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Dante, the rhetoric of crisis, and vigilante preaching.


Dante's interest in sermons and preaching is evident across the span of his writing, starting with his Vita nuova setting of an encounter with Beatrice in a religious context, arguably in church while words are spoken about Mary ("ove s'udivano parole della Regina della gloria" 5.1), and ending with Beatrice's diatribe against bad preachers in Paradiso 29.103-26). Instances of Dante's reporting on preaching as some social phenomenon external to him, something done by others, are dwarfed, however, by the many occasions he uses sermonic techniques as part of his rhetorical apparatus. Across his oeuvre Dante employs the rhetorical structures, cadences and key vocabulary frequently found in sermons of his time. Indeed because of their frequent recourse to the language of sermons, the Commedia and some of Dante's other writing can themselves be considered, after a fashion, preaching texts.

Dante's varied and complex uses of preaching in the Commedia and elsewhere is extensive enough to merit a full monographical treatment. This study's limited aim is to explore what motivates Dante to assume the preacher's voice in the first place, and to outline how Dante consolidates his claim to the right to preach.

Preaching in Dante's time was an activity under Church jurisdiction. Without official ecclesiastical authorization, one could not simply preach without encountering immediate anathemas and prohibitions. In response to this, Dante uses what I call a "rhetoric of crisis." Such rhetoric outlines a situation in which the Church has lost sight of its pastoral obligation and the populace is starving for guidance; in consequence a self-appointed "preacher of justice" must rise up and fill the pastoral void. For the first part of this essay, I will rely largely on Dante's epistle to the Cardinals of 1315, while making occasional comparisons to contemporary accounts of preaching, and referring to the theoretical treatises on preaching, primarily Thomas of Chobham's Summa de arte praedicandi. In the second part of this paper, I will explore two textual loci in the Commedia--the encounter with the Jovial Friars in Inferno 23 and the discussion of fra Dolcino in Inferno 28--to illustrate how a knowledge of the importance of preaching both in Dante's thought and his historical period might contribute to a better understanding of these passages.

Until recently few scholars examined the issue of preaching in the Commedia, aside from Carlo Delcorno, who studied the possible echoes of Giordano da Pisa's sermons in Dante's language. (1) Delcorno did not aim to prove that Dante witnessed the sermons of Giordano and was directly influenced by them, so much as he meant to illustrate how typical features of medieval preaching cadences and exclamations, so familiar to an average lay listener, find echo in Dante's writings. (2) The emphatic apostrophe, "O Simon mago, o miseri seguaci" initiating Inferno 19, for example, echoes a commonplace rhetorical fillip used in preaching for emphasis (302-03). (3) There are also traces of the formulas used in catechistic preaching in Inferno 19, which Dante deploys with utmost irony in the pilgrim's conversation with Pope Nicholas III. (4) The poet's assumption of the preaching voice here highlights a crisis in pastoral care, which is one of his main concerns in this canto, especially regarding the failings of the pope, the servus servorum Dei. Dante front-loads Inferno 19 with nuances of the confessional long before the condemned pope is identified, and in so doing he sets the stage--or pulpit, rather--from which the pilgrim issues his long invective against papal corruption, and which likewise shows the bold colors of a heated sermon. (5)

The pilgrim's deployment of the preacher's language in his dialogue with Nicholas III illustrates an ironic role reversal between the quondam pope and Dante the layman, suggesting a harsh critique of those who preach by profession. Dante here uses the structures of preaching to "authorize" his critical voice, while at the same time questioning the authority of the Church, the very entity that officially legitimizes preachers. The daring of this move is amplified when it is recognized that the privilege to preach was always conferred by religious authorities, and was never extended to laypersons. What does it mean, then, when a layperson deliberately reverses the roles between preacher and preached-to? (6) While it is clear that Dante uses preaching to give a certain credibility and heft to his own voice, he does so in open breach of canon law governing these matters.

Dante breaks with customary practices regarding preaching as part of his articulation of the Church's negligence of pastoral care, which he considers a serious social emergency. Emphasis on this state of emergency is not limited to the encounter with Pope Nicholas III here, but is actually sustained throughout the entirety of Commedia. For, in fact, across the poem are situations in which an official exponent of the Church is either silent or silencing another, and as a result an underdog is pushed into the spotlight as the preacher of truth. With rare exception, those who preach in the Commedia are never sanctioned, and their sermons are a product of deep spiritual inspiration, supplemented by Scriptural allusions and references. Against these impromptu preachers Dante contrasts those designated to preach by ecclesiastical mandate, but who neither speak nor allow others to do so. (7) This dynamic is central to Dante's "rhetoric of crisis," which he uses to ultimately authorize himself as the speaker of truth par excellence.

Medieval Preaching: A Brief Historical Background

The history of preaching and its legislation in Dante's time dates back to the very end of the twelfth century and beginning of the thirteenth century, when preachers were deployed in the southern Languedoc to combat heretical preaching by the Cathars. Although from its inception the Church always delivered sermons, from roughly 1050 its dedication to pastoral care had declined and become so scarce that until the thirteenth century some members of the laity infrequently heard sermons (Vauchez 97; Roberts 152; Delcorno, "Medieval Preaching in Italy" 450). This is noted in a 1305 sermon by Giordano da Pisa, which describes an Italy completely barren of sermons until St. Dominic begs permission to preach from an astonished Innocent III:

[...] perocche a quel tempo non facean prediche se non i Vescovi; i monaci, i preti, i remiti non predicavano; non piaccia a Dio, ma i Vescovi. Questo era loro proprio officio; e questi erano gia a tanto venuti, che non predicavano quasi di niuno tempo. Leggesi bene di Santo Augustino, e di Santo Jeronimo, che diceano alcun'otta al popolo certe omelie, e questo fecero rade volte; gli altri non si trova che quasi predicassero se non rade volte; quasi nella citta in tutto l'anno facea una predica il Vescovo, sicche non si sapea che si fosse predicare.

(Prediche del Beato fra Giordano da Rivalto 1: 235)

([...] seeing that at that time no one gave sermons except Bishops; monks, priests, hermits did not preach. This did not please God, but it pleased the bishops. This was their specific duty, and even these had come to such that they gave sermons hardly at all. One reads indeed of Saint Augustine, and Saint Jerome, that they delivered homilies to the people sometimes, but this they only did rarely; one finds that the rest almost did not preach at all if not rarely; in the city the Bishop maybe gave a sermon once in a year, such that nobody knew what preaching was.)

Until that point, the Church had assumed that the laity did not need sermons and could be kept within the fold through the sacraments alone (Rouse and Rouse 4344). Instead, distracting new ideologies began to sprout up here and there, especially in the Languedoc and in northern Italy. By propagating new theological ideas through preaching, these sects--the Cathars, Waldensians and others--were met with enthusiastic public response, and over time their increasing popularity began to challenge the Church's previously absolute control over faith and its expression. By 1200, Jacques de Vitry expresses concern about such "pseudo or false preachers," highlighting a new point of stress between popular religious expression and the institutional Church (d'Avray 25). Eventually the Church would have to respond to these challenges or otherwise suffer ideological adulteration of the integrity of the body of Christ by new theologies. (8)

Like any hegemon seeking to establish and maintain its authority, the Church needed to curtail those movements seeking to challenge it: leaders of heresy must be suppressed and those at risk of switching sides must be kept within the fold. Dual goals require dual tactics. To control those already organized in opposition against it, the Church worked aggressively to extirpate entrenched heresy through various repressive measures: prohibitions, anathemas, inquisitorial processes, and the Albigensian Crusade, all aiming to strike at these resilient new sects. (9) Those who had not yet abandoned the fold but could potentially stray required more gentle shepherding. (10) For these, persuasion would work better than pyres, hence the Church began to deploy preachers into zones troubled by heresy. These first sallies, however, revealed insufficient preparation compared to the superior preaching of the heretics, as the case with Cathar preachers in the Languedoc shows (Rouse and Rouse 52-55). These initial efforts in the last quarter of the twelfth century were halting and sporadic, and preachers struggled under their meager training. In response, Church thinkers proposed various vetting apparatuses to raise standards and to keep preaching orthodox. (11)

This trend towards greater quality and control eventually led to the Fourth Lateran Council in November 1215, and its resultant legislation was the first universal attempt to address preaching and preachers seriously and systematically through prescription and proscription (Rouse and Rouse 53). One of the canons from this council ordered that Bishops appoint properly trained men to preach to the laity:

Inter cetera quae ad salutem spectant populi Christiani, pabulum verbi Dei permaxime noscitur sibi esse necessarium, quia sicut corpus materiali, sic anima spirituali cibo nutritur, eo quod non in solo panem vivit homo, sed in omni verbo quodprocedit de ore Dei. Unde cum saepe contingat, quod episcopi [...] per se ipsos non sufficiunt ministrare populo verbum Dei, maxime per amplas dioeceses et diffusas, generali constitutione sancimus, ut episcopi viros idoneos ad sanctae praedicationis officium salubriter exequendum assumant, potentes in opere et sermone, qui plebes sibi commissas vice ipsorum cum per se idem nequiverint sollicite visitantes, eas verbo aedificent et exemplo.

(Among the various things that are conducive to the salvation of the Christian people, the nourishment of God's word is recognized to be especially necessary, since just as the body is fed with material food so the soul is fed with spiritual food, according to the words, man lives not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It often happens that bishops by themselves are not sufficient to minister the word of God to the people, especially in large and scattered dioceses [...]. We therefore decree by this general constitution that bishops are to appoint suitable men to carry out with profit this duty of sacred preaching, men who are powerful in word and deed and who will visit with care the people entrusted to them in place of the bishops, since these by themselves are unable to do it, and will build them up by word and example.)

(Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils 239-40) 11

Simply put, bishops, previously the only ones authorized to preach, were required to devolve their authority to preach upon others, to ensure that all people would have the chance to hear the word of God. This proposal for increased recruitment of suitable preachers was essentially a move to insure quality control; the Church would multiply its number of preachers, train them rigorously, and then deploy them across Europe, enough that the entire continent echoed with the official theology of the Church and replaced the many heretical voices that before drowned out the official message. (12) The canon elsewhere addresses these heretics more directly and sternly: anyone attempting to preach without episcopal permission would be outside of the protection of the Church, and any rebel who persisted would likely find himself before the inquisitor, maybe tortured, and even lashed to the stake and burnt. (13)

Thus preaching in Dante's time was both facilitated and controlled through the absolute juridical power of the Holy See, and the only legitimate preachers were those vetted by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. And yet, medieval theoreticians of preaching, who knew their history, understood that the religion had suffered crises in the past, and could potentially suffer one in the future. Such a crisis could be exacerbated--and perhaps even caused by--a lack of properly trained preachers willing to execute their function as spiritual leaders, leaving the collective soul of Christendom hanging in the balance. In his Summa de arte praedicandi Thomas of Chobham allows for the possibility of preaching without certification in times of acute need:

Adiciendum est ad predicta, quod in tempore necessitatis, scilicet cum inminet periculum fidei, potest et debet quilibet predicare, sine exceptione et conditionis et etatis et sexus. (It should be added to the aforementioned that in a time of need, for example in the threat of immediate peril to faith, that anyone can and ought to preach, with no exception to condition or age or sex.)

(Chobham 71)

Thus, when the true faith is in some way under threat and there are no qualified clergy to defend it, others may step into the breach. Chobham enumerates historical cases in which "unauthorized" preaching saved the faith: he notes St. Catherine's resolution to preach against paganism at the palace of Emperor Maxentius, even though she was called and driven to do so by no church authority ("non vocata, non compulsa venit ad palatium propter defensione fidei christianae"). He also mentions Paul the Hermit, who had neither erudition nor literary skill ("rusticus et fere illitteratus") but still preached, when Arians threatened Christian orthodoxy. Thus, even though the official stance on lay preaching by Dante's time is one of total prohibition, Chobham's words demonstrate that views on lay preaching were not always in lockstep with Papal decisions, and that some people were still haunted by the specter of pastoral collapse and ensuing spiritual crisis.

Dante's Letter to the Cardinals and His Claim to the Right to Preach

Dante exploits that fear of emergency, attributable to the scarcity of qualified preachers, by announcing a real crisis in his letter to the Cardinals in the Spring of 1315. Here he describes the clergy not in terms of their competence but in terms of their failure. Their rejection of pastoral care suggests a situation of grave "periculum fidei" in his time, a void in leadership that begs for someone, neither "vocatus" nor "compulsus," to step into the figurative pulpit.

The letter is itself rather a fiery sermon of rebuke in response to the deadlock and crisis of leadership among the Cardinals in conclave at Carpentras. The Holy See, transferred to Avignon since 1309, had undergone a year of sede vacante following the death of Clement V. The Cardinals were split into factions and were thus unable to decide a successor--a situation that would last for over another year. Probably pessimistic about the immediate future of the Church after the death of the pope whom he called a "pastor sanza legge" (Inf. 19.83), Dante likely wavered between hope and dread as the Cardinals deliberated over the selection of the next pope. That they finally settled on John XXII in August 1316, the pope whom Dante in Par 18.130-36 deemed so greedy for gold ("colui che volle viver solo/e che per salti fu tratto al martiro" indicates John the Baptist, whose face adorned the florin) that he no longer recognized the apostles Peter or Paul ("il pescator ne Polo"), likely confirmed the worst of fears Dante might have nurtured during the conclave process. Dante's epistle urges the Cardinals at Carpentras to resolve this crisis of authority. Who, Dante asks, will lead the people? It is in this particular context that he writes the following words regarding speech and pastoral care:

Quippe de ovibus in pascuis Iesu Christi minima una sum; quippe nulla pastorali auctoritate abutens, quoniam divitie mecum non sunt.

(Opere Minori, tome 2, Epist. 11.9, p. 584)

(I am certainly the least of the sheep in Christ's fields; certainly in no way do I abuse the authority of a pastor, for I have no riches.)

With these words, Dante seeks to stake his claim as one with both the right and the obligation to speak his mind. The humility expressed in the words "minima una [ovis] sum" is certainly disingenuous, for they draw directly from the words of the apostle Paul, who in his letter to the Corinthians calls himself the least of the apostles ("minimus apostolorum" 1 Cor. 15. 9). Even though he was not one of the twelve apostles who knew Jesus while alive, Paul emphasizes that his vision of the risen Christ (a vision that occurred when he was traveling on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians, Acts 9]) qualifies him too as an apostle: "novissime autem omnium tanquam abortivo, visus est et mihi" ("and last of all, he was seen by me, as by one born out of due time" 1 Cor. 15. 8). As Paul leverages mystical vision to claim the status of an Apostle, Dante hitchhikes onto Paul's now canonical status to validate his own claim to authority. In this way, the man Dante earlier in this letter called preacher to the gentiles ("Paulus gentium predicator") thus validates Dante as a preacher to the Cardinals (580).

Dante was not the first after Paul to claim to be "minimus," for the term was already employed in medieval preaching when the speaker either needed to communicate an urgent message or to sway a crowd not normally disposed to listening. In the De eruditione praedicatorum, Humbert of Romans explains that preachers can use the exordium of their sermons to call attention to their inexperience or insufficiency in order to gain the sympathy of their listeners. (14) An anecdote recorded by Rangerius, the late eleventh-century bishop of Lucca, demonstrates this practice in action when an anonymous monk gives teeth to a sermon against a simonist by downplaying his own rhetorical skill: "Non sum doctus homo," the monk says, "sed fretus simplicitate/Atque fide sana, si placet aspicere. /Ecce probo, non ambiguis, non arte dolosa, /sed rebus certis te male desipere" ("I am not a learned man, but rely on my guilelessness and pure faith, if it should please you to look. See here, I demonstrate--not with ambiguities, not with deceptive artifices, but rather with certain facts--that you act foolishly and wrongly") (1264). Like this unnamed monk, Dante engineers a theatrical presentation of himself as a humble preacher of truth, one who is driven, almost spontaneously, to speak words against figures more powerful than himself.

This profession of humility followed by denunciation is but one of the strategies that Dante employs to give heft to his voice while simultaneously neutralizing the risk of preaching without authorization. In the second part of this phrase, "nulla pastorali auctoritate abutens," Dante introduces his rhetoric of crisis, an alert that something has gone wrong within the traditional ecclesiastical hierarchy. As in the case of the anonymous preacher in the above example, Dante projects humility while simultaneously denouncing his addressee. And with deft use of Scripture, he links himself to a Pauline tradition of self-validation by acknowledging a higher authority than terrestrial representatives of the faith.

The Cardinals have shirked their duties. They have abandoned their flocks. Indeed they have done even worse through silencing those summoned on Divine command to suture this breach in pastoral leadership. Dante calls attention to these latter figures, and aligns himself with them:

Nam etiam "in ore lactentium et infantium" sonuit iam Deo placita veritas, et cecus natus veritatem confessus est, quam Pharisei non modo tacebant, sed et maligne reflectere conabuntur. Hiis habeo persuasum quod audio."

(Opere Minori, tome 2, Epist. 11.10, p. 584)

(For even "in the mouth of the suckling and the infant" has the truth pleasing to God resounded, and a blind newborn has confessed the truth which the Pharisees not only were silent about, but evilly tried to turn away. I am persuaded to dare on account of these examples.)

The passage is calculated to criticize and perhaps even to offend. The Cardinals, who in the Pope's absence are the Church's most elite representatives of the faith, are compared to Pharisees, whose silence ("non modo tacebant") was overshadowed by their attempt to thwart the speech of others ("maligne reflectere conabuntur"); the reference to Pharisees intends to recall Jesus's ongoing struggle against the Pharisees in the Gospels. In spite of--indeed because of--an oppressive atmosphere of censorship that Dante describes, truth must be spoken; but who is left to speak when the priests have abdicated their roles? Dante suggests that in times of crisis, new speakers are designated by miraculous action: the "infans," by definition without language, speaks by Divine fiat. As for the infant, so too for the suckling. Milk often represents both poetic and theological knowledge in Dante's symbolic economy. (15) A baby still at its mother's teat, still ingesting milk, is not yet capable of delivering it to others, and yet from its mouth issues truth pleasing to God. Likewise, the "cecus natus" ("someone born blind") is suddenly endowed with sufficient vision to know and profess truth. According to this logic, to speak truth does not require ecclesiastical status, university training or natural skill; instead, a miracle occurs in the mouth of a baby, and vision is instilled in the mind of the blind. In the context of impossibilia miraculously overcome, Dante finds the courage and claims the right to speak ("his habeo persuasum quod audeo").

The Silent Preachers of Inferno 23

While the Church's attitude to preaching primarily regards authorization and control, Dante's Commedia proposes a different stance, at once stricter and more tolerant. Dante emphasizes far more than does the Church that its representatives are duty-bound to preach and must not sway from that obligation. An exploration of the Jovial Friars Catalano dei Malavolti and Loderingo degli Andalo of Inferno 23 will illustrate how Dante's emphasis on silence means to highlight his intolerance of religious figures who do not preach. As we see also in the Letter to the Cardinals, in these circumstances silence is truly an abomination.

The Ordo Militiae Beatae Mariae Virginis Gloriosae, popularly and derisively called the Fratres Gaudentes or Jovial Friars, was founded in Bologna around 1260.16 Its rule, which followed the Augustinian model, was approved by Urban IV on December 23, 1261 (De Stefano 2229; Meersseman 304). Although the order was founded by several people working together, sources confirm that Loderingo degli Andalo was its principal founder and first prior (De Stefano 228). The ostensible reason for this order's existence was to defend those who could not defend themselves, as Jacopo della Lana puts it: "[...] il quale ordine sarebbe ad aiutare in ditto e in fatto, con arme e con cavalli, mettendo la vita per ogni vedova e ogni pupillo, ogni pellegrino e ogni povero etc." ("[...] the order would be to help in word and in deed, with arms and with horses, risking one's life for every widow and little child, every pilgrim and every pauper etc."). (17) Although the order officially operated to pursue these noble goals, the Jovials were in effect little more than the police wing of the church, enforcing papal interests wherever their muscle was needed (De Stefano 226). Hence the ruin that the shade of the friar Catalano de' Malavolti describes in the following lines:
   Frati godenti fummo, e bolognesi;
   io Catalano e questi Loderingo
   nomati, e da tua terra insieme presi
   come suole esser tolto un uom solingo,
   per conservar sua pace; e fummo tali,
   ch'ancor si pare intorno dal Gardingo
   (We were Jovial Friars, born in Bologna.
   My name was Catalano, his Loderingo.
   Your city made the two of us a pair,
   where usually a single man was chosen,
   to keep the peace within, and we were such
   that all around Gardingo the ruins can be seen.)

   (Inf. 23.105-08). (18)

Central to Catalano's confession is the joint taking of the podesta (at the Pope's behest) of Florence in conjunction with Loderingo ("da tua terra insieme presi"), a position originally meant to go to "un uom solingo." This led to social and political unrest, and finally internecine local violence. Under pressure from Clement IV, Catalano and Loderingo allowed the Guelphs to return to the city, and this in turn led to the ouster of Guido Novello, head of the Ghibellines, from the city. A popular uprising followed, in which Ghibelline properties were destroyed, including the houses of the Uberti family, which Catalano obliquely mentions in "intorno dal Guardigno," as the houses were located there. (19)

From its beginning, the canto is filled with suggestions of monasticism, as many scholars have noted, which highlights the fact that the sinners named here are all designated religious leaders. (20) The Pilgrim and Vergil too are absorbed into this monastic atmosphere, as they enter the space "taciti, soli, sanza compagnia," plodding in single file in the customary manner of traveling Franciscans ("come frati minor vanno per via" 23.1-3). On first seeing the sinners in this bolgia, Dante again uses monastic language:
   La giU trovammo una gente dipinta
   che giva intorno assai con lenti passi,
   piangendo e nel sembiante stanca e vinta.
   Elli avean cappe con cappucci bassi
   dinanzi a li occhi, fatte de la taglia
   che in Clugni per li monaci fassi.
   Di fuor dorate son, si ch'elli abbaglia;
   ma dentro tutte piombo, e gravi tanto,
   che Federigo le mettea di paglia.
   Oh in etterno faticoso manto!

   (Inf 23.58-67)

   (Down there we came upon a lacquered people
   who made their round, in tears, with listless steps.
   They seemed both weary and defeated.
   The cloaks they wore, cut like the capes
   sewn for the monks at Cluny,
   had cowls that hung down past their eyes.
   Gilded and dazzling on the outside,
   within they are of lead, so ponderous
   that those imposed by Frederick would seem but straw.
   Oh what a toilsome cloak to wear forever!)

Later, one of these "gente dipinta," Catalano de' Malavolti, refers to this bolgia, to which he too belongs, as a "collegio," another term for "monastero" or "convento," to which he immediately adds in a bitterly ironic turn "de l'ipocriti tristi" ("of sad hypocrites" 23.91-92). (21) If this place is a monastery, it is an infernal one. (22) To add to this claustral atmosphere, the poet never refers to any figure here simply as "ombra" or "anima" as is his custom, but instead calls them "frati." The pilgrim calls out "O frati" (23.109), Catalano specifies himself and Loderingo as "frati godenti" (23.103), and Dante repeatedly refers to Catalano as "frate" in the narration (23.114, 127, 142).

The early commentary to this passage suggests that hypocrisy is a sin very closely related to speech. For example, Benvenuto da Imola highlights the performative and rhetorical aspects of hypocrisy by noting as example a colorful story about a church pastor who "potavit se multa malvasia" ("got drunk on much malvasia"), passed off his drunken weeping during his sermon as pious sorrow, and thus moved his audience to weeping and emptying their purses into the alms box. (23) Pietro Alighieri recalls the Scriptural foundation for Dante's representation of hypocrisy, Matthew 23.27, in which Jesus compares the Pharisees and scribes to whited sepulchers, which are beautiful on the outside, but contain nothing but death within ("sepulchris dealbatis quae a foris parent hominibus speciosa intus vero plena sunt ossibus mortuorum et omni spurcitia"). Guido da Pisa and Pietro Alighieri find echoes of Matthew 7.15 in Dante's gold-plated capes. In the gospel passage, Jesus warns his followers of false prophets, who are wolves in sheep's clothing: "Attendite, inquit a falsis prophetis, qui veniunt ad vos in vestimentis ovium, intrinsecus autem sunt lupi rapaces" ("Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves"). Guido da Pisa goes on to contrast these wolves with the good "pastor," who caringly guides his flock. The "false prophet," used frequently in polemics against heretics, is a familiar bugbear for a period so concerned with orthodoxy and correct preaching. In his sermon "Attendite a falsis prophetis," based on the above cited passage from Matt 7.15, Thomas Aquinas associates hypocrisy with heresy. In that same sermon's collatio he ties false prophets and ravenous wolves directly to the hypocrite, identifying Pharisees as supreme among these ("Attendite a falsis prophetis"). (24)

Dante's description of hypocrisy might also intend to obliquely suggest heresy, evident in his reference to Frederick Il's punishment for lese-majeste in line 66. Here, Dante compares the hypocrites' "faticoso manto" to the leaden tunics that Frederick designed for condemned men, who were then tossed into a furnace, the metal melting to their bare skin. Lese-majeste finds parallels in ecclesiastical legal theory. Starting with Innocent Ill's bull Vergentis in Senium (1199), the Church begins to describe heresy as a kind of lese-majeste against the Divine (Ames 184). As lese-majeste was punished by fire in the secular sphere, so too would fire be used against heretics offending divine rule, as the canonist Enrico da Susa clarifies in his gloss on Lucius III's bull Ad Abolendam (Ames 184). Hypocrisy, Dante seems to suggest, is a lese-majeste against the Divine, and by implication, heresy.

As a matter of historical fact, Christian thinkers of this era did criticize the Jovials precisely for their lack of any discernible Christian service, preaching, or pastoral care. Salimbene of Parma, for instance, who expresses continued interest in the preaching of his confreres and other religious figures, sees no reason for the existence the Jovials, an order that in his eyes does no useful pastoral service (D'Alatri 64). (25) This opinion is in keeping with the instructions of Thomas of Chobham, who in his Summa de arte praedicandi declares prelates who refuse to preach "diabolical," since they would reap the substantial material rewards of their position without sowing the spiritual seeds ("Sed hoc diabolicum est: carnalia metere et spiritualia non seminare").26 Chobham later specifies the base motivations keeping preachers out of the pulpit, principally luxury, striving for power, and simple cowardice:

[...] scilicet propter explendas uoluptates uel propter ambitionem honorum uel maioris dignitiatis, ut illi qui militant in curiis magnatum, uel forsitan quia nolunt sustinere timorem defendendi gregem suum, omnes tales inexcusabiles sunt.


([...] whether because of pleasures they want to fulfill or because of ambition for honors or greater office, like those who are active in the court of nobles, or perhaps because they do not want to withstand the fear of defending their flock, all such reasons are inexcusable.)

Whereas in the above passage Chobham notes only the negligence of the prelate who does not defend his flock, he later goes one step further by calling that figure a wolf rather than a pastor/shepherd ("lupus potius quam pastor"). (27) In De eruditione praedicatorum, Humbert of Romans equates the silent preacher with the Pharisee, which tellingly dovetails not only with the appearance of Caiaphas in this canto (23.115-17), but also with Dante's letter to the Cardinals; in fact, like Dante in his letter Humbert details not only the Pharisee's silence, but also his efforts to silence others:

Alii sunt quos retrahit perversitas Ecclesiae rectorum, qui frequenter impediunt praedicationem, quam promovere deberent, similes Scribis et Pharisaeis inter Judaeos, et pontificibus templorum inter gentiles, qui semper studuerunt impedire praedicationem Christi: immo summe persecuti sunt praedicatores Christi, sicut patet ex Actibus Apostolorum, et Legendis Sanctorum.

(Opera de vita regulari, vol. 2. 419)

(Others, again, are rebuffed by the unpleasant dispositions of certain pastors of the Church, who hinder rather than foster preaching. They are like the Scribes and Pharisees of the Jews, and the priests of the pagans, who sought to prevent Christ from preaching and violently persecuted those who proclaimed the Gospel, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles and the stories of the Saints.)

(Treatise on Preaching 51)

Dante's inclusion of all these referents shared by these texts--the hypocrite/heretic, the refusal to preach, the silencing of others, the wolf, the Pharisee--suggests not only that he draws from the same rhetorical commons as did preachers and theoreticians of preaching, but that he includes figures like the Jovial Friars in his general condemnation of those who do not preach the Gospel even though they are ordered to do so--not by the Pope, but by Christ himself.

The Vigilante Preacher fra Dolcino

While Dante's condemnation of a non-preaching order like the Jovials is absolute and severe, he will, in contrast, prove far more tolerant in his dealing with vigilante preachers, those who take it upon themselves to preach in times of pastoral crisis. In Inferno 28, the poet carefully articulates a condemnation of fra Dolcino, the leader of a renegade religious sect called the Apostolics, while studiously avoiding a condemnation of his preaching or even his controversial doctrinal claims. Dante's treatment of Dolcino--whom the Church tarred as a heresiarch and burned at the stake--shows that the poet resists immediately labeling as "heresy" any expression of faith that falls outside the Church's narrow definition of orthodoxy. Instead, Dante's careful and precise condemnation of Dolcino as a schismatic demonstrates the poet's concern with him specifically as a political actor who threatened social stability. In sum, it is not Dolcino's doctrine but his actions that award him punishment in Hell. Indeed, since Dante and Dolcino share more ideological common ground than would be convenient to note explicitly in this canto, Dante does well to leave the theology of a condemned heretic in the background. However, by this omission he tacitly defends the freedom to speak for those outside of the Church's ordainment.

Dante's treatment of Dolcino demonstrates how far the poet is willing to go to avoid the easy equation of difficult figures with heresy, but this does not mean that Dante treats him in any way favorably. In Inferno 28, the pilgrim and Vergil encounter the schismatics and sowers of discord, whose bodies are mutilated in various ways. One of these, Muhammad, mentions Dolcino by name:
   "Or di a fra Dolcin dunque che s'armi
   tu che forse vedra' il sole in breve,
   s'ello non vuol qui tosto seguitarmi,
   si di vivanda, che stretta di neve
   non rechi la vittoria al Noarese,
   ch'altrimenti acquistar non saria leve."

   (Inf 28.55-60)

   ("You, who perhaps will shortly see the sun,
   warn fra Dolcino to provide himself--
   unless he'd like to join me here quite soon--
   with stocks of victuals, lest the siege of snow
   hand the Novarese the victory
   not otherwise easy to attain.")

In 1300, in Parma, fra Dolcino assumed leadership of an independent sect of Christian religious called the Apostolics. The order, which was never approved or sanctioned by the Church, and which persisted in its practices long after it was given orders to cease and desist, found itself in continuous conflict with the authorities. Driven out of Parma, Dolcino and the Apostolics eventually settled in the hills of Piedmont, where they made new converts and forged alliances with local populations in opposition to the Pope (Orioli, Venit perfidus heresiarcha 222, 242). Dante's Muhammad prophesies the ultimate defeat of Dolcino's Apostolics in the Val Sesia region between Novara and Vercelli. The Pope's armies laid siege to mount Rubello, where Dolcino and about a thousand followers were hiding. Over time many of the Apostolics died or deserted; by 1307, exhausted by the winter and continual lack of resources, the remaining few submitted to defeat (253-54, 257, 272-74). Dolcino was tortured and burnt at the stake in Vercelli, in punishment for his resistance. Muhammad's speech above alludes to the siege and final defeat in his sympathetic advice that Dolcino stock up on resources in order to withstand the long winter atop the mountain where he and his followers were destined for great suffering and ultimate defeat at the hands of a crusading papal army.

Dante's early commentators mostly agree about the basics of Dolcino's biography and history, but they differ on what exactly Dolcino's heresy was, or if he even was a heretic. Some of the commentaries to the Commedia accuse Dolcino of being a Patarine (Codice Cassinese, Pietro Alighieri), but Patarines were not heretics. Patarines were primarily a reform movement combating simony, concubinage, and marriage by priests, but they did not seriously challenge key doctrinal issues, as did Cathars. (28)

Neither does Dolcino's history strike us as all bad, even though he ultimately took up arms against the papacy as a schismatic. Benvenuto da Imola seems to admire and even romanticize some of Dolcino's outlaw traits in his commentary on these lines in Inferno. Perhaps this attitude provides an interpretive key for the attenuated condemnation that Dolcino receives at Dante's hand. In an extended comment, which not once mentions heresy (though the word "scisma" is certainly present), Benvenuto recounts Dolcino's entire biography, beginning with his childhood in Prato and later Vercelli (Piedmont), continuing through his precipitous rise as the leader of the Apostolic sect, and finally concluding with a long and gruesomely detailed account of his capture, torture and final execution. Benvenuto emphasizes Dolcino's brilliance and irresistible speaking skills: "Dulcinus erat intelligens et eloquentissima, adeo quod suavissima facundia sua ita ligabat auditores, quod nullus accedens ad eum semel, poterat unquam recedere" ("Dolcino was intelligent and wonderfully eloquent, of such delightful fluency that he bound his listeners so that no one upon hearing him once, could ever escape"). Benvenuto's treatment of Dolcino's torture and ultimate execution similarly shows a degree of sympathy for his stoic resilience. Benvenuto even goes so far as to state that Dolcino's execution could be considered a martyrdom if it were not for his clear intentions against the Church ("Poterat martyr dici, si poena faceret martyrium, non voluntas"). (29)

If the evidence from the Dante commentaries alone provides little to qualify Dolcino as a heretic in the true and proper sense, neither does a persuasive case materialize in the opinions on him expressed by ecclesiastics. From the Church's perspective Dolcino is a heretic simply because of his rebellion--to disobey the church is a de facto heresy--but Dolcino's theology in itself is not extraordinarily unusual, especially when compared to real doctrinal innovators like the Cathars. Salimbene's chronicle presents valuable information about the birth and development of the Apostolic order in the period pre-dating Dolcino's involvement. Originating in Parma in the 1260s, the Apostolics were not initially a militant sect. Nevertheless, Salimbene views them and their founder, Gerardo Segarelli, with severe disapproval. (30) It is hard to understand Salimbene's opprobrium, since under Segarelli's guiding hand the Apostolics were no more a threat to the Church than were any other assortment of passionate lay converts practicing piety and poverty, inspired by the model of the early Franciscans (Orioli, Venit perfidus heresiarcha 51). (31) Decades later, the inquisitor Bernard Gui identifies the group as heretically preaching against the Church ("dogmatizans contra communem statum sancte romane ecclesie") and introducing a "novam doctrinam" into the faith, but he does not identify that doctrine, nor does Salimbene's testimony provide any earlier evidence of it (De secta illorum in Segarizzi 17). (32) What Salimbene does provide is a slew of unfavorable and hyperbolic descriptions, referring to the Apostolics as "congregationem illorum ribaldorum et porcariorum et stultorum et ignobilium qui se dicunt Apostolos esse et non sunt, sed sunt synagoga Sathane" ("that group of rascally and swinish men, those fools and base creatures who say they are Apostles and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan" Salimbene de Adam Cronica 2:369; The Chronicle of Salimbene de Adam 249). Harsh words, but they do not constitute an accusation of heresy. Instead, Salimbene continues with ad hominem attacks, identifying Segarelli as a poor preacher of pitiful intellectual and rhetorical skills. (33) Despite Salimbene's efforts, support for Segarelli only increased among the Parma locals. Eventually his popularity grew enough to persuade the Franciscans to lobby for drastic measures to suppress him and his followers. In 1300, the local episcopate turned against Segarelli and his followers and had him burnt at the stake by the grand inquisitor of Parma. But Segarelli's execution could not stop the movement; it only increased in popularity and militancy when fra Dolcino took leadership that same year, setting in motion the seven-year journey towards their eventual grisly end at the hand of the pope's armies.

Noting the difficulty in identifying any doctrinal heresy in Dolcino's opinions, historians generally agree that his persecution was politically motivated, therefore furthering the belief that Dante's punishment for Dolcino primarily (perhaps even exclusively) regards his violent rebellion rather than theological difference. (34) Dolcino's equation of Boniface VIII with the Antichrist could hardly have won them many friends in Rome, nor would have his claims that no pope could absolve anyone from sin unless he lived in perfect poverty, waged no wars, and allowed people to practice their own faith in peace and freedom. (35) While accepting Dante's clear condemnation of Dolcino, we must register that the antipapal language that Dolcino issues finds echo in Dante's own withering criticism of popes and other church figures whom he finds failing in their sacred mission. (36) Thus, in Inferno 27, Dante, like Dolcino, challenges papal absolution, at least in certain cases. Here, the Franciscan Guido da Montefeltro recounts Pope Boniface VIII's claim to clear him of his sin ("tuo cuor non sospetti; /finor t'assolvo" ("Let not your heart mistrust/I absolve you here and now" Inf. 27.100-01]). In a debate over Guido's soul, right after his death, between St. Francis and a demon claiming to be a logician ("loico"), the latter argues that papal absolutions are meaningless if the sinner does not repent, as is the case with Guido, deceivingly absolved by the pope even before Guido offers his fraudulent advice (27.112-23). The poet's other famous challenges to papal supremacy are manifold and well documented. (37) In addition to their common claims against papal infallibility, both Dante and fra Dolcino share similar eschatological visions. According to Dolcino, a new Holy Roman emperor would arise and eliminate the pope, strip the Church of its wealth and temporal power, and instate a "holy Pope," ushering in a new era and a return to the virtues of the Early Church (Orioli, Nascita, vita e morte di un'eresia medievale 98-99; Venit perfidus heresiarcha 119-20). Dolcino's apocalyptic prophecy of a secular leader (not a divine pope, as Joachim of Fiore prophesies) recalls Dante's own prophecy of the "veltro" of Inferno 1 and the secular leader identified only as "DXV" in Purgatorio 33.43-44. Thus, in both their general disdain for the state of the contemporary church as well as a few particulars regarding papal authority, Dante and fra Dolcino share more ideological common ground than one might imagine.

Tellingly, Dante's judgment of fra Dolcino has nothing to do with his theology or his preaching. Dante could have simply repeated the Church's official judgment on fra Dolcino, including its claim to his heresy, but here the poet consistently refuses to do that. This decision does not mean that the poet is insensitive to heresy when he sees it. Note for example his praise of St. Dominic's preaching against the Cathar "heretical brambles" ("sterpi eretici" Par. 12.100), or his decision to assign Folquet de Marselha, who waged combat against the Albigensians, in the Sphere of Venus in Heaven (Par. 9.94).

However, it is important to remember that what the Church considers heresy and what Dante considers heresy can be two different things. Dante clearly opposes attempts by the Church to leverage its moral authority in the pursuit of political gain, especially when those pursuits include military operation. This stance is apparent in his opposition to Boniface VIII's war against the Colonna family, which challenged the abdication of Celestine V (Inf. 27.85-93), as well as in St. Peter's broad condemnation of any combat against the baptized ("che contra battezzati combattesse") (Par. 27.51). In fact, the impetus behind his opposition to papal armies also lies behind his condemnation of the schismatics in Inferno 28: a concern for social peace, stability and unity. All the other figures in this canto--Pier da Medicina, Gaius Scribonius Curio, Mosca de' Lamberti, and Bertran de Born, even Muhammad to a major degree--are here not because they believed different faiths, but because they tore apart societies previously unified. The focus on the schismatics here in Inferno 28, in keeping with Dante's ethics across the rest of this canticle, regards the political and social consequences of their actions above everything else (Barolini 400).


In Paradiso 11, St. Thomas Aquinas condemns those Dominicans that fall short in their ministry to others, criticizing them for returning to the fold with no milk to offer the flock ("tornano a l'ovil di latte vote" 11.129). The crime here, as it is everywhere else, is ultimately social: letting starve those who are famished for sound doctrine. In this way we see that the reluctant preacher is no less guilty than the schismatic of contributing to the collapse of society. Aware of the importance of spiritual ministry, Dante takes an uncompromising stance towards those designated to preach, and time and again he emphasizes the Church's failure to adequately serve its pastoral obligation, as has been shown in the discussion of the Jovial Friars of Inferno 23. On the other hand, Dante articulates the danger posed by those opposed to the Church, as in the case of fra Dolcino, while simultaneously steering clear of any blanket condemnation of unauthorized doctrinal preaching. All of these occasions, however, are motivated by a much larger strategic goal. Dante uses such cases as the Jovials and fra Dolcino to describe a situation of pastoral crisis, in which those called to preach are silent or silencing others, while the noisiest preachers are calling for violent insurrection against the Church. This ultimately untenable predicament calls for a voice ordained not by man but by the Divine, who will invigorate the complacent, calm the overly-passionate, and direct the misguided flocks. Dante in his letter to the Cardinals announces his readiness to take on that role in his words "hiis habeo persuasum quod audeo": I am convinced that I must speak!

By 1314, the year of this letter's composition, much of the Commedia was already finished: the Inferno was circulating, and the Purgatorio was complete or nearing completion. Dante's unflinching claim in this letter for the right to speak suggests that his most passionate preaching is yet to come. Paradiso--with its extended discussion of preaching in canto 29, speeches on pastoral care by Aquinas and Bonaventure in cantos 10-13, and the larger discussion of doctrine and theology across all cantos, studded everywhere with appearances by apostles, theologians and saints--may prove to be, ultimately, that fiery sermon that Dante dares to preach at last.

Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

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(1) "Dante e l'exemplum medievale," "Cadenze e figure della predicazione nel viaggio dantesco," "Schede su Dante e la retorica della predicazione," "Dante e il linguaggio dei predicatori." More recently, Nicolo Maldina has been exploring Dante and preaching: "Dante e l'immagine del buon predicatore nel Paradiso," "Tra predicazione e liturgia. Modelli e fortuna del 'Pater noster' di Purgatorio XI 1-21." Maldina is working on a book on the topic, hopefully to be published later this year.

(2) "Nel sistema retorico della Commedia agiscono i modelli retorici della predicazione," Delcorno says, and later adds that these are are "i moduli sintattici volgari resi familiari all'orecchio dei fiorentini dalla martellante pastorale degli ordini Mendicanti" ("Schede su Dante e la retorica della predicazione" 301).

(3) Here, Delcorno also claims that the exclamatio of Par. 11 (1-12), beginning, "O insensata cura de' mortali," likewise intends to recall the emphatic exhortations heard from the pulpit. Delcorno admits that some of these apostrophes could be credited to Classical influence such as the satires of Persius, but he adds that this would not justify the complex of phrases following Aquinas's initial exclamation ("chi dietro a iura e chi ad amforismi / sen giva, e chi seguendo sacerdozio [...]"), which he argues are more common to preaching: "All'esclamazione segue un ampio gioco di correlazioni 'a effetto descrittivo,' secondo un uso frequentissimo dell'oratoria sacra" (302). For an alternate opinion, see Luciano Rossi, who claims instead that "una simile deploratio fa parte della tradizione satirica medievale," using Carmina Burana and Roman de la Rose as examples (1775). Also, see Lucia Battaglia Ricci, who in turn identifies traces of Persius and Boethius in Dante's exclamation (137).

(4) Delcorno calls the pilgrim's screed against Nicholas III "ironicamente modulato sulle formule catechistiche della predicazione" ("Schede su Dante e la retorica della predicazione" 304). Benedetto Croce also recognizes the "oratoria" in this canto. While Croce does not claim that Dante's speech is that of a preacher here, he does concede that the pilgrim functions as a proxy for divine justice, speaking "non solo da pubblico accusatore, ma da esecutore e giustiziere" (91). As a temporary human representative of divine justice, Dante, at least for this moment, appears to take on the role of pope.

(5) "Tutto il canto XIX puo essere studiato come stilizzazione e a tratti parodia delle modalita di enunciazione del discorso dei predicatori, soprattutto i vv. 90-117, dove il poeta lancia la sua invettiva contro il papa simoniaco, che, confitto in uno dei fori della terza bolgia, puo rispondere solo con i movimenti convulsi delle 'piote'" ("Schede su Dante e la retorica della predicazione" 303).

(6) It also bears mention that Nicholas III was especially concerned with preaching and its authorization. His 1279 bull Exiit qui seminat, which, as Dameron says, "redefined papal ownership of the ideal of apostolic poverty" also energetically reaffirms papal authority to determine where, when and how Franciscans may preach (214, Les Registres de Nicolas III 239).

(7) The issue of speech and silencing is itself a subcomponent of a general principle that underlies the entirety of Dante's Commedia: absence vs. presence; vacancies vs. occupation, the void vs. fullness. These are often cast in an ethical key. We see this dynamic at work in Dante's harsh treatment of Rudolph of Habsburg (Purg. 7.94-96), who is explicitly called out (along with his son, Albert) earlier in Purg. 6 for not assuming his role as emperor, thereby leaving Italy without leadership, keeling like an unhelmed ship in a storm ("nave sanza nocchiere in gran tempesta") and going wild ("indomita e selvaggia") like a horse without a rider ("la sella e vota") (Purg 6.77, 98, 89). To illustrate the delinquent state of monastic orders, St. Benedict uses the language of concavity: "Le mura che solieno esser badia/fatte son spelonche" ("the walls that used to be abbeys/have been made caves" Par. 22.76-77). St. Peter calls the Papal Seat ("il luogo mio") vacant in the eyes of Jesus ("che vaca/ne la presenza del Figliuol di Dio" Par. 27.23-24).The poet's world view is literally one of holes, negative spaces, that need to be re-filled, replenished. Most obvious is Hell itself, a concave space created when Lucifer was cast out of heaven, and Mount Purgatory, the convex mound that redeems the vacancy of Hell by means of a literal stairway to Heaven, replenishing the promise of eternal life. Spiritual knowledge is often compared to food, of which the Pilgrim is "digiuno," hungry, fasting, barren. (Par. 15.49, 19.25, to name two occasions). And finally, in Paradiso, are the vacant seats in the rose of the Empyrean (Par 32.25-27), which will be entirely filled at the day of Judgment.

(8) "The progress of Catharism and other heterodox religious movements forced the clergy and the papacy to react promptly, before the entire edifice was undermined" (Vauchez 99).

(9) While sometimes repression of heresy was extreme, as is the case for the Albigensian Crusade, some scholars say that much anti-heretical legislation was mostly bluster, at least until the end of the thirteenth century: "Extant communal legislation against heretics often looks pro forma. Cities inserted Frederick Il's antiheresy decree into their statutes verbatim or pledged to obey it without any provisions for enforcement" (Thompson 139-40). For more on inquisitorial aims and processes in the Middle Ages, and especially in the 13th century, see Cardini and Montesanto, and Merlo. Moore has recently published a volume, The War on Heresy, in which one of the main arguments is that the "heretic" was often merely a person or group of people who could "frustrate the ideals or obstruct the ambitions of secular or ecclesiastical power" (330). Thus inquisitions and wars against heresy were really only a way to consolidate power, and to "extend the reach of governmental intrusions" (329).

(10) This concern for reconciliation is clear in Innocent's emphasis on assimilating these new unorthodox groups popping up, like the Humiliati and the Waldensians. In 1199, he orders that laymen may read the Scripture in the vernacular, as it is better for them to know the true Scriptures "lest these simple people should be forced into heresy" (qtd. in d'Avray 26). For Innocent's view on vernacularized Scripture, see Boyle 97-107. And yet, history proves that access to Scripture does not keep heresy at bay. For example the Cathars had a strong book culture, and Scripture figured very strongly in their preaching practice. They often had the New Testament or the gospel of John to expound from, which one Cathar would read in Latin while a perfectus would expound on it in the common tongue (Arnold 186-87).

(11) Odo of Sully, bishop of Paris from 1197-1208, was especially vocal about this, as was Robert Courson, who expressed his opinions in the councils of Paris in 1213 and Rouen in 1214 (Baldwin 110).

(12) For more on the religious training of preachers, at least among Franciscans, see Roest's two very comprehensive works: A History of Franciscan Education, and Franciscan Literature of Religious Instruction before the Council of Trent.

(13) The Church's stance is uncompromising on permission. Not only are unauthorized preachers categorically criminalized, even those who merely provided places for preachers to stay or deliver sermons could have their houses destroyed (Arnold 185). The torture and execution of preachers was a real threat, as the fate of fra Dolcino, whom we discuss later in this paper, will show.

(14) "Notandum vero quod prothema quandoque sumitur a persona praedicantis, ut quando aliquis ignotus praedicator de ordine Fratrum Praedicatorum, vel Minorum, vult praedicare in aliqua parochia, in qua est ignotus ipse et status ordinis sui, exponit in principio statum suum et ordinis sui, ne forte credatur esse quaestuarius praedicator, dicens illud Pauli, 2 Cor. 12: Non quaerimus quae vestra sunt, sed vos; vel quod insufficientiam suam cognoscens, ipsam praetendit exemplo Hieremiae, Hier. 1: A, a, a, Domine, quia puer ego sum, et ecce nescio loqui" ("The theme of the exordium may refer to the person of the preacher, for instance when the preacher is a religious of the Order of Friars Preachers or Friars Minor visiting a parish, where both he and his Order are unknown. He will make known, therefore, at the beginning, the spirit and the mission of his order, so that it will not be thought that he is preaching in order to collect money. He should therefore say with St. Paul: 'I do not seek yours but you' [II Cor. 12:14]. And when he feels his own insufficiency, he shall say with Jeremias: 'Ah, ah, ah, Lord God, behold I cannot speak, for I am a child' [Jer 1:6]") (Opera de vita regulari 481-82; Treatise on Preaching 119-20).

(15) Dante consistently associates milk with both poetic and divine speech in the Commedia. Here are a few examples: Homer is called the one "che le Muse lattar piU ch'altri mai" ("whom the Muses suckled more than any other" Purg. 22.101-02); In Paradiso 11, Thomas Aquinas remarks on those Dominican preachers who, not following the mandates of their order's founder, return to the sheepfold with no milk to give to the rest of the flock ("e vagabunde piU da esso vanno/piU tornano a l'ovil di latte vote" ("and the farther his sheep go wandering/from him, the emptier of milk/do they at last come back into the fold" Par. 11.128-29); Dante narrates something of an apotheosis of this symbolic relationship of milk to truth, when he compares the angelic host extending its flames upwards towards Mary to an infant extending its arms to its mother after suckling ("E come fantolin ch 'nver' la mamma/tende le braccia, poi che 'l latte prese,/per l'animo che 'nfin di fuor s'infiamma; ciascun di quei candori in sU si stese/con la sua cima, si che l'alto affetto/ch'elli avieno a Maria mi fu palese" ("And, like a baby reaching out its arms/to mamma after it has drunk her milk,/its inner impulse kindled into outward flame,/all these white splendors were reaching upward/with their fiery tips, so that their deep affection/for Mary was made clear to me" Par. 23.121-25).

(16) Salimbene introduces them thus: "Isti a rusticis truffatorie et derisive appellantur Gaudentes, quasi dicant: ideo facti sunt fratres, quia nolunt communicare aliis bona sua, sed volunt tantummodo sibi habere" ("These men were jokingly and derisively called Godenti by the populace, as if to say: they have become brothers [friars] simply because they do not wish to share their goods with others but to have them wholly to themselves") (Salimbene de Adam Cronica 678; The Chronicle of Salimbene de Adam 477).

(17) All early commentaries to Dante's Commedia were retrieved according to canto and verse from the Dartmouth Dante Project (

(18) Citations of the Commedia are from La commedia secondo l'antica vulgata, edited by Giorgio Petrocchi. Translations are from Robert and Jean Hollander's edition of The Divine Comedy.

(19) For more on the political involvement of the Gaudentes and their two founders, see: De Stefano, Riformatori ed eretici del Medioevo 228-69; Meersseman, Dossier de l'ordre de lapenitence auXlIIe siecle 304-05. For a more specific examination of their involvement in the political situation of Florence that Dante describes here, see Maggini 14-16 and Giannantonio 223-26. For general information on the Gaudentes, see Federici's classic study, and Meersseman 295-307. Regarding Catalano and Loderingo as represented in Dante's Inferno, see Raimondi 229-49.

(20) Raimondi sees in the opening tercet a "grigia atmosfera ecclesiastica" and an "aria claustrale" that "si stende cauta ma prepotente dietro la trama di parole chiave quali 'monaci, Clugni, manto, stola, collegio, cappe, frati'"(239-40). Russo, more synthetically than most before and after him, notes the accumulation of different terms and adjectives to "rendere quell'atmosfera greve e conventuale che sembra incombere su questa bolgia" (37). Giannantonio confirms the emphasis Dante intends in these lines, noting the many instances in Franciscan literature that describe the silence and walking in pairs that Dante here highlights. This emphasis, Giannantonio says, means to direct us towards a certain interpretation for the whole canto, which "ci induce a riflettere anche sulla commessa ispirazione claustrale dell'intera bolgia, ossia del 'collegio de l'ipocriti tristi' (vv. 91-92) che evoca cappe e stole, linguaggio biblico e casta sacerdotale, colpa clericale come l'ipocrisia e pena ricalcata su abiti conventuali" (212). Giannantonio reaffirms the importance of the monastic element in this canto when discussing the Jovial Friar's great lead capes (221-22). Keen also notes the monastic atmosphere of this canto, although her interpretation overlooks Dante's intended irony: for her, the "collegio/de l'ipocriti tristi" (Inf. 23.91-92) is not an opportunity to meditate on the obvious problem of Catalano and Loderingo's monastic fraudulence, but rather "an attempt to lend an air of familiarity, even dignity, to this assembly dressed in monastic style" (183). Some studies pay little to no attention to the patently monastic elements in this canto, notably: Bonora, Maggini, di Pino, Hollander, and Kleinhenz.

(21) When referred to in the singular, "collegio" in Dante is almost always colored by monasticism. In Purgatorio, the spirit of Guido Guinizzelli refers to heaven as a monastery where Christ is abbot: "Or se tu hai si ampio privilegio, /che licito ti sia l'andare al chiostro /nel quale e Cristo abate del collegio, /falli per me un dir d'un paternostro [...]" ("Now, if you possess such ample privilege/that you are allowed into the cloister/where Christ is abbot of the brothers,/say a Paternoster there for me [...]" Purg. 26.127-30). In Paradiso, after his speech to Dante, St. Benedict, founder of cenobitic monasticism in the western church, rejoins the other contemplative spirits, his "collegio" ("Cosi mi disse, e indi si raccolse/al suo collegio, e 'l collegio si strinse"; "Thus he spoke, and then returned himself /to his cloister, and the cloister gathered itself together" Par. 22.97-98; my transl.). In his prose works, Dante is less rigorous, using "collegio" also in a secular sense, for example: "lo collegio delli rettori fu detto Senato" (Convivio 4.27.10). It is also no accident that Catalano calls this place both a monastery and the domain of the "tristi." It was commonplace knowledge in the Middle Ages that acedia was endemic to monasteries, a "species tristitiae" to which monks were extremely susceptible (Aquinas, ST II, II, 35, 13).

(22) Such an absurd contradiction has not escaped the notice of critics. Raimondi calls it a "convento paradossale," noting the strangeness of a monastery "proprio nel mezzo di Malebolge e sotto il controllo dei 'neri cherubini'" (40).

(23) Later, the preacher used these funds to buy himself an episcopate. And thus, Benvenuto concludes, money turns hypocrisy into simony ("ita quod lucrum hypocrisis convertit in simoniam").

(24) "Quatuor modis contingit esse falsam prophetiam. Primo ex falsitate doctrinae. Secundo ex falsitate inspirationis. Tertio ex falsitate intentionis. Et quarto ex falsitate vitae. Primo dicuntur aliqui falsi prophetae ex falsitate doctrinae, ut quando falsa annunciant et docent" ("there are four ways to be considered a false prophet. The first is through false teaching. The second by false inspiration, the third by false intention and the fourth is by false living").

(25) While Salimbene does not directly address preaching in his critique of the Jovials, he clearly and exhaustively criticizes their neglect of pastoral duties, in which preaching is always fundamental. The first four of his criticisms regard their lack of charity, their luxury and their greed, typical sins of bad clerics. The last more specifically addresses their shortcomings as spiritual "pastors": "Quinto et ultimo, quia non video ad quid deserviant in Ecclesia Dei, id est ad quid utiles sint, nisi forte quia salvos faciunt semet ipsos; que a Ieronimo 'sancta rusticitas' appellatur, que 'solummodo sibi prodest, et quantum edificat ex vite merito Ecclesiam Christi, tantum nocet, si destruentibus non resistat.' Sed longe melius valet ille cui dici potest, Luc. XXIII: Salvum fac temet ipsum et nos. Ita dumtaxat, quod ipse obtemperanter respondeat: 'Domine si adhuc populo tuo sum necessarius, non recuso laborem. Fiat voluntas tua! ("Fifth and last, I do not see what use they can be to the Church of God--save perhaps to save their own souls. And Jerome has commented on this: 'The holy solitary life is indeed profitable to a particular person alone, and insofar as the merit of his life helps to strengthen the Church it is a good, but where it fails to resist those bent on the Church's destruction, it is an evil.' But that man is worth much more to whom it can be said, Luke 23 [.39]: 'Save thyself and us.' Thus let the man answer obediently, 'Lord if I am necessary to your people, I will not refuse the labor. Thy will be done!'" Salimbene de Adam Cronica 2. 680; The Chronicle of Salimbene de Adam 478).

(26) Chobham clearly states that the preacher who fails to preach takes advantage of his church, and falls far short of his pastoral duties. "Sed hoc diabolicum est: carnalia metere et spiritualia non seminare, ecclesias parochiales habere et numquam in eis predicare, nec exemplo bone vite informare nec in necessariis pro posse subuenire. Vnde horrendum est quod quidam clerici multas ecclesias habent quas numquam uel raro uiderunt, nec umquam in eis predicauerunt, nec umquam elemosinas ibi dederunt, nec aliquod exemplum nisi malum per absentia suam ibi ostenderunt. Vnde potest ibi dicere populus gemens et plorans: cur nos pastor deseris, aut cur nos desolatos relinquis? Inuadent gregem tuum lupi rapaces. Quomodo possunt tales dicere quod dicit Dominus: cognosco oves meas et cognoscunt me mee? Et Gregorius ait: nulla est excusatio pastoris si lupus deuorat gregem et pastor ignorat." ("But this is diabolical: to reap the carnal but not sow the spiritual, to have parochial churches and never preach in them, nor to inform with an example of good living nor to be able to assist them in their necessity. Thus, it is horrendous that certain clerics have many churches which they never or rarely see, nor ever preach in them, nor ever give alms there, nor do they show there any example except as an evil one by their absence. Therefore can the people say there with groans and weeping: 'Why do you desert us, shepherd, and why do you leave us desolate? The rapacious wolves invade your flock.' In what way can such (pastors) say what the Lord says: 'I know my sheep and they know me'? For Gregory says: 'There is no excuse for a shepherd if the wolf devours the flock and the shepherd does not notice'" 55).

(27) "Et Gregorius ait: nonne lupus est, potius quam pastor, qui ouiculam ecclesiastici pastoris tondet per rapinam, polluit per ebrietatem, rapit per fornicationem, deuorat per adulterium?" ("And Gregory says: is he not a wolf, rather than a shepherd, who shears the lamb of the Church's shepherd through plunder, who defiles it through drunkenness, who violates it through fornication, who devours it through adultery?")

(28) Even The Catholic Encyclopedia does not label Patarines as heretics.

(29) He dramatizes Dolcino's bloody end at the hands of the secular arm, such that his execution seems more a martyrdom than a justifiable consequence to heresy. Benvenuto details Dolcino's resistance to torture minutely, perhaps even enthusiastically: while his flesh is torn from his body, Dolcino never changes expression ("numquam mutasse faciem"); when his nose is lopped off, he only shrugs ("strinxit parum spatulas"); and even when his penis is cut off, he does not cry out but only sighs through the mutilated remains of his nose ("ubi traxit magnum suspirium contractione narium"). Finally, in a touch of splendid melodrama, Benvenuto heralds the fidelity of Dolcino's consort Margherita. Even after his death she remains "constans," refusing offers of marriage from many nobles who could save her life ("numquam potuit flecti"). She finally meets her own bloody and fiery end, but even then she follows her Dolcino "courageously," to Hell, according to the writer ("illum audacter sequuta est ad inferos"). While Benvenuto carefully emphasizes that Dolcino and Margherita were enemies of the Church, it is impossible to miss his clear attraction to these two figures, his admiration for their tenacious fidelity to their beliefs in spite of the cruelest torture, and his romantic coloring of their mutual love and devotion.

(30) Salimbene's discussion of Segarelli is largely limited to pages 250-92.

(31) For more on Segarelli, Dolcino, and the Apostolics, see also the study edited by Mornese and Buratti; Mornese, Eresia dolciniana; Anagnine; and the volume edited by Orioli, Nascita, vita e morte di un'eresia medievale.

(32) Orioli does not find any credible accusation of heresy in Salimbene's account (Venit perfidus heresiarcha 25).

(33) When Salimbene's criticism is specific, it hinges largely on matters of intellectual ability rather than issues of orthodoxy or heterodoxy. A notable example is Salimbene's mention of Segarelli's somewhat macaronic rendering of familiar Latin phrases: "Verumtamen verbum Domini frequenter dicebat 'Penitenjagite! '--nesciebat enim exprimere ut diceret: 'Penitentiam agite'" ("And he frequently repeated the words of the Lord, 'Doyepenance!' For he was ignorant of the proper words, 'Do ye penance.'") (Salimbene De Adam Cronica 2:372; The Chronicle of Salimbene de Adam 252).

(34) Carniello dismantles Salimbene's accusations of Apostolic heresy by exposing the rivalry going on between orders in Parma at the time. Drawing from documentary evidence, Carniello shows that Segarelli had the ear of many prelates and bishops in Parma and in the Emilia-Romagna region and was gaining popularity, while the Franciscans were losing followers as they gradually strayed from their founder's austere practices. Carniello concludes that the reason for Salimbene's harsh invective "was mendicant rivalry, and not any heretical tendencies inherent in Segarelli's religious enthusiasm" (237). Orioli likewise has little to say about Apostolic heterodoxy, instead identifying the Apostolics' rebellion as the driving force behind their persecution (Venit perfidus heresiarcha 119-20).

(35) These claims come from Bernard Gui's account of Dolcino's heresy: "[...] nullus papa romane ecclesie potest aliquem absolvere vere a peccatis nisi esset ita sanctus sicut fuit beatus Petrus apostolus vivendo in omnimoda paupertate sine proprio et in humilitate, non faciendo guerras, nec aliquem persequendo, set permittendo vivere quemlibet in sua liberiate" (De secta illorum in Segarizzi 24).

(36) Unlike Dolcino, however, Dante does not go so far as to criticize Ecclesiastical institutions themselves, only their corrupt ministers, as St. Peter makes clear in Paradiso: "[...] la sedia che fu gia benigna/piU a' poveri giusti, non per lei, /ma per colui che siede, che traligna [...]" ("[...] the papal seat, not now as benevolent/to the upright poor as it was once--not flawed in itself, /but degenerate in its occupant [...]" Par. 12.88-90).

(37) For a summary review of Dante's progressively antagonistic relationship to the papacy, see Holmes 18-43. Dante's challenge of papal right to govern secular politics, outlined in Monarchia, met energetic ecclesiastical opposition, which Cassell studies in depth in his book The Monarchia Controversy.
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Author:Mackin, Zane D.R.
Publication:Annali d'Italianistica
Article Type:Essay
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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