I. Defensor civitatis – II. Defensor ecclesiae

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I. Defensor civitatis or plebis. Had the office of defending his city and its humiliores from oppressors both public and private potentiores: ut innocens et quieta rusticitas peculiaris patrocinii beneficio fruatur CTh 1,29,5. Laws were often not enforced by officials, who profited from their office. In other cases the poorest were oppressed by authorities did not apply laws for their protection CTh 1,29,5; Augustine, Ep. 22,1 Divjak. Sometimes it was the rulers, imperial officials and heads of cities in other words the authorities who burdened the weakest with taxes, exempting the rich.

For this reason there were defensores with the necessary function and authority to enforce laws. The defensor was instituted by Valentinian in 368 for Illyricum as the patronus plebis CTh 1,29,1, the 364 date is incorrect, in some regions recognizing an office already in existence OxP 901 del 336. It was thus a western initiative; during the same period the defensor was also created in other territories where it did not already exist CTh 1,29,4 378; 1,29,3 368, or 370 or 373, sent to the prefect at the praetorium other laws CTh 1,29,5; CI 1,55,3; 1,55,8 21 January 409; CI 1,55,5 del 385. The institution did not spread to all regions immediately; in 401 the bishops of Africa requested a defensor propter afflictionem pauperum can. 75: CCL 149,202. Augustine strongly lamented 420: “the reason is clearly in the fact that there are no ‘defenders’ defensores who in some way protect them from the wickedness of the powerful who trample upon them, and who are capable of making them respect the laws in favor of the poor against those who despise them; ‘defenders’, I repeat, supported by an appropriate social status and elected by their fellow citizens, among whom they enjoy a good reputation, in such a way that they be characterized by honesty and authority.

When these are lacking in cities or in their surrounding territories, in vain do we afflict ourselves over the misfortunes to which we could come in relief ” Ep. 22,2 Divjak. Augustine insisted that the defensor, whether a private person or an official, have sufficient social status dignitas to have the authority to oppose the potentes Ep. 22,2-4 Divjak. Late Antiquity saw frequent changes in the competence and procedure of appointing the defensor civitatis. At first he was appointed by the praetorian prefect, from 387 by the civitas CTh 1, 29,6 and from 409 by the clergy and notables, and he had to be a Catholic CI 1,55,8; there were also later changes. Since his powers were modified more than once, eventually becoming a municipal magistrature, we deduce that the performance of the office proved difficult Cassiodorus, Variae 7,11,2, does not list the clergy for nomination, just the supplicatio civium.

The defensor civitatis disappeared in the West, we do not know when; in the East Justinian attempted to reenergize it 15 November 535, but the institution was linked to municipalities. The expression, however, was also used in a broad sense, for example in the case of a bishop who defended his city against invasion. II. Defensor ecclesiae. Initially a church lawyer designated by the emperor, functioning as legal representative and defender of the interests of the local church defensores scholastici: CCL 149,215. The first evidence is found at Rome: a defensor ecclesiae urbis Romae. Possidius mentions the defensor ecclesiae in 403 Vita Aug. 12,5: PL 32, 43, when the church of Calama must have already had one.

The first imperial mention of the defensor ecclesiae was by Emperor Honorius in 407 CTh 16, 2, 38, who responded a few months later to a specific request of the African bishops of 13 June 407 Reg. Ecc. Carth., can. 97: CCL 149,215. The imperial provision was valid for Africa, where the institution already existed but was not widespread regarding Rome, see Zosimus, Ep. 9,3. A letter of Augustine 20 Divjak mentions that the defensor for Fussala created a diocese in 411–412: being a new diocese perhaps it had need of a legal representative before the civil authorities, who were not protecting the people.

Roman defensores are known mostly from literary sources; inscriptions show that they were also present elsewhere. While at first the defensor ecclesiae was a layman, later he was a cleric who had received the tonsure. The powers and appointment of the defensor ecclesiae also evolved and expanded to the point of his having diplomatic and administrative functions of every kind, helping the bishop in his nonecclesial functions. According to Pope Pelagius II d. 590, the duties of the defensor ecclesiae pertained to the causarum cognitio, conventiones, actus, publica litigia, et quaecumque vel ecclesiastica instituta vel supplicantium necessitas poscit Ep. et dec. 8: PL 72, 745. A Roman defensor could be sent to Constantinople CSEL 25,1, 158f., execute the bishop’s directives or participate in the administration of the church’s goods.


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