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Audentia Episcopalis

AUDIENTIA EPISCOPALIS: The name given by the code of Justinian to the bishop’s power of hearing and deciding judicial cases. This power in the early Church was based upon such passages of Scripture as Matt. xviii, 18-16 and I Cor. vi, 1-6. The Didache testifies to the exercise of this power by the presbyters, or by the college of presbyters with the bishop at their head; and the Apostolic Constitutions forbid Christians to go to law, even with the heathen, before a pagan tribunal. Small differences are to be adjusted by the deacons; the more important are to be laid before the bishop sitting in judgment with his clergy every Monday; he is to decide after careful investigation and orderly examination of witnesses, by a procedure following closely that of the secular tribunals. The enforcement of his sentence by the civil power could, of course, only follow when the act took on the form of a stipulation, which could be brought before the courts. But with the public recognition of Christianity, Constantine gave the bishops a real judicial power. The first of his three edicts on this subject is lost, and there have been many controversies about the other two, of 321 and 333. Either party might appeal to the bishop at any stage in the proceedings, and his decision was final, though it required enforcement by the civil tribunals, for even Constantine gave the bishop no imperium. This privilege was abolished by Arcadius for the East (398) and by Honorius for the West (408); the regulations established by Valentinian III in 452 provide that no one shall be forced to appear before the episcopal tribunal, and reduce the power to something more like its original limits. In the form then fixed, it remained in Justinian’s code. The bishops attempted, in virtue of their disciplinary authority over their clergy, to compel the latter to submit even their civil differences to episcopal judgment; this Justinian approved, and extended to suits by laymen against clerics. The representatives of the ecclesiastical tendency in the Frankish kingdom went back to the edicts of Constantine. Thus Florus of Lyons, in his commentary on the constitutions published later by Sirmond, disregarded the facts that these had been reversed by Constantine’s successors, and that in any case the edicts of Roman emperors were no authority for the Frankish kingdom; and Benedictus Levita wrote an introduction to the law of 333 in which he asserted that Charlemagne had proclaimed this as the law of his empire. Regino only quotes one passage from the edict of 333; but later collections down to that of Gratian include the whole of what is given by Benedictus Levita; and Innocent III (1198-1216) relied upon it as the basis of his Denunciatio evangelica (see Jurisdiction, Ecclesiastical). But the later development of systematic ecclesiastical judicature absorbed the function of the bishop as arbiter.

(E. Friedberg.)

Bibliography: B. Schilling, De origine jurisdictionis ecclesiasticæ in causis civilibus, Leipsic, 1825; Jungk, De originibus 361et progressu episcopalis fudicii in causis civilibus laicorum usque ad Justinianum, Berlin, 1832; Turck, De jurisdictionis civilis per medium ævum . . . origine et progressu, Münster, 1832; B. Matthime, Die Enwicklung des römischen Schiedsgerichts, pp. 130 sqq., Rostock, 1888. There is an Eng. transl., with introduction and notes, of the Institutes of Justinian, by T. C. Sanders, London, 1888.

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