Thursday, February 22, 2024

Historical Atlas of the Episcopal Sees of Central and Eastern Europe up to 787: From Evidence on the Field to Literary Utopia


Within the Catholic and Orthodox hierarchies, there exists the concept of a titular bishop (a person ordained as a bishop, but with no effective territorial jurisdiction) [2]. According to the main studies on the question, this custom originates from an ancient canonical tradition, according to which a cleric should necessarily be attached to a Church, in the context of the abandonment of certain sees following the Muslim conquest of the Middle East, North Africa and Spain, between the years 630 and 720 [3]. The main argument for the effective invention of this titular function must be sought in the migrations/“invasions” of peoples who did not, a priori, have any particular interest in maintaining Christian institutions and structures as established by the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, could the phenomenon not have its origins earlier, possibly in Central and Eastern Europe, a region which was impacted more than any other in the Later Roman world by these population movements, at least from the 430s, with the capture of the Pannoniae by the Huns?

This is a position indirectly defended currently by several of the Churches in the region, who base their current hierarchy on an ancient order which they assert never disappeared. When reading the official lists issued by the different Churches, the lists of titular bishops are effectively inscribed in an immutable order, the founding of an episcopal see making it, in a way, eternal [4]. However, the historical reality is somewhat different. Indeed, Antiquity does not seem to have known the concept of an episcopal dignity without a geographical jurisdiction. This particularity of the period can be observed in particular through the phenomenon of translationes, viz. the transfer of the office of a bishop from one place to another, the initial place then no longer being considered as a jurisdiction of that bishop. These “translations”, as they are called in English, were formally prohibited at first to avoid movements out of pure ambition (these remained an object of condemnation). Later, however, they were regulated by the imperial authorities, as a consequence of the evolution of the situation of the Empire between the 4th and 6th centuries [5]...

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