Liber Pontificalis

Liber Pontificalis

The "Liber Pontificalis" (Latin for "Book of the Popes") is a book of biographies of popes from Saint Peter until the 15th century. The original publication of the "Liber Pontificalis" stopped with Pope Adrian II (867–872) or Pope Stephen V (885–891), but it was later supplemented in a different style until Pope Eugene IV (1431–1447) and then Pope Pius II (1458–1464).ws|"" in the 1913 "Catholic Encyclopedia"] Although quoted virtually uncritically from the 8th to 18th century, [Loomis, 2006, p. xi.] the "Liber Pontificalis" has undergone intense modern scholarly scrutiny as an "unofficial instrument of pontifical propaganda." Some scholars have even characterized the "Liber Pontificalis," like the works of Pseudo-Isidore and the Donation of Constantine, as a tool used by the medieval papacy to represent itself "as a primitive institution of the church, clothed with absolute and perpetual authority." [Gladstone, William Ewart, and Schaff, Philip. 1875. "The Vatican Decrees in Their Bearing on Civil Allegiance: A Political Expostulation". Harper & Brothers. p. 100.]

The title "Liber Pontificalis" goes back to the 12th century, although it only became current in the 15th century, and the canonical title of the work since the edition of Duchesne in the 19th century; in ancient manuscripts it is referred to as "Liber episcopalis in quo continentur acta beatorum pontificum Urbis Romae", and later the "Gesta" or "Chronica pontificum".Levillain, Philippe. 2002. "The Papacy: An Encyclopedia". Routledge. ISBN 0415922283. p. 941.]


During the Middle Ages, Saint Jerome was considered the author of all the biographies up until those of Pope Damasus (366–383), based on an apocryphal letter between Saint Jerome and Pope Damasus published as a preface to the Medieval manuscripts. The attribution originated with Rabanus Maurus and is repeated by Martin of Opava, who extended the work into the 13th century. Other sources attribute the early work to Hegesippus and Irenaeus, having been continued by Eusebius of Caesarea.In the 16th century, Onofrio Panvinio attributed the biographies after Damasus until Pope Nicholas I (858–867) to Anastasius Bibliothecarius; Anastasius continued to be cited as the author into the 17th century, although this attribution was disputed by the scholarship of Caesar Baronius, Ciampini, Schelstrate and others.The modern interpretation, following that of Louis Duchesne, who compiled the major scholarly edition, is that the "Liber Pontificalis" was gradually and unsystematically compiled, and that the authorship is impossible to determine, with a few exceptions (e.g. the biography of Pope Stephen II (752–757) to papal "Primicerius" Christopher; the biographies of Pope Nicholas I and Pope Adrian II (867–872) to Anastasius). Duchesne and others have viewed the beginning of the "Liber Pontificalis" up until the biographies of Pope Felix III (483–492) as the work of a single author, who was a contemporary of Pope Anastasius II (496-498), relying on "Catalogus Liberianus", which in turns draws from the papal catalogue of Hippolytus of Rome, and the "Leonine Catalogue", which is no longer extant. [Lightfoot, Joseph Barber. 1890. "The Apostolic Fathers: A Revised Text with Introductions, Notes, Dissertations, and Translations". Macmillan. p. 311.] Most scholars believe the "Liber Pontificalis" was first compiled in the 5th or 6th century. [Lightfoot, 1890, p. 65.]

Because of the use of the "vestiarium", the records of the papal treasury, some have hypothesized that the author of the early "Liber Pontificalis" was a clerk of the papal treasury. Edward Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (1788) surmized the scholarly consensus as being that the "Liber Pontificalis" was composed by "apostolic librarians and notaries of the viiith and ixth centuries" with only the most recent portion being composed by Anastasius. [Gibbon, Edward. 1788. "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". Vol V. Chapter XLIX. Note 32.]

Duchesne and others believe that the author of the first addition to the "Liber Pontificalis" was a contemporary of Pope Silverius (536–537), and that the author of another (not necessarily the second) addition was a contemporary of Pope Conon (686–687), with later popes being added individually and during their reigns or shortly after their deaths.


The "Liber Pontificalis" originally only contained the names of the bishops of Rome and the durations of their pontificates.Tuker, Mildred Anna Rosalie, and Malleson, Hope. 1899. "Handbook to Christian and Ecclesiastical Rome". A. and C. Black. pp. 559-560.] As enlarged in the 6th century, each biography consists of: the birth name of the pope and that his father, place of birth, profession before elevation, length of pontificate, historical notes of varying thoroughness, major theological pronouncements and decrees, administrative milestones (including building campaigns, especially of Roman churches), ordinations, date of death, place of burial, and the duration of the ensuing "sede vacante".

Pope Adrian II (867–872) is the last pope for which there are extant manuscripts of the original "Liber Pontificalis": the biographies of Pope John VIII, Pope Marinus I, and Pope Adrian III are missing and the biography of Pope Stephen V (885–891) is incomplete. From Stephen V through the 10th and 11th centuries, the historical notes are extremely abbreviated, usually with only the pope's origin and reign duration.


Only in 12th century was the "Liber Pontificalis" systematically continued, although papal biographies exist in the interim period in other sources.

Petrus Guillermi

Duchesne refers to the 12th century work by Petrus Guillermi in 1142 at the monastery of St. Gilles (Diocese of Reims) as the "Liber Pontificalis of Petrus Guillermi (son of William)". Guillermi's version is mostly copied from other works with small additions or excisions from the papal biographies of Pandulf, nephew of Hugo of Alatri, which in turn was copied almost verbatim from the original "Liber Pontificalis" (with the notable exception of the biography of Pope Leo IX), then from other sources until Pope Honorius II (1124-1130), and with contemporary information from Pope Paschal II (1099–1118 to Pope Urban II (1088–1099).

Duchesne attributes all biographies from Pope Gregory VII to Urban II to Pandulf, while earlier historians like Giesebrecht ["Allgemeine Monatsschrift", Halle, 1852, 260 sqq.] and Watterich [Romanorum Pontificum vitæ, I, LXVIII sqq.] attributed the biographies of Gregory VII, Victor III, and Urban II to Petrus Pisanus, and the subsequent biographies to Pandulf. These biographies until those of Pope Martin II (1281–1285) are extant only as revised by Petrus Guillermi in the manuscripts of the monastery of St. Gilles having been taken from the Chronicle of Martin of Opava.

Early in the 14th century, an unknown author built upon the continuation of Petrus Guillermi, adding the biographies of popes Martin IV (d. 1281) through John XXII (1316-1334), with information taken from the "Chronicon Pontificum" of Bernardus Guidonis, stopping abruptly in 1328.


Independently, the cardinal-nephew of Pope Adrian IV, Cardinal Boso intended to extend the "Liber Pontificalis" from where it left off with Stephen V, although his work was only published posthumously as the "Gesta Romanorum Pontificum" alongside the "Liber Censuum" of Pope Honorius III. Boso drew on Bonizo of Sutri for popes from John XII to Gregory VII, and wrote from his own experiences about the popes from Gelasius II (1118-1119) to Alexander III (1179-1181).

Western Schism

An independent continuation appeared in the reign of Pope Eugene IV (1431-1447), appending biogrpahies from Pope Urban V (1362-1370) to Pope Martin V (1417-1431), encompassing the period of the Western Schism. A later recension of this continuation was expanded under Pope Eugene IV.

15th century

The two collections of papal biographies of the 15th century remain independent, although they may have been intended to be continuations of the "Liber Pontificalis". The first extendsd from popes Benedict XII (1334-1342) to Martin V (1417-1431), or in one manuscript to Eugene IV (1431-1447). The second extends from Pope Urban VI (1378-1389) to Pope Pius II (1458-1464).


The "Liber Pontificalis" is notorious as a "store-house of anachronism and legend," retroactively ascribing elements of papal supremacy or the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff onto the early Bishops of Rome. Louise Loomis calls the "Liber Pontificalis" a "mesh of veritable fact, romantic legend, deliberate fabrication and heedless error" which combines the "intentional manufacture of data for a definite purpose" with the "distortion of other data through prejudice or ignorance." [Loomis, Louise Ropes. 2006. "The Book of the Popes: To the Pontificate of Gregory I, Liber Pontificalis". Arx Publishing, LLC. ISBN 1889758868. pp. x-xi.] The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica notes that the "Liber Pontificalis" "assumes that the bishops of Rome exercised authority over the Christian Church from its earliest days." [ws|"" in the 1911 "Encyclopædia Britannica"] In addition, different editions of the "Liber Pontificalis" give different accounts of the legitimacy of certain popes and antipopes. [Levillain, 20002, p. 1064.]

The entries for the first three centuries are probably most useful to historians as examples of what was known in the 5th century about the early church. From the 4th century forward the compilers are on more secure ground, though there are still obvious discrepancies and mistakes. Textual examination suggests that there were two early versions before the siege of Rome in 546, after which the "Liber Pontificalis" was untouched. From the early 7th century (roughly the time of the pontificate of Honorius I) forward until the pontificate of Adrian II the entries are contemporary, added shortly after the death of each pope, and, although reflecting biases of the authors, are at least reasonably accurate.


The "Liber Pontificalis" was first edited by J. Busæus under the title "Anastasii bibliothecarii Vitæ seu Gesta. Romanorum Pontificum" (Mainz, 1602). A new edition, including the "Historia ecclesiastica" of Anastasius, was edited by Fabrotti (Paris, l647). Another edition, editing the older "Liber Pontificalis" up to Pope Adrian II and adding Pope Stephen VI, was compiled by Fr. Bianchini (4 vols., Rome, 1718-35; a projected fifth volume did not appear). Muratori reprinted Bianchini's edition, adding the remaining popes through John XXII (Scriptores rerum Italicarum, III). Migne also republished Bianchini's edition, adding several appendixes (P. L., CXXVII-VIII).

Modern editions include those of Louis Duchesne ("Liber Pontificalis. Texte, introduction et commentaire", 2 vols., Paris, 1886-92) and Theodor Mommsen ("Gestorum Pontificum Romanorum pars I: Liber Pontificalis", Mon. Germ. hist., Berlin, 1898). Duchesne incorporates the "Annales Romani" (1044–1187) into his edition of the "Liber Pontificalis", which otherwise relies on the two earliest known recissions of the work (530 and 687). Mommsen's edition is incomplete, extending only until 715. Translations and further commentaries appeared throughout the 20th century.


Further reading

*Raymond Davis, "The Book of Pontiffs" (Liber Pontificalis). Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 1989. ISBN 0-85323-216-4 (an English translation for general use, but not including scholarly notes).
**Raymond Davis, "The Book of Pontiffs" (Liber Pontificalis). Second Edition. Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 2000. ISBN 0853235457 Stops with Pope Constantine, 708-715. Contains an extensive and up to date bibliograpy,
**Raymond Davis, "The Lives of the Eighth Century Popes" Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 1992. From 715 to 817.
**Raymond Davis, "The Lives of the Ninth Century Popes" Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 1989. From 817 to 891.
*Louise Ropes Loomis, "The Book of Popes" (Liber Pontificalis). Merchantville, NJ: Evolution Publishing. ISBN 1-889758-86-8 (Reprint of the 1916 edition. Stops with Pope Pelagius, 579-590. English translation with scholarly footnotes, and illustrations).

External links

* [ Full text from The Latin Library] until Pope Felix IV (526–530)
* [ Full Latin text of best reading of different manuscripts]

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