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Ausias March and the 'Baena' debate on predestination.

Like a number of the poems of Ausias March, the relatively long piece known as the cant espiritual cannot easily be related to the main genres of fifteenth-century verse.(1) It is usual to refer to it as a prayer both because its declared addressee is God and because it contains at least some traditional elements of the liturgical prayer and of its literary versions: a confession of sins, pleas for their remission, praise of God, and some aspects of a Credo. Surprisingly, however, it is a prayer in which a number of the great issues of mediaeval man's relationship with God are brought into play: predestination, grace, justification, divine omniscience, and free will. Stranger still, March addresses these matters not through the medium of objective discourse, but as urgent personal problems.

In spite of the theological orientation of the poem, work on the cant espiritual has tended to be concerned with its literary aspects: structure, language and imagery, or its relationship to earlier Catalan verse.(2) This is perhaps to be expected since the theology of the poem is a vast subject and deserves a book-length study.(3) In the present article, I hope to shed at least some preliminary light on the nature of the theological problems with which March was grappling by referring them to a near-contemporary debate in prose and verse on the same topics.

March poses three major questions about the fate of his soul: How can he come to have the necessary love for God? Is it preferable that he should continue to have or that he should die? Can he be saved? His attitudes towards an three problems shift markedly in the course of the poem.

In the first eighty lines March starts to define his doubts about the operation of grace in his life. A sense of fear predominates here, to the extent that in the last of these stanzas he begs God to take his life before he can sin further. In lines 81-104, he analyses this fear. Perhaps, in fact, he does not fear sufficiently? Or is it that man is simply not equipped with sufficient imagination to appreciate fully the terror of hell, just as he cannot fully conceive of heaven? He insists that he now attaches no blame to God for this, although he has done so in the past. By line 103, he both wants to die before he can sin further and dreads what awaits him after death.

The next line announces an abrupt change of mood: |e ja en mi alterat es l'arbitre' (|But now my will has changed).(4)

The change lies in the attitude to death that dominates the next five stanzas (lines 105-44). He no longer feels that it is preferable to die, and he wants to go on living so as to have the chance to draw nearer to God. Indeed, after writing four stanzas of teleological dogma on God as the only true end, and on the falseness of earthly goals (lines 105-36), he is able to address God with hope:

O Senyor Deu!, fes que la vida allargue,

puis me apar que envers tu io m'acoste. (143-4)

Oh Lord God, let fife continue, for I feel that I am drawing close to you!

But in the very next lines, when he remembers his sins, fear again becomes the dominant mood for another six stanzas: he sees his own carnal desires as virtually insuperable without the help he seeks from God (145-92) Then comes another sudden change of mood (193-208) as March expresses forcefully the doubts about divine justice that had briefly come to the surface on two previous occasions (33-4 and 93-4). Now he affirms that he would prefer never to have been born. But in the final two stanzas, March confesses his sins against God, and pleads once more to be given the ability to love him.

This lurching from one viewpoint of mood to another is not what we would usually expect in a fifteenth-century poem. There is a striking absence of the discursive links between one set of attitudes and the next that we find in poems written in accordance with standard rhetorical notions of structure. In consequence, the cant espiritual appears disjointed, so much so that it has been suggested that it is in fact not one poem but two or three that have been strung together in the course of scribal transmission.(5)

It is certainly true that the manuscript tradition is complex. The older manuscripts (late fifteenth/early sixteenth centuries) contain only the first 160 of the 2.24 lines provided by some of the later sources. Of the final six stanzas in the longer version, three appear in more than one order, while the last stanza is found only in one problematic manuscript dated 1541, that is, prior to the publication of the longer version in the Barcelona edition of 1543.(6) However, there is no compelling evidence that the poem ever existed in a discursive, rhetorical form. Its irregular shape is, as I have argued elsewhere, the result of a deliberate effort to turn literary prayer into dramatic monologue.(7) It is essential to the poem's impressive verisimilitude that changes in mood or viewpoint are not regularly signalled or explained. Nearly all the rhetorical signposts are removed, and the whole composition is cast in the continuous present. Instead of writing post factum, March describes his spiritual crisis as if it were happening in the very act of composition.

March could have written the poem at any time between the 1420s and 1459, the year of his death: spiritual crises are not the prerogative of old men, and there are no solid grounds for the common assumption that the cant espiritual belongs to his later years. The religious fervour in the peninsular cities of the Crown of Aragon documented during the entire period in which March lived would have been conducive to the self-examination he describes. Valencia, in particular, had a strong religious and moral tradition.(8) Queen Maria of Castille, regent for some of this period, did much to encourage piety among the subjects of her absent husband and intervened personally in the control of morals. She resided in Valencia in 1435 and part of 1436, as well as 1457-8. It is recorded that when she returned to the city for the last time, many of those who lived on immoral earnings fled in terror at her approach.(9) She was particularly supportive of the reformed Franciscans, describing herself as |filla de sant Francesch', and was deeply influenced in her early years by the order's envoy, fra Mateo di Agrigento, who preached against venality and luxury in Valencia in 1426 and 1427.(10) Clearly the queen, like the populace, believed fra Mateo to be endowed with the healing powers of the first apostles. In a letter of 1427 she reports that fra Mateo |has performed great miracles, for he has restored sight to the blind and speech to the dumb and has cured the insane, and many other miracles'.(11)

The spiritual excitement that events like Agrigento's visits must have caused seems to have persisted in March's city in several other ways, as Jordi Rubio explains: |en Valencia sobretodo, se dio un clima propicio a las exaltaciones asceticas, fomentadas tal vez por las cartujas y por los beguinajes'.(12) March could hardly have been untouched by all this. In such in atmosphere, theological questions can take on great urgency. It is far less likely that he would have written the cant espiritual had he been more closely attached to Alfonso's Neapolitan court, where the treatment of religious matters in poetry tended to be on a more intellectual plane.(13)

It is easier to account for the poem as one individual's response to the pressures of this sort of collective piety than to seek to explain it in terms of any particular philosophical system. The vast efforts of the great March scholar Amidee Pages failed to prove that the Summa Theologica was, as he claimed, the |livre de chevet' of Ausias. His contention that the cant espiritual is |le testament poetique d'un disciple de Saint Thomas' is unsupported even by Pages's own work.(14) Similarly, the case for March as a Lullist, in spite of the books by Llull he and his father are known to have possessed, his yet to be convincingly made.(15)

There is evidence that March kept more than one bedside book. Brunetto Latini seems a particularly important source of some of his poems, and he assuredly had access to the score of devotional works in his father's library.(16) For the time being we have to settle for the working hypothesis that March's thought was eclectic, necessarily based in the books he was able to obtain, in the sermons he heard, in the conversations he had, in the ideas current at the time. That is, it is the sort of broadly based scholastic view of the world that an educated Spaniard might be expected to have.

Part of this world-view consisted of common notions about predestination. If one reads the cant espiritual in a theological vacuum, it is easy to overlook the fact that predestination is the central issue at stake amidst die welter of problems that March raises, especially as he mentions predestination by name only once (149-51).

Predestination was one of the most vital issues of mediaeval theology, since it raised the question of whether the nature of God in itself could preclude the chance of salvation for certain men. Paul clearly taught (Romans viii and ix; Ephesians i) that all men were predestined by the divine will. Yet according to the Gospels and other Epistles (e.g., I Timothy ii-4; Galatians ii.20) those who freely choose to love God and to perform good works are assured of salvation. On the one hand the divine will appeared to restrict grace (|I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy', Romans ix. 15), and on the other a universal salvific will was deemed to seek out every soul (e.g., John iii. 16). Paul makes it clear that man's reception of justification depends on faith (Romans iii.28), but that salvation itself cannot fully be earned; man is given his justifying merits by the grace of God (Ephesians ii.8 and Romans vi.23). The implications of this are that the divine will denies justifying merit to some souls.

Augustine's influential doctrine of predestination seemed to confirm this. All. men are sinners, but some are chosen by God, in his compassion, to receive the grace by which to save themselves, while others are allowed, through his judgement, to continue in damning sin:

Quis porro tam impie desipiat, ut dicat Deum malas hominum voluntates quas

voluerit, quando voluerit, ubi voluerit, in bonum non posse convertere? Sed cum

facit, per miscricordiam facit; cum autem non facit, per iudicium non facil.(17)

Most theologians, including Aquinas, followed Augustine in stressing the idea of a divine will which sought to save men through grace but which nevertheless allowed others to bring about their own damnation.(18) These others were the praesciti, those whose perdition was foreknown to God. March refers to them in one of his many comparisons:

Si co.l prescis que no es de mort delliure

veent-se prop d'aquell seu jorn darrer,

no prega Deu li sia mercener,

e sap que va on null hom se pot riure.

(xxxv, 15-8)

Like the man predestined to perdition who is close to death and sees his last day

approaching, and does not beg God for mercy, even though he knows that he

will go to that place where no one ever laughs.

The difficulty of a beneficent God who knows that some will damn themselves but does not use his omnipotence to prevent it was resolved in Catholic doctrine by distinguishing between the foreordained elect and the foreknown damned, and by reasoning that the attitude of the divine will was crucially different in the two cases.(19) God, it was argued, knew of the evil that would damn certain men, but he did not will it. As Augustine had said, |Deus facit bene, etiam sinendo fieri male.'(20) The idea that God actively willed the damnation of some men was asserted only by advocates of predestinationism (or double predestination), sporadically developed in the Middle Ages and vigorously opposed by the Church. It denied the universal salvific will and held that the human soul was ineluctably predestined either to glory or damnation. This meant that the latter category of soul, that of the reprobate (reprobus), had been created by God for the express purpose of being condemned.(21)

This was a radical solution to the enormous problems that were implicit in the concept of predestination from the first. Given God's foreknowledge and the necessity of saving grace on which the Epistles and Augustine had insisted, what role is left to free will? What degree of moral autonomy does man have?

Augustine had already provided the answer: God does not |foresee', but rather sees all things with a single gaze. He dwells outside time, in an eternal present where all three human dimensions of time are seen as a single event. This idea was perhaps even more widely known in mediaeval Europe through Boethius, who uses it to argue that an infallible divine prescience does not have a necessary effect on events, and therefore does not preclude the existence of free will.(23) But even this standard argument suffers from the inherent weakness of leaving atemporal prescience unreconciled with divine omnipotence.

The inevitable confusion in which these issues left the faithful is brilliantly dramatized in March's poem. But it is the confusion that is dramatized, not the theology. The extent and nature of the difficulties themselves remain imprecisely defined by March, and it is to more conventional forms of expression that we have to turn if we want to clarify the issues underlying the cant espiritual. It is for this reason that the well-known group of nine poems on predestination in the Cancionero de Baena and two Spanish prose treatises on the subject are particularly relevant.

Seven of the Baena poems are replies to an initial pregunta of Ferran Sanchez de Talavera, who also writes the concluding replicacion.(24) The pregunta p. 1018-22), which is principally addressed to the aged Lopez de Ayala, has two parts. First, how is it possible that an omnipotent and omniscient God, knowing who is to be saved, who damned, chooses to create those beings whom he knows to be destined for hell?

paresse que es su mercet de fazer

onbre que sea en infierno danado. (23-4)

How can one avoid the conclusion bien fea - the predestinationist view - that God is the causa e ocasion of evil?

The second part of the question follows from this: if those who are to be saved, thanks to the operation of divine grace, are predestined to glory, then good works are unnecessary for their salvation.

In asking for Lopez de Ayala's help, Talavera explains that the arguments he has already heard have been of no use to him. Man's possession of free will, pointed out by others, does not change the fact that God could choose not to create those who he knows will use their free will to do evil and so damn themselves. Similarly, the advice that Talavera should consult his Bible has not helped, since God's secret judgements are not written there. He is careful to explain at the end of his request that in asking these questions he is playing the Devil's Advocate:

esto digo so protestagion

que mi entingion es querer disputar,

mas non poner dubda nin faser errar,

que Dios que es justo non puede judgar

saluante derecho, justisia, rrazon. (113-17)

While, as might be expected, the seven authors of the respuestas are united in condemning Talavera's arguments as profoundly mistaken, most of them offer in reply views of predestination that never entirely overlap and are sometimes heterodox. Some arguments are theologically better informed than others, but each finds its own focus for the problems raised.

The addressee of Talavera's poem, Lopez de Ayala, declines to enter into sotilezas on the subject, and is content to quote rather unhelpfully from his Rimado de Palacio (lines 1335-40 and 1342) With the blanket statement that God is just in all he does (pp.1023-7). A weightier answer comes from the Franciscan Diego de Valencia, who invokes the authority of Alexander of Hales, Peter Lombard and Aquinas (pp. 102.7-32). Man was created to serve and to praise God, and to fill the places left vacant in heaven by Lucifer and his company (an idea deriving from Augustine). While God has decided on the elect, he is always willing to pardon the damned for Christ's sake. For Valencia, this means that a change takes place in the actual substance of God's foreknown judgement:

nin so yo danado por Dios lo saber

ca esta sabienca non es nesesaria

en la criatura [i.e. Creation], pues luego se varia

cuando omne muda el su mal faser. (73-6)(25)

The next poet, fray Alonso de Medina (pp. 103,2-6), in one of the most theologically elaborate of the replies, also rejects the idea of the necessary influence (necesydat) on man's actions of God's prescience. This would invalidate all free will, and make a mockery of human as well as divine justice: no one could be held responsible for his sins and crimes. Using his free will, man can choose to open the door behind which Christ awaits us. Medina argues, like Valencia, that a man who is prucito may be latently destined to final glory, or a predestined soul may end in hell, without this reversal of fate implying a modification to the divine will. With God's grace, even the damned can be helped to salvation:

avnque Dios sabe que me he de perder,

con la su ayuda puedo saluo ser. (94-5)

Francisco Imperial (pp.1036-7), addressing Talavera's pregunta only obliquely, invokes the familiar argument of the atemporality of God: the Creator does not see a |before' and an |after' as we do, so that it makes little sense to talk of his prior knowledge of a man's salvation or damnation. God sees the totality of all our actions, good and sinful, as a single present. Moreover, while God is just, his omnipotence means that he is free to act as he chooses, unquestioned by us. Imperial's concept of the inherent justice of God's absolute power is given the support of an analogy with the temporal hierarchy:

e sy al sumo bien esta hordenado

rreserua alguno, non es marauilla,

que assy faser puede el Rrey de Castilla,

syn vos ofender, a mi muy honrrado. (32-5)(26)

The main arguments of |un moro que desian maestro Mahomat el Xartosse de Guadafaxara' (pp. 1038-43) have already been covered by his predecessors in the Baena debate, and in substance they add nothing new. The following contribution, however, by Garcia Alvarez de Alarcon (pp. 1044-7) is interestingly heterodox in the way it attempts to reconcile predestination with divine prescience. Alvarez seems to assert that God has foreknowledge of the final fate of men's souls but does not take a detailed interest in each one. The good go to heaven and the bad to hell; God's knowledge about the way in which this happens is general, not particular:

saber non quiso la especialidat

de los que sse saluan o se han de danar,

porque a los malos pueda condenar

e saluar los buenos la ssu piedat. (69-7)(27)

The final reply, by Ferrant Manuel de Lando (pp. 1048-56), restores the idea of God's exact knowledge of each man's fate, directly addressing Talavera's question of why God chose to create those who he knew would sin. He explains that the perfection of divine knowledge makes it impossible that what in the divine mind is already a reality should be undone. In the case of the omne prescito, God foresees that sin will earn him eternal damnation, but his prescience has no role in the evil that the sinner freely chooses to commit. Nevertheless, the divine judgement of each soul may be modified by a man's actions. This is why we must always do good works and maintain our hope of salvation. As long as man continues to live in a way that is pleasing to God, there is still some chance that he is not damned. It is vital to keep up this hope, remembering that Christ died that we might all be predestinados.

Talavera in his reflicacion (pp. 1056-62) rounds off the debate by drawing together its foregone conclusions. He answers the question of why God creates those whom he knows will do evil and damn themselves by affirming the non-influence of divine prescience on man's actions. Similarly, the use of free will to perform good works is re-established as a prerequisite for salvation. The developments taken by the debate also oblige Talavera to address the related problem of grace, not raised by him previously. He explains that while God will always respond to whoever loves him, some are more blessed by grace than others. But it is no cause for man's resentment if some have to make greater efforts: if a hundred lengths of fine Flemish cloth should come my way, he argues, this makes me richer without impoverishing my neighbour. Talavera decides to defuse an explosive issue by further trivializing it:

sy alguno al cura ofresca

quanto quisiere de su vino maduro,

a mi non me deue ser graue nin duro,

pues non fase cossa que a mi empesga. (117-20)

Those who receive divine grace |en alguna cosa son merescedores', while those who forget God cannot expect him to recognize them (129-36)-However, Talavera had opened a theological can of worms: his contemporaries clearly did not consider the matters raised by his pregunta to be resolved by correct but evasive conclusions. From the Baena debate there arose at least one early fifteenth-century prose work on predestination, and it is possibly responsible for another.

The first of these is the Disputa entre Gonzalo Morante de la Ventura y un mal crisliano.(28) Its author explains that he has written |especialmente ... por responder a unas coplas, que enviadas fueron a Pero Lopez de Ayala el viejo, sobre la materia de predesdnacion y fibre albedrio'. In spite of this affirmation, the Dis uta, like most of the Baena pieces, does not address Talavera's questions directly, but instead asks two others about related problems: (i) How can one avoid deducing from the fact of divine prescience that those destined to do evil will necessarily damn themselves? (2.) How can man be said to have free will, since the existence of this seems to negate God's omnipotence and immutability.?

The second of these difficulties is resolved when Gonzalo Morante reminds the apostate Juan Rogel that the absence of free will would make it impossible for God to deal justly with men according to their merits (p. 109). The notion of a division of souls into predestinados and precitos is questioned. If it were valid, then men would either be consistently good or consistently bad; but this is patently not the case. Rather, we see free will always at work in man, and it is further proved by Scripture itself: man was made in God's image, and therefore must be free like him. Such freedom is complemented by the action of grace (pp, 111-14).

God's immutability is perfectly consistent with man's free will. God is like a light illuminating the world: when a man of his own volition walks away from the light, he takes himself into darkness; outside, the light continues unchanged. After this argument, the idea of free will is accepted by juan Rogel, but with the result that the first difficulty now appears to him to be even greater. Free will implies that men are able to override God's will, something which is impossible since it seems to imply an imperfection in his prescience. Juan Rogel concludes that for God's perfection to operate, divine prescience must determine a man's fate either as a predestinado or as a precito (pp. 118-19).

Morante's reply to this is surprising: he sets limits to God's prescience, but in a different way from the also heterodox Alvarez de Alarcon: since God did not create sin, his foreknowledge does not extend to the sin a man will commit. God only foresees the good acts that will lead to his salvation. He does not foresee damning sin itself:

Concluyo que pecado es ninguna cosa criada, y que Dios no sabe ni entiende

pecado ... no sabe damnacion; mas sabe Dios todos los hombres para salvacion.

(pp. 122-3)(29)

In God's will all are predestined, none damned (p. 128). When men consign themselves to hell by the actions of their free will, they remain eternally predestined to glory even if they are damned in a temporal sense. God's intention that all should be saved does not change, merely what perverse man wills for himself (pp. 128-9).

This solution to the problem of the coexistence of omniscience with the universal salvific will is followed by two clarifications of minor difficulties. The more important of these explains in purely orthodox fashion that grace is essential to salvation since the merits of even the most virtuous man are not sufficient in themselves to make him worthy of heaven (pp. 133-4). In the fuller of the two versions of the Disputa, the author now returns to the first point made in Talavera's pregunta: if God is omnipotent, why does he allow men to sin? Several folios are devoted to answering this: the operation of sin in some men has the effect of allowing the virtues of the escogidos to shine with greater glory; it provides the necessary matter on which God's mercy and his justice may work; also because without the fate of sinners, the contrasting glory of the saints would be diminished.

The other prose work on the subject is far more extensive and of greater theological integrity. This is the Tratado de la predestinacion of Fray Martin Alonso de Cordoba. One of its editors has suggested that it was written specifically in response to the Baena debate, although Cordoba's introduction refers to widespread heresies based in the same notions of divine prescience as in the pregunta of Talavera:

ay muchos que dizen que Dios ya sabe los que han de ser salvos e por consiguiente

los que se han de perder, e que, pues esto es asi que buenas obras nin malas

puedan aprovechar nin danar nin menos quitar aquello que esta ordenado en la

voluntad divina que non sc cumpla. (p. 121)(30)

Cordoba's arguments are broadly similar to some of those presented by the Baena poets, but there are important differences. In a set of provisional conclusions (pp. 141-4), he states that God's prescience does indeed create a necessity with regard to our free will, but only a conditional one. This necesidad is contingent (condicionada) on how we choose to act (pp. 138-9). He then addresses the whole question of predestination afresh, but this time gives even more attention to the problem of grace, which has already taken up considerable space. Much of what he says seems to gloss the key text of Romans ix. 18, where Paul appears to see the fate of men as being fixed in the divine will: |[God] not only shows mercy as he chooses but also makes stubborn as he chooses.' Cordoba cites Augustine: while God may seem to be partial, saving some and not saving others, this is due only to our mistaken belief that God in some way owes us salvation. The reality, however, is that |Dios non deve nada a ninguno: todo quanto bien da, faze por gracia e non por deuda'. Grace has to be seen, rather, in terms of man's debt to God (p. 126): because of Original Sin, all men would be damned were it not for Christ's sacrifice. He gives an example to clarify this point: |Como si cient honbres me deviesen cada uno mill maravedis que les preste de mi bolsa, non faria injuria a ninguno, si alguno los demandase por derecho e otros los soltase de gracia' (p. 126). This is why, when he chooses certain souls for salvation, God |usa de justicia e misericordia', and when he condemns he simply |usa de justicia'. Those who are saved are justly pardoned because of their merits.

Yet these merits too we owe to God: |el honbre conviene que venga a su bien, que es Dios, por meritos, los quales non puede aver sin gracia de Dios'. It is grace that causes men to use their free will for virtuous actions, without which no one can gain heaven: |conviene que Dios especialmente le ayude con su gracia, que mueva nuestro libre albedrio a fe, caridad, a esperanca, a castidad e a todas las virtudes, sin las quales non podemos venir a El' (p. 127). Cordoba, following Augustine in all this, insists on the last point: |Non viene en nos su gracia por los meritos que en nos falla, mas veniendo en nos los causa' (p. 127) To this extent it can be said that the precito is the result of God's |non proposito de dar vida eterna', while the predestinado enjoys God's intention to remove all obstacles to salvadon (p. 127).

In the latter part of his treatise, Cordoba returns to this point again. If Peter was saved and Judas damned, |non se puede asignar causa ninguna, sinon la voluntad de Dios, diziendo "Porque le plaze a El, e asi es su voluntad'". The justice of God's decision is beyond our comprehension. Cordoba here translates Augustine: |en esto, quanto a la humanal justicia, [Dios] parece injusto'. But how can sinful man presume to question the perfection of this justice? (p. 147).

Cordoba's attention to the question of grace underlines its vital importance in the matter of predestination and shows that the relation between the two is far more problematic than the comfortable dogma of Talavera's replicacion allows, with its assurances that if a man is saved it must be because he performed good works of some kind. Rather, the author of the treatise asserts that while divine prescience imposes only conditional necessity on the exercise of man's free will, the human will can choose to act virtuously only if it enjoys the influence of divine grace. If this seems to men to be unfair, it is because they cannot begin to understand the supreme justice of God.

All these writings attest to the lack of consensus in Spain in the first half of the fifteenth century on the main issues raised by the biblical evidence of predestination. nere is little general agreement on how to reconcile divine prescience with divine omnipotence, the universal salvific will with the creation of the precitos, or free will with divine will (especially the latter's manifestations in grace).

When March grapples with this tangled mesh of problems in the cant espiritual, he takes as his starting-point what Cordoba's treatise shows to be the key to everything else, namely the necessity of grace: |Puis que sens tu, algu a tu no basta' (|Since none can reach you without your help').

Except by the operation of grace through a specific act of the divine will, no one can be saved. What is implied in the following stanzas is that, in spite of the opening premises, whoever asks God's help in penitence and faith can indeed be saved. The one impediment, as March sees it at this point, is himself, whom he describes in stanzas 5-8 in terms that remind us of Paul's |purchased slave of sin' (Romans vii. 15):

Scio enim quia non habitat in me, hoc est in carne mea, bonum. Nam velle,

adiacet mihi: perficere autem bonum, non invenio. Non enim quod volo bonum,

hoc facio: sed quod nolo malum, hoc ago. Si autem quos nolo, illud facio: iam

non ego operor illud, sed quod habitat in me, peccatum.(31)

He also assumes at this point that he is not in a state of grace, precisely because of his continual sins: |ta pietat no troba en mi que obre' (|Your pity can find nothing in me to work upon', line 16). He can take comfort only from the biblical evidence that grace is not always linked to good works: namely, the fact that one of the thieves on Calvary was saved. This episode from Luke xxiii. 39--43 had been used often in connection with the question of grace, as in the Libro dels tres reys d'Orient. The Gospel explanation of why the thief is saved is plain enough: he recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. But it seems to have come to be used especially to signify the impenetrability of the divine will in dispensing grace in a way that to human eyes may seem almost arbitrary. St Vicent Ferrer, for instance, identifies the operation of sanctifying grace on lo ladre de la dreta, the thief on the right of Christ, with the position of the sun at the time of the Crucifixion: Jesus' shadow fell to his right across one thief but did not touch the one to his left. Under the power of grace one thief, but not the other, was able to achieve a state of final contrition.(32)

This is clearly the meaning of the episode for March, for whom it bears out John's words on the Holy Spirit (John iii.8):

ton esperit Ila on li plau espira;

com ne per que, no sap qui en carn visca. (31-2)

Your spirit breathes wherever it pleases; when or why no living man can tell. The same idea underlies the reference to grace a few stanzas later:

Veig ton voler qui sens merits gracia;

dones e tols de grat lo do, sens merits. (62-3)

I see your will, which dispenses grace even to those who have done nothing to

deserve it; you grant the gift of grace, and take it away, regardless of worth.

March's hope of salvation is undermined not only by his own sin and lack of charity (57-9) but also by the terrible contradictions in the doctrine of predestination. The Creator is just and compassionate, and yet he bestows grace on men as he wishes rather than according to apparent merits (60-3). No one, he concludes from this, can be sure of grace, not even the most righteous man (64).

Behind this idea, as the next four stanzas make clear, is the construct of an ireful God, made irascible by the poet's sin (89). The importance of the reference to Job here (65) goes beyond its initial function as an example of the just man from whom God withdraws his blessing. The Book of Job is also the implicit context of lines 89-92: the ill that God may seem to bring us is in reality (as at the end of Job's ordeals) a great good. There is a more explicit allusion to the book in the confession of line 95 that he has seen God's judgements with

human eyes (|ab ulls de carn he fets los teus judicis):

Numquid oculi carne tibi sunt?

Aut sicut videt homo, et tu videbis?(33)

This modification of his initial reference to Job inverts March's previous position on the action of grace. He now explains that it is because we are incapable of seeing God's actions in their divine perspective that he seems at fault in granting grace to those who ostensibly do not deserve it, and in denying it to those who seem to be worthy of it. Yet, even after correcting this view, and Yrming his faith that God punishes none but the wicked, he can only Wnd cause for despair. He is not only laden with sin (66) and lacking in redeeming merits (100), but is unable even to desire heaven or fear hell with suYcient intensity to force him to break free of sinful habits.

At this point March unexpectedly launches into a brief exposition of the divine teleology of human life, drawing further biblical analogies from Galatians iii.19 and Mark 1.2-4. These four stanzas (lines 105-36) are a demonstration that, on a doctrinal plane at least, he knows God. This knowledge is laid before his maker as another argument to support his plea for grace: |Puis te conec, esforca'm que io t'ame' (Since I know what you are, compel me to love you', 135). His profession of belief in God as the sovereign good is enough to bring about a total change in his attitude towards dying, from the gloom of line 101 to the new optimism of lines 143-4.

Hope evaporates, however, as soon as he turns again to the question of his sins. It is at this point that he at list makes a direct reference to predestination:

Tu m'has donat disposicio recta,

e io he fet del regle falc molt corba;

dregar-la vull, mas he mester ta ajuda.

Ajuda'm, Deu! car ma forca is flaca.

Desig saber que de mi predestines.

A tu es present, i a mi causa venible. (147-52)

You have given me an upright nature, but I have turned the straight rule into a

sharp-hooked scythe; I want to straighten it, but I can only do so with your aid.

Help me, God, for my strength fails me! I want to know to what you predestine

me. To you it is the present, but for me it is yet to come.

While March acknowledges his own corruption, he can do nothing to rectify it without grace, Similarly, he can only feel love for God through the grace of the Holy Spirit, |per quem diffunditur caritas in cordibus nostris' (Romans v.5) The plea for divine help is followed by the request to know the fate of his soul precisely because he takes his sinfulness to be a sign of certain damnation, known to God from the time he created him. Only the granting of grace to facilitate the way out of sin can alter his apparent fate. God has done this for many others who did nothing to deserve it. Why not for him?:

Tant te cost io com molts que no.t serviren,

e has fet no menys que io.t demane. (181-2)

I am no more trouble to you than many others who did not serve you, and you

have done for them no less than I ask. It is only a short step from this to making explicit the underlying connection between divine prescience and predestination:

Tu creist mi perque l'anima salve,

e pot-se fer de mi saps lo contrari.

Si es aixi, ?per que, doncs, me creaves,

puis fon en tu lo saber infal.lible? (193-6)

You created me that I might save my soul, even though you may know my fate

will be otherwise. If this is so, then why did you create me, since your knowledge

was infallible?

Earlier in the poem, March expresses regret for blaming God in the past (93), but he does not directly explain what he has blamed him for. This now becomes clear. If, as he fears, he is damned, then he cannot understand why God did not act upon what he foresees by choosing not to create him. This is only one logical step away from Talavera's conclusion bien fea that God deliberately created men whose sins he knew would damn them. He asks God to return him to nothingness if this is his fate (197-8, 201-4).

March saves the standard example of Judas for this crucial point in his poem.(34) Cordoba, too, ponders why God chose Peter to found the Church and go to glory and why he had selected Judas for the role of Christ's betrayer, and so eternally damned him (pp. 143-5). On what basis, he asks, had the divine will chosen each man for these two roles? Cordoba insists that such questions should not make man despair, but should give him |humildad e temor e piedad' (p. 143) with which to accept that |nuestra voluntad es como instrumento que obra movido por la gracia de Dios' (p. 143). For March, however, the lesson to be drawn from the example of Judas seems to be quite different:

Io crec a tu com volguist dir de Judes

que.l fora bo no fos nat al mon home. (199-2.00)

I believe in you as the God who said of Judas that it were better that man had

not been born.

The biblical reference here is to Matthew xxvi.24, where Christ foretells his betrayal and Judas' damnation. March appears to interpret the episode as grounds for believing that divine prescience can exercise a necessity that is absolute rather than conditional. God created Judas while knowing that he would betray his Son, fail to repent, and damn himself. As God himself reveals in his words to Judas, both Jesus' betrayal and Judas' damnation are part of the divine plan.

The final two stanzas, with their reference to the theological virtues and their distinction between contrition and attrition do little to mitigate the growing bleakness of March's doctrinal quandary. These lines contain further pleas for the grace without which, as Cordoba explains, man cannot approach God: |conviene que Dios especialmente le ayude con su gracia, que mueva nuestro libre albedrio a fe, a caridad, a esperanca, a castidad e a todas las virtudes, sin las quales non podemos venir a El' (p. 127). March, like the Baena poets and the authors of the two treatises we have seen, has worked his way through the problem of predestination and the related questions of divine prescience and grace that occupied thinking Christians in early fifteenth-century Spain. Unlike them, he offers no rational solace. On the contrary, the final effect of his poem is to expose the inherent weaknesses of the current doctrine on one of the most vital issues of mediaeval theology.


This article is based on a paper read in November 1990 to the Spanish Graduate Research Seminar in Oxford and the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar of Queen Mary Westfield College, University of London. I am grateful for the comments and suggestions received on both occasions. (1) The poem first appears under the heading cantica spiritual in edition of Baltasar Romani (Valencia, 1539). Under this heading are printed in the following order: cv, 1-160; civ, 1-48, 65-288; cv, 169-76, 161-8, 177-92; cxv, 1-10; CXIII, 241-50. In the Barcelona editions of 1543 and 1545 it appears as one of the obres morals. The Varadolid edition of 1555 is the first to place the poem in a category of its own as the canto spiritual. This usage is followed by the 1560 Barcelona edition, where the term cant spiritual is found. (2) The main studies of the poem are the following: Pere Bohigas, Ausias March. Poesies, Vol. I (Barcelona, 1952), pp. 123-7; Manuel de Montoliu, Ausias March (Barcelona, 1959), pp. 119-22; Marti de Riquer, Historia de la literatura catalana. Part antiga, Vol. II (Barcelona, 1964), pp. 530-5; Pere Ramirez i Molas, |La poesia espiritual tardana d'Ausias March', Iberommania, IX (1979), 23-40; Marie-Claire Zimmermann, |Ausias March i el cant espiritual: poema i pregaria', in Estudir de Ilengua i literatura catalanes, 2: Homenatge a Jose M. Casacurbeta, Vol. II (Barcelona, 1981), pp. 241-69; Josep Miquel Sobrer, Ausias March. Canto espiritual precedido de |Terrer canto de muerte' (Barcelona, 1985), pp. 19-21, and La doble soledat d'Ausias March (Barcelona, 1987), pp. 41-74. (3) A fuller study would need to relate the poem to contemporary Catalan sermons and moral works, such as St Vincent Ferrer's sermons, Pero Martinez, and Eiximenis' Catalan treatise on the predestination of Christ, as well as Latin theological works. The relation of the poem to the Gospels and Epistles and die Book of Job is another important aspect, as well as a more extensive description of the theological traditions, especially regarding grace, and the notion of human perception of heaven and hell. An important publication in relation to Eiximenis is Albert G. Hauf, |Fr. Francesc Eiximenis, O.F.M., "De la predestinacion de Jesucristo", y el consejo del Arciprestc de Talavera "a los que deologos mucho fundados no son"', Archivum Franciscanum Historicum, LXXVI (1983), 239-95; this contains a Castilian translation of a treatise on some aspects of predestination found in Eiximenis' voluminous work Vita Cristi. (4) The text of March's poem is based on that given in Ausias Marh. Cinquanta-vuit poemes, ed. Robert Archer (Barcelona, 1989). In the revised text the form yo has been changed to io. Other amendments: read 22 tos bracos, 25: Perdona mi, 85 escusa; 87 estima; 128 Sant. At line 152, I have substituted for |D'altra part tem, e.m plau la ignoranca', which in several manuscripts appears as a ninth line in the octave, the usually accepted |A tu es present 12 mi causa venible'. There is no reliable way of deciding which of die two fines is the more authentic; the one given here, however, is theologically richer. Translations of Catalan texts arc mine. See also Ausias March. Selected Poems, ed. and trans. by Arthur Terry (Edinburgh, 1976), pp. 114-27; Ausias March. Seleccio de Poemes/ Selected Poems, trans. by M. A. Conejero, P. Ribes and D. Keown, z vols. (Valencia, 1989), II, 123-37. (5) Pere Ramirez i Molas, |La poesia espiritual tardana', p. 39. (6) Two further sixteenth-century manuscripts contain the final stanza, but in both cases the edition of 1543 is the source. (7) Robert Archer, "|E ja en mi alterat es l'arbitre": dramatic representation in Ausias March's cant espiritual, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, LIX (1982), 317-23. (8) Jordi Rubio, |El b. fra Mateo d'Agrigento a Catalunya i Valencia. Notes sobre la vida religiosa a una cort del Renaixement', Spaniche Forschungen der Gorresgesellschaft, XI (1955), 109-21. (9) Dietari del capella d'Anfos el Magnanim (Valencia, 1932), p. 201. (10) Jorge Rubio, |Las cortes dc Alfonso el Magnanimo y la espiritualidad del Renacimiento', in Estudos sobre Alfonso el Magnanimo (Barcelona, (1960), p. 15. (11) Rubio, |El b. fra Mateo', p. 114: |ha feytos de grandes miraclos, car ha tornado la vista a ciegos e la paraula a mudos, e sanados afollados e otro muytos miraclos' (document of 30 April 1427). (12) Rubio, |Sobre la cultura', p. 16. (13) Rubio, |Las cortes', pp. 19-20. (14) Amedee Pages, Auzias March et ses predecesseurs: Essai sur la poisie amoureuse et philosophique en Catalogne aux XIVe et XVe siecles (Paris, 1912; repr. Geneva, 1974), p. 389. (15) One recent and important attempt - unfortunately still unpublished - is the doctoral thesis of L. P. A. Maingon, |Melancholy imagination in Ausias March and the Florentine Platonists' (unpub. Ph.D. diss., University of St Andrews, 1981). I am grateful to Professor Maingon for making his thesis available to me. (16) Pages, Auzias March et ses predecesseurs, pp. 45-7 n. Augustine, Enchiridon, chap. xcviii, in Obras de San Agustin, Vol. IV, ed. and trans. by Andres Centeno (Madrid, 1948), pp. 455-635 (p. 598) St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia.23 passim. (19) For this important point, see Anthony Kenny, Wyclif (Oxford, 1985), p. 40. (20) Augustine, Enchiridion, ch. xcvi (p. 596). (21) A lucid exposition of theories of predestination is to be found in the recent book of Alister E. McGrath, Iustilia Dei: a History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 2. Vols. (Cambridge, 1986), I, 128-45. (22) Augustine, De Trinitate, xv, 14 (PL, XLII, col. 1077) and Civitas Dei, xi, 21. Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae, v, prs. iii-iv and vi. (24) The poems are found in Cancionero de Juan Alfonso de Baena, ed. by Jose Maria Azaceta, 3 vols. (Madrid, 1966), III, 1018-63. They have been studied in Otis H. Green, Spain and the Western Tradition. the Cartilian Mind in literature from |El Cid' to Calderon, 4 vols. (Madison, Wis., 1964), H, 252-60; Juan de Dios Mendoza Negrillo, Fortuna y providencia en la literatura del siglo XV (Madrid, 1973), pp. 343-94; Charles F. Fraker, |The theme of predestination in the Cancionero de Baena, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, LI (1974), 228-43. (25) This is close in sense to what Lopez de Ayala had written, in earlier days, in the Rimado de Palacio on the divine judgement: |Tu, senor, tienes judgado por tu alta Prouidencia, / que emendando el pecado, se mude la sentencia' (Pero Lopez de Ayala, Rimado de Palacio, ed. by German Orduna (Madrid, 1987), lines 721ab). The same argument is found in the Arcipreste de Talavera's Corbacho, and in the Dialogo sobre la predestinacion y el libre albedrio discussed below. (26) I have adopted the textual emendations suggested Mendoza Negrillo, Fortuna y providencia, p. 377: 32 al for el; 34 el for al. (27) Negrillo has suggested that these ideas are characteristically Hebraic (ibid., p. 371). (28) Disputa entre Gonzalo Morante de la Ventura y un |mal crisiano' (Juan Rogel) sobre la predestin y d libre albedrio, in Tratados castellanos sobre la predestinacion y sobre la trinidad y la encarna maestro fray Diego de Valencia OFM (siglo XV), ed. by Isaac Vazquez Janeciro (Madrid, i984), pp. 101-57. (29) Vazquez (ibid., p. 122 n. 4) suggests that this argument is based on a syllogism explored by Duns Scotus in De Divina Praedestinatione. (30) Fray Martin Alfonso de Codoba: Tratado de la predestinacion, ed. by Fernando Rubio in Prosistas castellanos del siglo XV, Vol. II, BAE, 171 (Madrid, i964), p. xxxiii. (31) Romans vii.18-20; quoted from Biblia Vulgata, ed. by Alberto Colunga and Laurentio Turrado, 4th edn (Madrid, 1965), p. 1100. (32) Sant Vicent Ferrer: Sermons, Vol. II, ed. by Josep Sanchis Sivera (Barcelona, 1934), p. 8.1 (33) Job x.4 (Biblia Vulgata, ed. Colunga and Turrado, p. 430). (34) Cf. Lopez Ayala, Rimado de Palacio, lines 1419-20, where the good thief is contrasted Judas; the references to him of Lando (Baena, p. 1053, line 106, and p. 1055, lines 207-8); and that of Pero Martinez (Martin de Riquer, Obras de Pero Martinez, escritor catalan del siglo XV (Barcelona, 1946), p. 86).
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Author:Archer, Robert
Publication:Medium Aevum
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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