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.


Tuesday, 22 September 2015

On the wife of Boso


Hincmar of Rheims: De uxore Bosonis

Edition: MGH Epistolae Karolini Aevi VIII, pp. 81-87, no. 135
Transmission: Paris BnF. lat 2866, fols.120-124v.
Dating: Autumn 860
Trans. by Rachel Stone, with assistance of Charles West

Hincmar, by name not merit bishop of Rheims and servant of the people of God, to the sacred convention.


A certain person put certain matters to blessed Ambrose, for the explanation of which Ambrose invited him the next day to the church, where beginning a sermon, he said: ‘I came to discharge a debt to my creditor’. And now I too provide the solution to the question proposed to me yesterday, when I was not able to reply to the lord Gunther [Archbishop of Cologne], for three reasons.
Namely, that we were again and again advised to draw back (revertendum), and since there were many wise men present in the convention, of whom some were striving to set things out, but others to bring them to an end (absolvere), I, compelled by necessity, was forced by such speed more to confuse words together than to set them out, before another might snatch the sentence from me, from my very lips, so that a mouth could not suffice to utter what convulsed memory could supply.[1]

But also, just as is written: ‘He who strongly presses the udders expresses butter, and he who vehemently milks brings forth blood [Proverbs 30:33]’, I feared lest if I were to respond rashly and hastily I would decide with the mind of the flesh, since my heart, occupied in other things, had left me and the serene light of my little intelligence (intelligenticula) was not in or with me. Therefore I delayed until the hand were perhaps to be stretched forth, according to the prophet, which would nourish me with the volumen of understanding. For as often as it is stretched forth, so often the things that we did not know before are revealed to us by divine grace.

About which matter, let us set out the question of the lord Gunther, and let us provide a solution from the largesse of God’s grace, according to the grasp of our understanding. If, he says, the wife of Boso [Ingiltrude] should come to us and should be publicly confessed, saying
‘I have by my own fault cuckolded (adulteravi) my husband. Therefore, terrified by fear of death, I have fled to you, who are the deputy of God, so that you might both save me for God and free me from mortal death, which threatens me from the part of my husband’:
ought I to impose public penance on her, which she might carry out in my diocese (parrochia), into which she has fled, separated from her husband; or ought I to return her to the same husband, under such a condition that he in no way kills her, but after penance keeps her in marriage? So that if he should kill her, he should know that he will be punished by ecclesiastical condemnation, since it is a crime (nefas) for anyone placed in public penance to be killed by anyone.

We reply. That woman, born, baptized, nourished, grown up, enriched with the inheritance of property, in your diocese or anyone else’s: Boso, born not only in another diocese but in another province, and led through all the steps into full manhood [perfectum virum], staying under the care of another bishop, obtained her according to human and divine law from those to whom she belonged. He betrothed (desponsavit) endowed and honoured with public nuptials that woman and associated her to him in the bond of marriage (coniugii copula) and made her one body and flesh with him, just as is written: ‘There will be two in one flesh; now they are not two but one flesh’; and ‘What God has joined let not man separate [Matthew 19:5-6].’ Except perhaps [separated] forever by consent on account of continence, whereby they are joined all the more, the more spiritually; or separated for a time, so that they may be free for prayers and then return again into the marriage itself, lest they should be tempted by Satan because of incontinence. Or if separated in the case of fornication, let them thus remain as they are, that is unmarried (innupti) and separated, or be mutually reconciled.

In what way can you separate and hold under penance the inferior part of the body of that person, who lies under the providence of another, who cannot even remain continent for prayer without the consent of the superior part? ‘For the woman does not have power of her body, but the man, and the man does not have power of his body but the wife [1 Corinthians 7:4]’. ‘The husband ought to render the debt to the wife and the wife to the husband [1 Corinthians 7:3]’, so that they are not tempted by Satan because of incontinence.
Whichever of them does not do this, unless he sends her away for the sake of God by agreement, makes his equal (par), nay rather his body, commit adultery. If you should impose penance on this woman, who is part of the body of a man of another diocese, without the consent of the rector and the husband, you act against church rules, and as Pope Leo teaches, you will be deprived of the communion of honour.

And again: If you place your hand on this woman through the law of penance, and that member should follow her head – for the man is the head of the woman – into another province under the oversight of another bishop, who will take care of her penance? Who will attend to her tears and confession, which he has not heard, so that she may be reconciled according to the canons? Who will place his hand on her for reconciliation, since the sacred rules decree that no bishop may receive someone placed under the hand of another bishop for reconciliation, nor may receive someone who has been reconciled without the letter or consent of the reconciler? And in what way will you judge part of the body, nay rather, the human being of another bishop and diocese? Nay rather, you will despise penitential judgement. Since it is written what St Gregory in his decrees explained hence: ‘if you should pass over through the harvest of your friend, you will rub the ears of grain with your hands, and you will eat, but do not use your sickle, or reap with your sickle’. That is, [you may] hurry to draw people of another diocese into the body of Christ which is the Church by example of preaching and deeds – however, in such a way that you do not despise your simpler (simplicior) brother, lest you fall into ruin and a noose, that is vainglory of the devil –, but do not permit using either the sickle of judgement or reaping with the sickle of judgement, that is to cut into or cut off [from the body of Christ].

Just as Boso himself says, he raises no reproach [crimen] against the same woman who is his flesh, but for the sake of the order of the apostolic lord [the Pope], he is prepared to forgive this hardly small negligence: that she removed himself from his service, and as much as she could made him to commit adultery; and sending him away against authority and justice and delaying in other kingdoms for around three years, she is so contumacious towards his mandate, so that  compelled for such a long time nor would she return to him. So, it remains that the king in whose realm she dwells, according to the chirograph of our kings, should have her brought to the presence of her husband. And you, O bishop in whose diocese she delays, since this is not for the king, just as St Gregory orders about these who flee to the church; if necessity demands, you should ask and demand security from her husband about preserving equity to her, and after this let a missus of the state [respublica] restore the wife lapsed in flight back to the husband.

If this man [Boso] should break his oath and should be disobedient to the apostolic warning, then let the bishop to whose care he pertains stretch forth canonical judgement in him.
But if the woman who has confessed adultery or been legally convicted of it escapes uninjured, the same bishop should subject her to penance by ecclesiastical law, as is recognised by secular law to be sensible and customary, so that evils which are perpetrated may be amended in those places in which they were legally proved to have been perpetrated. Apart from this, nothing seems to me to be done: either we carry out the admonitions of the apostolic lord or we shall incur judgement.

But about the oath [sacramentum] that you might demand for impunity of life and limb, if thus the quality of deed should demand it, at the expense of the law (legali privatione), because she fled as if to clerical piety, since she demanded your help, that is episcopal help. You ought to ponder subtly what St Gregory decreed to be sought also for those who flee to the holy shrine, namely the preservation of equity, lest you should be seen or be said to want to confound and destroy the status and order and vigour not only of the church but also of the whole world, and to hinder the apostolic doctrines and of apostolic men. They not only observed the law as promulgated by Christian kings and commanded them to be observed, but also demanded them to be promulgated, just as is to be found many times in the canons of Carthage and the African council and of other councils, and the decrees of the apostolic seat. Whence also St Gregory based admonitions to John the Defensor and also to others entirely on legal edicts, and St Gelasius wrote to the emperor Anastasius:
‘For if’, he said, ‘the bishops of religion themselves obey your laws, as much as it pertains to the order of public discipline, knowing that rule (imperium) is conferred on you by heavenly disposition, nor also in secular matters are they seen to resist the sentence of exclusion (exclusae sententiae), then I plead that it befits you by that affection and it is fitting to obey them, who are assigned with  the requesting of venerable mysteries.

And St Leo writing to Bishop  Turibius of Astinas says:
‘By merit, our fathers in whose times this impiety of heresy [Priscillianism] broke out, instantly acted through the whole world, so that the impious madness should be driven from the universal church; then also the princes of the world thus detested this sacrilegious madness, so that they overthrew its author with very many disciples by the sword of public laws. For they saw every care of honesty would have been snatched away, every bond of marriage would have been dissolved and both divine and human law would have been subverted, if it had been allowed to people of this kind ever to live with such a declaration. That severity long benefited the ecclesiastical mildness, which, even if it flees cruel punishments, content with priestly judgement, yet is helped by the severe constitutions of Christian princes, as those who fear corporal judgement sometimes run back to spiritual remedy. But because a hostile invasion occupied many provinces and the tempests of war shut off the execution of laws, and because travel among the priests of God began to be difficult and conventions became rare, secret treachery found liberty on account of public perturbation, and it has been roused by these evils to the subversion of many minds, by whom it ought to be corrected’.

Read Book 16 of the Roman law, read the decree of Damasus, hurry through the letters of Leo
and of the other popes sent to the emperors from diverse councils, read over the edicts of the emperors promulgated about heretics at the request of the popes, study the capitularies of our Caesars. You will find how much the severity of law has profited and does profit not only ecclesiastical mildness, but also the peace to be hoped for and the tranquillity to be cultivated of all Christianity. For wisdom, that is Christ the virtue of God, and the wisdom of God, said: ‘Through me kings reign and the compilers of laws discern just things [Proverbs 8:15]’ and the Apostle: ‘Indeed the law is holy and the mandate holy and just and good [Romans 7:12]’. Whence Ambrose: ‘The gospel word witnesses that the mandate is understood to be the law; for it says: “If you should want to come to life, keep the mandates [Matthew 19:17]”. And the same Apostle: “The law is placed because of transgressions [Galatians 3:19]” and “The law is not laid down for the just, but for the unjust and the unsubdued, the impious and sinners, evil-doers, contaminated, patricides and matricides, homicides, fornicators, sleepers with males, kidnappers, and liars, and if anything else is opposed to sound doctrine” [1 Timothy 1:9-10]’. And again: ‘For those who rule are not to be feared by those working good, but evil [Romans 13:3]’. Whence Ambrose: ‘He calls these kings princes who are created for the sake of correcting life and prohibiting adverse things, having the image of God, so that the remainder may be under one’. And again the same Apostle: ‘But do you want not to fear power? Do good and you will have praise from it [Romans 13:3]’. Hence the same doctor:
‘Praise also then rises from power, when someone is found innocent. “For he is a minister of God to you in good things [Romans 13:4]”. It is therefore clear that rectores are given lest evil happen. “But if you should do evil, be afraid. For he does not bear the sword without reason [Romans 13:4]”. That is therefore that he threatens that if should be defied, he will avenge. “For he is a minister of God, a judge in wrath of him who does evilly [Romans 13:4]”. Since God established the judgement to come and wants no-one to perish, he ordained rectores in the world, so that by means of terror, they should be to men like teachers [paedegogi], educating them about what they should keep, lest they should fall into the penalty of the judgement to come. “Therefore be subject not only because of anger,” that is present revenge, “but also because of conscience [Romans 13:5].” Rightly he says the subjected ought to be not so only because of anger, that is present revenge – for He prepares punishment  – but because of the judgement to come, since,  if they should escape here, their punishment awaits them, where they will by punished, with conscience itself as an accuser’.

And St Cyprian in the ninth grade of abuse says ‘that it behoves a king not to be iniquitous but to be a corrector of the iniquitous.’ And again there among other things: ‘he ought to curb thefts, punish adulteries, drive the impious from the earth, not allow parricides and perjurers to live, not allow his sons to act impiously.’ And blessed John Chrysostom in homily 16 of the Gospel of Matthew says:
‘“Hear, said the Lord, that it was said in former times, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. [Matthew 5:38]” He did not hallow that law so we might scratch out each others’ eyes, but so that by the dread which we fear to suffer it from another, we ourselves might also avoid permitting anything of that kind, so that also he who should not want to desist from cruelty by goodness of will itself, at least would be forced by fear to spare the eyes of their neighbours. But if that is said to be cruel, then to coerce homicide and adultery would also be said cruel. But those words are those of the senseless, and of those crazy with the greatest madness. For I fear to say these things are cruel, so that I might thoroughly teach iniquitous things contrary to this, as general reason certainly also perceives.

For you say that since he ordered an eye to be taken for an an eye, it is therefore cruel; but I reply that unless he had ordered it, then truly very many would have been such as  you wrongly complain that he is (qualem tu eum falso esse conqueriris). And finally, let us imagine in speech that all law has been dissolved, nor does anyone dread punishment for deeds of this kind, but it is wholly allowed to all evil people
, and to adulterers and homicides and thieves and perjurers and parricides to use their customs. Would not under this license a single confusion of iniquity entangle all equally? Would not cities, fora, homes, seas and all the world have been utterly filled with a thousand crimes and slaughters? For if even with dominating laws, vigorous threats and terror, scarcely are the wills of evil restrained, then if even this defence had been absent, by what reason could evil have been checked? Or what pestilence would not erupt in the life of people? Not yet is only that cruel, namely to permit the evil to do what they might want, but also there is another cruelty certainly nothing less than this, that is to neglect and despise the injured person and undeservedly afflicted person.

Tell me, if someone collecting wild and perpetually malign men together had armed them with swords, and had ordered them to go round the whole city and to strike down anyone they met, what could be more savage than this? But if indeed another were to bind and violently constrain those who had been armed by the first, and free from their iniquitous hands those who were to be killed, what in that region would be found more humane? Transfer this example therefore also to the law. For that which orders an eye to be taken for an eye, giving sinners a fear as of executioners, is found similar to him who I said hinders those armed people. But he who decreed no penalty at all to those who harm, let him seem to you to have armed iniquity and to have imitated him who instructed those evil men with swords and hence sent death upon the whole city. Do you not see how these precepts are not only of no cruelty, but indeed of the greatest piety?’
And in the letters of blessed Gregory, he who should want to read will very often be able to find him punishing malefactors and the iniquitous with an appropriate revenge.

Whence, dearest brother, consider that to act or protest against this is not only to confound the laws of piety, but is also to bring in troubles for priestly innocence and the criticism of purity, and to impose the blasphemies of derogation. Evil-sayers will say: ‘Paul said “Not only those who do, but also those who consent to those doing are worthy of death [Romans 1:32]”, he [Gunther] did not permit the iniquitous to be coerced’. Whence also the Lord through the psalmist, says to one such as this priest: ‘Why do you explain in detail my justice, and take up my witness through your mouth? In truth you hated discipline, you used to run with the thief and you placed your portion with adulterers [Psalm 50:16-18] ’. For one does not cherish evil men if one loves good, but loving the person and hating the sin which is his, let him act, and let him not oppose what is decreed by God, through the authors of the law, discerning justly.

And iniquitous women and perverse men will say: ‘Let us do what we want, and we shall go to church or the bishop and we shall be unpunished’. As a result, our ministry (ministerium) will be blameworthy and we will be contemptible, that is despising legal justice set down  by God for the unjust, since every individual  just law does not have a fault (crimen), lest it be unjust, and yet it punishes the guilty man  (criminosus), so that it may truly be just. And from the region, some will cry out: ‘Scripture says: “Do not be over-righteous [Ecclesiastes 7:16]”; “Blessed also are the merciful [Matthew 5:7]” and “The judgement will be without mercy of him who does not act with mercy [James 2:13]” and “Mercy overreaches judgement [James 2:13]”, and the Lord to the adulteress: “Nor do I condemn you. Go and sin no more [John 8:11].” And you O priest, to whom ought you to show mercy except to the wretched, and you close the the bowels of compassion for him by not showing compassion, are you free from punishment in this? Cautiously and discretely aware of this relaxation (derogatio) of each part in respect of those serving the sacred mysteries, blessed Gregory wrote to the former consul Leontius, warning:
‘Your Glory ought to remember that you have never received my letters for the commendation of someone, unless so that you may offer your protection, as justice favours. For it is shameful to defend what one has not first established to be just. I indeed love people because of justice, but I do not disregard justice because of people’.
And to the defensor of Rome: <87>
‘You ought to provide ecclesiastical protection, whether you have received my letter, or even if they have not been sent, under such moderation, so that if someone is implicated in public thefts, they should not seem unjustly defended by us, lest we should transfer into ourselves in any way the opinion of those doing bad things, by daring an indiscrete defence. But as much as it behoves the church, help those you are able by admonishing and by applying the word of intercession, so that you may both offer aid to them and not pollute the opinion of the holy church.’
But also about these who would flee to the thresholds of churches, and also to the temples of sanctuary themselves, he wrote to Bishop John of the city of Cagliari:
‘if there is a question about those who perhaps take refuge in churches, the case ought to be so disposed so that neither they themselves suffer violence, nor those who are said to be oppressed may suffer condemnation. Therefore let it be your care that those who are involved e promise by oath to them about preserving law and justice, and let them be admonished through all things to leave and render account for their actions.’

This, lords and brothers, I have placed for your wisdom, on the request of the above written venerable co-bishop in your hearing. If it should not seem sufficient to him for his question, he will be able to read in the pages of the saints, and to find more widely from our mediocrity in the 22nd and 28th solutions to the questions which I was asked by others.[2]

Since indeed I made reference above of the chirograph of our kings, I have taken care to add what was constituted by these there:[3]
‘And since the peace and tranquillity of the kingdom is accustomed to be disturbed through wandering men (vagi homines) who by tyrannical custom lack reverence, we wish that when one of these comes to whichever one of us so that he can evade reason and justice for what he has done, none of us will receive him or keep him, unless he is led to right reason and the emendation due. And if he evades right reason, let everyone together in whose kingdom he has come pursue him, until he is led to reason, or is destroyed (deletur) from the kingdom.

It should be done similarily to someone who has been corrected or excommunicated for some capital and public crime by any bishop, or who commits a crime and changes kingdom and king’s government (regimen) before excommunication to avoid receiving the penance that is due, or carrying out what has been legitimately received; and meanwhile in his flight even brings with him his incestuous relative (incesta propinqua), or nun, or abductee (rapta) or adulteress, whom it is not licit for him to have. Let such a person be carefully investigated, after the bishop to those care he pertains has let us know, lest he find any place for delaying or hiding in the kingdom of any one of us, and infect our faithful followers and those of God with his disease. But let him be compelled by us or by the ministri of the state [res publica], and together with his diabolical plunder (praeda) whom he brought with him, let him return to his bishops and accept the due penance for whatever public crime, or be compelled to carry out the penance he has legitimately received.’




[1] Hincmar puts this sentence in the present tense, presumably for rhetorical effect.
[2] This is probably a reference to Hincmar’s De divortio.
[3] Capitulary of Meersen, 851.

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