerdotio III, 17 give evidence of repeated involvement in disputes among the faithful. P. De Francisci, Per la storia dell’episcopalis audientia fino alla Novella 35 di Valentiniano, Scritti O. Scavalcanti. Annali della Facolt  di Giurisprudenza di Perugia 30, Rome 1918, 47-75; A. Pugliese, Sant’Agostino giudice. Contributo alla storia dell’episcopalis audientia: Studi dedicati alla memoria di Paolo Ubaldi. Pubblicazioni della Universit  Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, serie 5°, 16 1937 263-299; G. Vismara, Episcopalis audientia. L’attivit  giurisdizionale del vescovo per la risoluzione delle controversie private tra laici nel diritto romano e nella storia del diritto italiano fino al secolo nono, Milan 1937; V. Buek, Episcopalis audientia, eine Friedens- und Schiedsgerichtsbarkeit: ZRG 28 1939 453-492; B. Biondi, Il Diritto Romano Cristiano: Orientamento religioso della legislazione, I, Milan 1952, 374-384, 445-461; W. Selb, Episcopalis audientia von der Zeit Konstantin bis zur Nov. XXXV Valentinians III: ZRG 53 1967 162-217; O. Diliberto, Paolo di Tarso, I ad Cor. VI, 1-8, e le origini della gi urisdizione ecclesiastica nelle cause civili: Studi EconomicoGiuridici 39 1979 183-219; C.G. Mor, I poteri temporali dei vescovi in Italia e in Germania nel Medioevo, Annali dell’Istituto storico italo germanico, Quaderno 3, Bologna 1979; F.J. Cuena Boy, La Episcopalis Audientia, Valladolid 1985; G. Vismara, Ancora sull’episcopalis audientia Ambrogio arbitro o giudice?: Studia et Documenta Historiae et Iuris 53 1987 55-73; C. Gebbia, Sant’Agostino e l’episcopalis audientia, in L’Africa romana. Acts del VI Convegno di Studio Sassari, 16-18 December 1988, Sassari 1989, 683-695; J. Gaudemet, L’‰glise dans l’Empire Romain IVe -Ve si¨cles, in Histoire du Droit et des Istitutions de l’‰glise en Occident, Paris 2 1989, 330- 340; M.R. Cimma, L’episcopalis audientia nelle costituzioni imperiali da Costantino a Giustiniano, Turin 1989; G. Crif², A proposito di episcopalis audientia. Institutions, socit et vie politique dans l’Empire romain au IVe si¨cle ap. J.C., Collection de l’‰cole Fran§aise de Rome 159, Rome 1992, 397-410; G. Vismara, La giurisdizione civile dei vescovi, secoli I-IX, Milan 1995; P. Maym², La episcopalis audientia durante la dinastia teodosiana. Ensayo sobre el poder jur­dico del obispo en la sociedad tardorromana, Congreso Internacional La Hispania de Teodosio, 1, Salamanca 1997, 165-170; Id., La legislaci³ constantiniana respecte a l’episcopalis audientia: Pyrenae 30 1999 191-203; G.L. Falchi, La diffusione della legislazione imperiale ecclesiastica nei secoli IV e V, in Legislazione imperiale e religione nel IV secolo, eds. J. Gaudemet – P. Siniscalco – G.L. Falchi, Rome 2000, 148- 151; O. Huck, A propos de CTh 1,27,1 et Csirm 1. Sur deux textes controverss relatifs   l’Episcopalis audientia constantinienne: ZRG 120 2003 78-105; G. Pilara, Sui tribunali ecclesiastici nel IV e V secolo: StudRom 52, 3-4 2004 353-378.

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