Collectio canonum quadripartita
Folio 3v from the Stuttgart manuscript, showing the beginning of Book 1 of the Quadripartita
Also known asQuadripartitus
Languagemedieval Latin
Dateca. 850
First printed editionno complete edition
Genrecanon law collection
Subjectpenance, church discipline
SourcesCollectiones Dacheriana and Remensis; Halitgar's penitential

The Collectio canonum quadripartita (also known as the Collectio Vaticana or, more commonly, the Quadripartita) is an early medieval canon law collection, written around the year 850 in the ecclesiastical province of Reims. It consists of four books (hence its modern name 'quadripartita', or 'four-parted'). The Quadripartita is an episcopal manual of canon and penitential law. It was a popular source for knowledge of penitential and canon law in France, England and Italy in the ninth and tenth centuries, notably influencing Regino's enormously important Libri duo de synodalibus causis ('Two books concerning diocesan affairs'). Even well into the thirteenth century the Quadripartita was being copied by scribes and quoted by canonists who were compiling their own collections of canon law.

This work should not be confused with the early twelfth-century Latin translation of Old English law known as the Quadripartitus.


The complementary acts of confession and penance, originally highly ritualized acts undertaken only once in a lifetime and in public fora, developed in the early Middle Ages into a disciplinary system known as private (or 'secret') penance, in which the faithful were encouraged to confess their sins regularly and in secret to a priest or confessor, who then enjoined an appropriate period of punishment. Through the Middle Ages the private penitential system became an increasingly elaborate and ritualized institution. In its earliest form, however―that is, as it was practiced from around the sixth to eighth centuries―this system was dependent upon the transmission of basic lists of sins (often sexual in nature, though also dietary, criminal and profane) and their corresponding punishments. These short lists of sins made up a genre of texts known as the 'penitential handbook' (or just 'penitential'). Penitentials were first employed as disciplinary tools by Irish and British monks living in cloistered, highly ascetical religious communities, but soon spread to England and France, where they developed into varied and grander forms. By the eighth century, penitentials had adopted a focus on lay sins; they were now commonly used by secular priests in their task of hearing confession from lay parishioners, and by bishops as tools for moral instruction. Their popularity was rivalled only by their variety; as the number of manuals in circulation grew, so did the discrepancies between them. This gave rise during the early ninth century to a backlash against the diversity of penitentials and the diversity of disciplinary and theological 'errors' which they propagated. A number of Frankish councils demanded that the laws of the older penitentials be brought into line with the accepted canonical norms of the church, as reflected in the more conservative collectiones canonum (canon law collections) being compiled at the time. Partly as a result of such efforts towards standardization, the older penitentials eventually fell out of use and were replaced by the large collections of penitential and canon law which dominated in France and Italy in the tenth and eleventh centuries.

During the Carolingian period there evolved two different yet overlapping contexts in which the penitentials were used. The first of these was the pastoral context of confession between priest and parishioner. The second was an administrative and/or academic context, in which books of penitential law typically served bishops in their roles as administrators of local dioceses, adjudicators at judicial synods and students of moral philosophy and canon law. Naturally, the penitential required by a bishop was very different from that required by the confessor-priest, and it is largely within this episcopal context that the penitentials evolved from mere manuals into vast collections of penitential, disciplinary and administrative law. By the ninth century, chapters from penitential manuals had entered many of the influential canon law collections then being copied and compiled on the Continent. Since at least the fifth and sixth centuries, canon law collections could boast of being repositories of the ancient and authoritative conciliar and papal judgements of the Christian church. As such, these collections had at first stood in stark contrast to the early penitentials, whose lists of sins and corresponding penances was neither ancient nor authoritative. In time, however, the genres of collectio and penitential blended together. As canon law collections succumbed to revision and abandoned (or at least complicated) their claims to antique authority by including newer and less authoritative laws, it became more common for them to include penitential canons. The collections began to look more like penitentials, even as penitentials everywhere were beginning to take on characteristics (size, systematization, papal and conciliar laws) of the more 'formal' collectiones. Problems of textual stability and genre were further exacerbated by the fact that no one code or collection of canon law claimed status as the recognized standard. It was in this context of fluctuating generic and textual boundaries in France that the Quadripartita developed.


The first book treats the life, preaching, judgement and duty of priests; the second and third books discuss at length the purpose and use of private confession and penance, as well as the nature of sin; the fourth book contains nearly 400 short chapters drawn from conciliar, papal, patristic, penitential, and monastic sources, concerning all manner of disciplinary issues. Books 3 and 4 are significantly longer than books 1 and 2. Scholars have divided the Quadripartita into a number of component parts, including a dedicatory letter ('DL'), a brief list of authorities used ('Auctoritätenkataog', or 'AK'), a list or register of titles for each book ('R1, 'R2', 'R3', 'R4'), a general preface ('GP'), prefaces for books 2–4 ('P2–4'), the text or canons of the four books ('T1–4') and an Epilogue ('Ep').


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Manuscripts and transmission

There are nine extant manuscripts which contain the Quadripartita, dating from as early as the ninth century to as late as the twelfth, ranging geographically from Italy to England. The sigla given below (Z, M, etc.) are those introduced by Michael Elliot.[1]

Siglum Manuscript Contents
Z Antwerp, Museum Plantin-Moretus, M 82 (66), folios 52–100 (written first half of twelfth century in northeast France) Quadripartita (P4, T4 – Ep); decretals; Capitula Antwerpiensia; canonical excerpts
M Monte Cassino, Archivio dell’Abbazia, Cod. 541 (previously 552) (written beginning of eleventh century in southern Italy) Cresconius, Concordia; theological material (creeds, etc.); epistles/decretals; Collectio Dionysiana (an abbreviation); Collectio Dacheriana (B); Quadripartita (P4, R4, T4 – Ep); chapters on baptism
U Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 718 (written second half of tenth century, in either Sherborne, Canterbury or Exeter) Paenitentiale Ecgberhti (with Ghaerbald's Capitula episcoporum I interpolated); confessional ordines; Quadripartita (R2, T2 – P3, R3, T3 – P4, R4, T4 – Ep); three conciliar canons; Collectio Hibernensis (excerpts)
S Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, MS HB VII 62 (written near end of ninth century in Lake Constance region) Quadripartita (DL, AK – GP, R1, T1 – P2, R2, T2 – P3, R3, T3 – P4, R4, T4 – Ep); several patristic excerpts
T Trier, Stadtbibliothek, MS 1084/115, folios 103r–128v[permanent dead link] (written eleventh century probably in the province of Trier) Quadripartita (DL, AK – GP, R1, T1 – P2, R2, T2 – P3, R3, T3 [chapters 1–10 only])
X Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 1347 (written between ca 850 and 875 at/near Reims) Cresconius, Concordia (fragmentary); theological material (creeds, etc.); epistles/decretals; Collectio Dacheriana (B); Quadripartita (P4, R4, T4 – Ep)
Y Vatican city, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 1352 (written second half of eleventh century in Italy) Quadripartita (DL – GP, R1, T1 – P2, R2, T2 – P3, R3, T3 – P4, R4, Burchard, Decretum (excerpts), T4 – Ep); Burchard, Decretum (excerpts)
V Vendôme, Bibliothèque Municipale, 55 (s. xi, Vendôme) Quadripartita (DL, AK – GP, R1, T1 – P2, R2, T2 – R4, T4 – Ep); Ghaerbald, Capitula episcoporum I; Collectio canonum 53 titulorum
W Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, lat. 1286 (written first half of twelfth century in Austria) Quadripartita (DL, AK – GP, R1, T1 – P2, R2, T2 – P3, R3, T3 – P4, R4, T4 – Ep)

The table above shows how the Quadripartita often circulated in incomplete form, no doubt as a result of the kinds of textual trauma and experimentation which anonymous collections typically experienced at the hands of medieval canonists. Of the nine manuscripts extant today which contain the Quadripartita six contain the collection without its full complement of four books. One can see from the manuscript evidence that some copies circulated without Book 1 (O), some without Book 3 (Vd), and some without Book 4 (Tr). More often than not, however, the entire four-book collection seems to have been transmitted intact (St, V11, W). Some copies transmitted only Book 4 (An), which could sometimes be found tacked onto the end of the Collectio Dacheriana (Mc, V10). This complex textual transmission, as well as the collection's wide distribution throughout France, Germany, Italy and England between the ninth and twelfth centuries, are indicative of the versatility of the Quadripartita and its popularity as a manual of penitential and canon law in the early Middle Ages.


The Quadripartita is now understood to be an anonymous work. However, since the seventh century the Quadripartita has been attributed variously to Hrabanus Maurus, Ecgberht of York and Halitgar of Cambrai (only in O is the Quadripartita directly associated with the works of a named author, Ecgberht).


The variety of forms in which the Quadripartita circulated, and the variety of texts and contexts with which it is associated in the extant manuscripts, speak to a lively, if uneven and unauthorized reception. Beyond what can be gleaned directly from the surviving manuscript evidence, however, it is now known that the Quadripartita influenced significantly at least nine, and perhaps as many as ten, canon law collections composed between the ninth and the thirteenth centuries, particularly in northeast France and the region around Trier.[2] These are:


The Quadripartita has never been edited critically, nor has it been printed in full. However, since the seventeenth century, a number of partial editions have appeared. To date, only books 3 and 4 have been printed in full:[13]

In addition, the dedicatory letter, prefaces of all four books and the epilogue have been printed various times:


  1. ^ "ASCL | Collectio quadripartita".
  2. ^ Kerff, Quadripartitus, 69–76.
  3. ^ Kéry, Collections, 178–79.
  4. ^ Kéry, Collections, 128–33
  5. ^ Cross-Hamer, eds, Wulfstan's canon law collection.
  6. ^ Kéry, Collections, 203–04; Fowler-Magerl, Clavis canonum, 104–10.
  7. ^ Kéry, Collections, 281–82; M. Brett, 'Martin, Urban II and the collections attributed to Ivo of Chartres', Proceedings of the eighth International congress of medieval canon law: San Diego, University of California at La Jolla, 21–27 August 1988, ed. S. Chodorow, Monumenta iuris canonici, subsidia 9 (Vatican, 1992), 27–46, at 39–41).
  8. ^ Kéry, Collections, 244–50.
  9. ^ Kéry, Collections, 279; M. Brett, 'Martin, Urban II and the collections attributed to Ivo of Chartres', Proceedings of the Eighth international congress of medieval canon law: San Diego, University of California at La Jolla, 21–27 August 1988, ed. S. Chodorow, Monumenta iuris canonici, subsidia 9 (Vatican, 1992), 27–46, at 44 n. 56.
  10. ^ Kéry, Collections, 187; G. Schmitz, ed., Die Kapitulariensammlung des Ansegis, MGH capit. n.s. (Hanover, 1996), 360–62.
  11. ^ Kerff, Quadripartitus, 75–6.
  12. ^ Kéry, Collections, 157–60; R. E. Reynolds, 'The south-Italian Collection in five books and its derivatives: the Collection of Vallicelliana Tome XXI', Proceedings of the Eighth international congress of medieval canon law: San Diego, University of California at La Jolla, 21–27 August 1988, ed. S. Chodorow, Monumenta iuris canonici, subsidia 9 (Vatican, 1992), 77–91; M. Fornasari, ed., Collectio canonum in V libris, CCCM 6 (Turnhout, 1970), edition of books 1–3 only. The question of the influence of the Quadripartita on this collection depends on some hitherto unnoticed parallels between the two, including (but not necessarily restricted to) Quadripartita 4.207–08 and 304, which may be sources for Collection 5 librorum 2.184–85 and 182, respectively.
  13. ^ Kerff, Der Quadripartitus, 35–8.