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Gabriele Rossetti's Rigors of Rome: a translation.


Gabriele Rossetti (1785-1854), the father of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, remains a powerful background figure in the study of Victorian poetry. Although he is commonly alluded to as a "Neapolitan exile," he was actually born in Vasto in Abruzzo Citeriore. He is a notable figure in Italian history and literature, and many streets and boulevards in his native country have been named in his honor. Upon his death, his son Dante Gabriel composed the poignant sonnet "On thy Bowed Head, My Father, Fell the Night." (For an in-depth study of this poem, see my essay "Gabriele Rossetti: 'On thy Bowed Head, My Father, Fell the Night'," in The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 5.2, May 1985, 81-99.) A worthwhile book for readers of Italian is Maria-Luisa Giartosio de Courten's I Rossetti: storia di una famiglia (Milano: Alpes, 1928). Waller's bibliography in his biography is of paramount value, particularly its entries relating to Rossetti's massoneria (freemasonry), which, in contradistinction to the freemasonry found in English-speaking countries, was that of the Scottish Rite. Scottish Rite freemasonry pervades Latin countries and is radically Liberal and anticlerical. The Roman Catholic counterpart to Scottish Rite freemasonry is Opus Dei. (See Paul J. Longo, "Escriva's Opus Dei: From Secular Association to Personal Prelature," The American Benedictine Review, 40.2 [June 1989], 190-203.) Pope Leo XII's encyclical Humanum Genus (The Human Race, 20 April 1884), on freemasonry, should be read by any serious student of Victorian literature, who will then be able to see more clearly, for example, the real significance of the theory behind Matthew Arnold's strategy of "defecation" (his word for the purging of superstitious practices given sacramental and dogmatic status by Roman ecclesiastics), which aimed at dismissing Catholic specifics as Aberglaube. Also of considerable interest is the chapter on Rossetti in Gabrielle Festing's John Hookham Frere and His Friends (London: Nisbet, 1899).

Rossetti's Sullo spirito antipapale che produsse la riforma e sulla segreta influenza che esercito sulla letter letteratura d'Europa e specialmente d'Italia, come risulta da molti suoi classici, massime di Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio (On the antipapal spirit which produced reform and on the secret influence it exerted on the literature of Europe, especially of Italy, as is clear from many of its classics, particularly Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio), dedicated to Charles Lyell, the father of the geologist, appeared in 1832 and was reviewed in Foreign Quarterly Review (May 1832, 531-46), The Edinburgh Review (July 1832, 531-51), and, by Arthur Hallam in The Atheneum (18 December 1832, 825-27). Rossetti's work also excited vivid interest on the Continent, where it was reviewed and critiqued by Ugoni, Maroncelli, Orioli, Mendelssohn, and Delecluze (in favor of it), and Pianciani, Canto, Fraticelli, Schlegel, Witte, and Ozanam (like Hallam, opposed). I cite just two works: A.W. Schlegel, "Dante, Petrarque et Boccace, a propos de l'ouvrage de M. Rossetti: Sullo spirito antipapale" (Revue des deux mondes 7.4, 15 August 1836,400-18), and J. Mendelssohn, Bericht fiber Rossetti's Ideen zu einer neuen Erlauterung des Dante und der Dichter seiner zeit: in zwei Vorlesungen (Report on Rossetti's Ideas concerning a new Explanation of Dante and the Poet of his time: in two Lectures; Berlin, 1840). For historical and thematic background to Rossetti' s "old wisdom" ("vecchia sapienza"), see my "Alchemy" (Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs, ed. Jean-Charles Seigneuret. NY: Greenwood, 1988, 18-31).

The following translation constitutes the totality of chapter 14 in Rossetti's Il mistero dell' amor platonico del medio evo (The Mystery of Platonic Love in the Middle Ages. 5 vols. Rpt. Milano: Arche, 1982, 4:1031-1049; originally printed by Richard and John E. Taylor. London, 1840). Il mistero represents a development, over a number of years, of Sullo spirito antipapale. During the years that he was writing Il mistero, Rossetti kept John Hookham Frere, the British diplomat and man of letters, apprised of his progress. Frere, who was to be described in a review article on The Works of John Hookham Frere in The Edinburgh Review (April 1872, 472-501) as having belonged to a "common freemasonry" (474) of marginal writers of extraordinary ability, grew distressed at its unfolding content and offered to buy up the entire run when it became evident that he could not dissuade Rossetti from having the book printed.
 The book was based on doctrines already set forth [in Sullo spirito
 antipapale], namely that Dante and his circle formed a secret
 society of anti-Catholic thinkers who were really Gnostics and
 Freemasons ...; but when the moment of publication arrived, it was
 withdrawn at the entreaty of Mr. Hookham Frere, a friend of long
 standing, who feared that it would be judged subversive. Was this
 the true motive? Or did the Rosicrucians block publication, alarmed
 by the fact that the writer had revealed their traditional secrets
 to an unacceptable degree? (De Courten, 334; my translation).

On 31 July 1833 Frere wrote to Rossetti: "Pray think well and consult with conscientious men and with your own conscience before you venture on the irretrievable steps of revealing one of the two great antagonist mysteries "(Festing, 321). Actually, the situation was much worse, as Frere subsequently complained.

Rossetti, one of whose brothers was a Roman Catholic priest and who kept reassuring his distraught wife that he was "un buon cattolico" and who actually asked for and received the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church before he died, was really arguing, in effect, that "the two great antagonist mysteries" (namely, the paganism of the Eleusinian Mysteries qua freemasonry and the essence of Roman Catholicism) were fundamentally one, and that, once the dross of Aberglaube was sublimated by gnosis, the bruited Gnostic unity, or conjunction, of opposites would be seen to occur in infinity: "Jesus shall embrace Belial his brother, and lead him to God," as Victor Hugo expressed the matter in Louis Veuillot. On 6 April 1836 Frere wrote to Rossetti: "You, my dear Rosetti [sic], according to [the] course of nature, may live, and probably will live to witness some stupendous development demonstrating that those systems which your readers had been taught by you to consider as the branches of the same, were essentially the forms of two antagonist principles. Figure to yourself what will be your feelings of horror, if the events which you may live to witness should enforce that conviction upon your mind" (Festing 328).

In the translated material, Rossetti appears to be on the side of the reformers. He chooses to dwell on the despotic aspect of the Church in the Middle Ages and on the severe curtailment of religious liberty. Such despotism, according to Rossetti, resulted in the adaptation of Manichee strategies by authentic Christians who had to resort to the screen language of the Troubadourian senhal (Provencal, "sign, high sign, signal") in order to mask their true meaning (nucleus) under an insincere or hypocritical surface (cortex or shell). Under their tutelage, literature becomes a kind of Glasperlenspiel, shell game, or logogriphe ("riddle"; "La reformation en Italie," Revue Britannique, March 1828). Critics complained of Rossetti's Commentary on Dante that he had reduced La commedia divina to the ignoble status of a parlor game which posed various symbols as conundrums. Rossetti's hermeneutics, which approached literature in the spirit of Silenus, the old schoolmaster and foster-father of Bacchus (Liber, Dionysus), involved the techniques and postulates of both Jungiansim and Deconstructionism avante la lettre.

When one ponders the above, it would appear to be a serious error to presume to read D.G. Rossetti, Swinburne, and William Morris solely at the surface or literally. That was Robert Buchanan's blunder. Indeed, critics, who point to Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Mazzini as two of the most compelling influences on Swinburne, actually need go no further than Gabriele Rossetti, who quite competently and radically combined both of them within himself. It is highly unlikely that Swinburne, a fluent speaker and reader of Italian, did not know of Gabriele Rossetti's very unsettling and invigorating ideas. In light of Rossetti's literary theory of code language, or doublespeak, it remains one of the exquisite ironies in literary criticism that one would ever have spoken seriously of "Pre-Raphaelite sincerity."

The question of Christina Rossetti and Swinburne's professed affinities with Albigensiansim (a Manichee sect) also relates to the subject matter of the following translation. For an opposing, Roman Catholic appraisal of the Inquisition, see William T. Walsh, Characters of the Inquisition (New York: Kennedy, 1940).

Franklin Pierce College

Rigors of Rome

When one examines the history of the Inquisition, one sees that it reveals the spectacle of a disastrous and irrepressible struggle protracting itself between two relentless adversaries: on the one side, the spirit of abuse, Rome in all its titanic power; on the other, the spirit of reform, a part of Christianity with scant strength. Rome wants to stay as it is; the Reform Movement wants to renew a Christianity unpolluted by political and other worldly concerns. Rome wants to retain and even universalize its temporal authoritarianism, which perverts the law of the Bible; the Reform Movement wants to wrest secular ambition from the Pope's hands in order to restore the law of the Bible to the people of God united in the Holy Spirit, for whom the papacy arrogantly insists on acting as the only legitimate proxy or broker. Rome aspires to exercise absolutistic tyranny over conscience; the Reform Movement reclaims for conscience the liberty established in the human heart by the Lawgiver. For a long time, the relative strengths of the two adversaires were unequal. During the Age of Ignorance, Rome had with it all the knaves, dupes, and simpletons of the blind part of Christendom--an enormous host! The Reform Movement had only the enlightened part--scarcely a squad. And that explains why the spirit of abuse, the Roman legions of a politicized Christ, won out down through the centuries over the spirit of reform. Many an auto-da-fe incinerated the enemies of Rome, and Rome chanted a victory hymn over their ashes, a paean to worldly triumph which Rome brazenly called a canticle to God. But all the while that she was leading others to believe that she had confounded the would-be destructors of holy religion, Rome knew that she had, in fact, vanquished only the opposition party to her illicit and impious power. Rome too had her code language, and the substitution of terms crackled in her fist like a magical, irresistible weapon: for example, the papal initiate knew that "holy religion" really signified "papal absolutism."

Rome applied the torch to the faggot tirelessly, and the consumed Phoenix rose again and again from the smoking cinders: gaining vigor from its annihilations, the Reform Movement was resurrected many times, each time ever more robust. It fell and revived so many times, it died and rose so inexorably, that it finally appeared in the form of a redoubtable colossus. That colossus, bestriding heaven and earth, grappled its ancient foe, then stretched him out, semiconscious, on his face in the dust. Next, it pried half of the booty from his hands and left the other half in his feeble claws, which, unsure of their possession, still frisk and flash to clasp it. Rome's strength was the ignorance of the people. Strength and ignorance waned together.

So inexcisable is humanity's inborn love for truth and justice that, although the proponents of reform were overthrown down through the ages, others took their places. Sanguis martyrum est pullulatio [The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church] is an adage of the Church herself.

The Reform Movement had many martyrs. However, everyone ought to feel that life itself is the ultimate sacrifice that a human being can make. No matter how holy the cause to which one consecrates oneself, death is always a very hard thing. And it was all the harder in those days, because the sacrifice was double. Availing itself of the ignorance that it had produced, Rome doubled the terror of the witnesses to her acts by branding the foes of her own corruption the foes of God. Consequently, the terrorized and benighted populace rejoiced to see the burning of God's enemies. Each execution became a gala event. Surely, to die for the sake of humanity, and cursed by the same, requires a lion's heart. That being the case, one can easily understand why, in the enlightened part of each nation, no matter how numerous were the people who desired reform, very few dared lock horns with the great enemy. And the others, the unenlightened, what did they do? Gullible or shrewd, they acquiesced to being Rome's stooges.

Rather than swelling the numbers of reformers who were grotesquely butchered by Rome, certain writers resorted to a kind of literary freemasonry for propaganda purposes. But no one will be able to appreciate their motivation without first pausing to scrutinize the Church of Rome. That abominable institution made a necessity of fakery and a duty of hypocrisy. Historically, it had been mankind's greatest shame and the relentless occasion for human misery. The writers named above therefore had recourse to a code language, to a kind of writing so cautious, a modus scribendi so circumspect, that only initiates could fathom it. For the uninitiated, their writings continue to keep the grand secret of the antipapal sects of the Middle Ages buried in shadows and suffocated, as it were, in silence. No one will ever be able to appreciate the quality of the desire that motivated such famous and respected writers in their attempt to topple the horrible evil embodied by the Church of Rome without first considering what Rome meant for them. Those great-souled men did not hesitate to risk their lives, seeking to remove the cause of the most grievous general calamity. Shall we comdemn them?

What did Rome mean for them? It seems clear to me that every denial of that spirit of catholic benevolence, common harmony, and love without exception which forms the essence of our faith denies the faith itself de facto. Indubitably, whoever rages against humanity abjures the very cult that deified it; and if he confesses Christ with his mouth, he renounces him with his heart, so that, praising Christ, he scorns him, blessing Christ, he blasphemes him. And for that reason one can say unequivocally that from the moment the Church of Rome began to shed human blood it ceased to be the Church of Christ. For Petrarch, it became Babylon:
 Gia Roma, or Babilonia falsa e ria,
 Per cui tanto si piange e si sospira;

 Formerly Rome, now Babylon false and guilty,
 The reason why people weep so much and sigh;

and Dante pictured the Church of Rome as that skulking and obnoxious she-wolf
 Che molte genti fe gia viver grame.
 Who once made many people live miserably.

O meekness of early Christianity! You did not reverberate with rabid curses, mournful laments, and the groans of tortured and dying persons. You did not make a litany out of "Burn!", "Butcher!", "Exterminate!", "Destroy!" You did not oscillate between the harsh outcries of fanaticism on one side and philosophy on the other, which spread from country to country--until intolerant vituperation drowned the philosophy. Instead you gently propagated the charitable words of the divine Saviour by the mouths of your exemplary ministers. Reason and religion walked hand in hand, and both inspired the Fathers of the Church to speak memorably in ways which nourished brotherly love. "A just man does not differ from a just man, be he christian or pagan. Whoever before the law of Christ has led a blameless life ought to be reputed a son of the law, and recognized as a brother" (St. Clement of Alexandria, Strom. vi). "All men who lived or live according to the dictates of Reason, which is the daughter of God, are true christians, and as such exempt from any fear whatsoever" (St. Justin, Apolog. ii). "Glory, honor and peace to all those who have done good works, be they Jews, be they christians" (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies 36). And as if prophetically condemning the evil we have just deplored: "I do not wish to force men to disclose their sins to other men" (Homilies ii, on Ps. 50).

A shout arises from a hundred histories, a just and indignant shout. That uproar denounces to horrified posterity the greatest plague of Christendom. Whoever has paid attention to what those histories recount as having been done in the name of the Inquisition may well raise their eyes to heaven and thank God for having mercifully, if not altogether extinguished, at least greatly enfeebled that hellish hydra sanctioned by Rome, which in His blessed name committed the most heinous crimes. I do not intend to give an account here of the massacres already known, but to consider the mischievous nature of the thing that produced them, so that the cause may be made clear why the most sincere minds of those days resorted to silence, caution, dissimulation, and hypocrisy.

But before I do that, who would have believed that the Inquisition exists even now in the Papal States! Right now, I have on my desk the "General Edict of the Holy Office," issued in 1829 by "Fra Angelo Ancarani di Faenza, Inquisitor of the Province of Romagna, specially delegated by the Holy See against heretical depravity." In it, it is imperiously commanded "under pain of excommunication, in addition to the penalties imposed by the Sacred Canons, Decretals, Bulls, etc., of any person whatever, whether cleric or layman, nemine excepto [with nobody excepted], that within the term of a month they reveal, in whatsoever way we get the information, the heretics, or those suspected of heresy, or their supporters and defenders--those who against God and his saints, and particularly against the Most Blessed Virgin, have proffered or proffer heretical blasphemies--who have obstructed or obstruct the office of the Holy Inquisition, or have offended or offend, or have threatened or threaten to offend, by themselves or through others, in any way whatever, in his person, or honor, or goods, or in any way, any official, or denunciator or witness of the Holy Office; who may have had in the past or have now, either in his own home or in the home of others, writings which contain heresies, or books by heretics, or writings which treat of religion, without authority of the Holy Apostolic See; or who have read them, or kept, etc. And from said excommunication those who do not obey this edict shall not be absolved by anyone, without first having satisfied their obligation, juridically revealing the heretics and those suspected of heresy ... reminding all confessors of their obligation strictly to enjoin their penitents to make denunciations in all the cases aforementioned, assuring them that they will be forever kept most secret, and validly on protected occasions, in conformity with the tenor of the dreadful Bull of the sacred memory of Saint Pius V., Si de protegendis ["If concerning those who must be protected"; as with Encyclicals, Papal Bulls derive their title from their opening words], etc., etc. Given at Forli in the Chancellor's Office of the Holy Inquisition, this day 14 May 1829.--Ita est, Fr. Angelus Dominicus Ancarani, Inquisitor, qui supra manu propria-Frater Dominicus Asdrubali S. Officii Forlivii Notarius Assumptus. Loco [dagger] sigilli. Forli, Matteo Casali, Printer to the Holy Office.

I pass over in silence the man who dreams of women having intercourse with the devil, and the one who thinks it is the business of the Holy Office to know who eats, dances or plays with a Hebrew, and even the man who informs on the person who teaches him how to read. If this inquisitorial monster lifts his haughty head so high in an age of enlightened reason, what did he not dare to do in those dark days when the oracle of Rome and the oracle of Heaven were all but universally supposed to be one? We turn to that dismal epoch, and we see in part what he did, and would very willingly resume doing now, if he could.

Passing over the inhuman regulations of this impenetrable tribunal, this Caliban spawn of the Holy Apostolic See, I make no mention of the refined torture of spirit and body with which it oppressed, bewildered, terrorized, tore, tormented, and mutilated its unfortunate victims. I shall say nothing of its Neronian voluptuousness, which, when it lacked living persons to sate itself on, turned to corpses. Exhuming the remains of a man whom it proclaimed, after centuries, to have been a heretic, it burned them. As if wallowing in barbaric luxuriousness, it scattered the ashes to the four winds. The man's descendants--children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren--were thus retroactively steeped in obloquy. The less said about such deviltry the better. I shall cite only some articles of the monster's code, which makes Draco seem mild by comparison.

Whoever was condemned as a heretic was not only proscribed by civil and ecclesiastical laws, he was also declared abominable and was dispossessed of all his property. The Church appropriated it, so that only his infamy, and not the slightest particle of his estate, was bequeathed to his heirs, down to the fourth generation. His innocent children, even if they were no more than babes, his ill-starred wife, even if old, were plunged into misery, with no hope of escape. That the Church, which enriched itself in this way at the expense of others, should ever have lusted after the patrimony of a "heretic"--perish the thought!

Whoever was convicted of aiding a heretic's flight or of hiding him, and such was assumed to be the case with blood relatives, ipso facto forfeited whatever ecclesiastical charge, civil post, rifle, dignity, etc. he held. He was disqualified from serving as a witness and making a will. His goods were confiscated, and his family was disinherited in perpetuity.

Whoever was summoned by the Holy Office to appear before it and, scared out of his wits, declined to comply and instead either went into hiding or fled to avoid it, was without further process declared a heretic.

A heretic's debtors were not obliged to pay him. A heretic's vassals no longer owed their lord obedience, tribute, or consideration of any kind. Even his sworn enemies were admitted as his accusers, along with reprobates of every description, etiam criminosi [even felons]; and always secretly.

The terrible anathema of the Holy Office fell not only on persons who had associated with a heretic, but also on things belonging to him or which had come in contact with him. A council (Toulouse, 1229) ordered that any house which had sheltered a heretic should be leveled to its foundations, and declared the land on which it stood Church property?

None of the deplorable afflictions with which blind Catholicism visits human nature equals the baleful influence that the Holy Office exercised on it. The gravest ill, which scandalizes even the most barbarous nations, is the annulment of mutual confidence among Catholics themselves. If Mussulman promises to do something and swears by Allah and the Prophet, rest assured he will keep his word. But if a Catholic were to swear the most solemn oath, were to swear on the Bible and by the Holy Eucharist, could you trust him? That's how the Pope carries on. Having made himself the champion of betrayal, he snaps the tie that binds men and becomes the source of all the mischief that such infamy inevitably ushers in. (2) Even more malignant is the doctrine of exclusive salvation: extra ecclesiam nulla salus [outside the Church there is no salvation]. The command to believe as an article of faith that only Catholics have a right to Paradise, and that all other mortals have been made to be logs crackling in Hell, is repugnant. It deracinates that universal charity which forms the essence of authentic Christianity--hence the murderous intolerance that shed so much blood and the hereditary hatreds producing so many calamities. How can we call that which thrives on bad faith among its own faithful the true cult of Christ? What kind of orthodoxy is it which nurtures antipathy and contempt for all other human creatures? Rather, would it not appear that the real scope of the Latin Church is to demoralize the mind and heart of the people through slow, dogmatic indoctrination? Quite dramatically, that's precisely the worst evil of all those procreated by the Holy Office.

A wife who suspected her husband of heresy, and vice versa, a father who suspected his son, and vice versa, in short any close relative who suspected a kinsman of heresy, was, under pain of being declared a heretic, compelled by the inquisitorial laws to smother the most sacrosanct natural sentiments! (3) Eternal Word of God! How Rome trampled you underfoot while mouthing pieties! Insatiably, she dominated the minds which she had set in a false gaze. She made her dupes believe that they would be damned eternally if they did not assassinate the people most dear to them. She found her spiritual despotism unsatisfying without the worldly power that she could wield against those who refused to kill their brothers and fathers. Those unnatural activities she pronounced most pious and worthy of Your glory! Thanks to Rome, every confidence was banished from the bosom of the family. Thanks to Rome, husbands who had been turned in by their wives were to be seen being burned alive, and children informed on by their mothers, and mothers handed over by their children.... The horror! The horror! And it's not a question of rare instances gleaned disgustedly from a page or two of history but of thousands upon thousands of cases, occurring daily throughout Christian Europe! I defy anybody to point out in pagan antiquity an epoch of equal perversion, an epoch that extrapolated a universal scourge from an absurd religion. The pagans did not shatter the strongest bonds of nature and take pleasure in sanctifying parricide. Solon believed it impossible, and the Pope made it commonplace. Pagan legislators could not find an adequate penalty for parricide. The Holy Roman Catholic Church makes it a precondition for heavenly bliss! And while doing so, it publicly announces that it is infallible! And woe to the man who doubts it! Behold him, a heretic, entering among the flames to suffer the punishment. Alas, we must admit that the scenario is only too true! Rome! Rome! Shuffling the names of vice and virtue to correspond to whatever hinders or fosters your unbridled greed for power, you have thoroughly subverted not only Christian morals but the moral teachings of Socrates and Confucius as well.

Such was Dante' s epoch--the most calamitous epoch of Christendom, because most dominated by the Holy Office. And such was this cannibalistic monster which, as if in contempt of everything holy, gave (and gives) itself the title holy--a monster both brutally powerful and astute, a sleepless explorer and rapt executioner turning its hundred heads and keeping its thousand eyes always in motion. Its thousand ears are restlessly attentive. Its thousand arms are always trashing, to uncover, reach, and snatch the countless baptized prey with which Rome stokes the perennial fire blazing before the frightening Vesta of her unglutted ambition. Where to escape? Because the Church was present throughout Christendom, none of the victims designated by her cold reckoning fled without unspeakable caution, and the hypocrisy of a code language was a kind of tribute paid tremblingly to the colossal Babylonian idol.

Powerful kings, either icy with fear or boiling with fanaticism, became the idol's sergeants and police agents, and in that character they suitably altered both disposition and manner--as if being, or feigning to be, Catholic necessarily entailed the inversion of one's natural character or disposition. Without mentioning those who, shrinking naturally from innocent bloodshed, nevertheless let the blood of their subjects pour forth copiously, I shall recall only one. A very meek lamb by nature, he was transformed by fanaticism into a bloodthirsty tiger. Who more merciful and clement than Louis IX of France, hailed as the father of his people? And so he was--until Rome perspicaciously changed him into a frightful butcher. In blind devotion to her, he became one of the most gruesome instruments of her barbarism. He frequently pitied the murderer, arsonist, and highwayman, but always closed his heart to the anguished pleas of those who on a point of faith strayed from orthodoxy. His was the decree (1228) that rewarded whoever betrayed a heretic to the tribunal with two silver marks. The same decree declared whoever who had abetted a heretic unfit to make a will, give testimony, be employed and enjoy the dignity of labor, and own property. Imperturbably, he watched deserted tots and wretched wives sink into the squalor of desolation and poverty. Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum [So many ills could religion promote]. (4)

With popes and monarchs intriguing thus in tandem, and every corner of Catholic Europe swarming with monks and priests and soldiers and police agents and conspirators, where could a reformer find refuge and safety? A law of the Inquisition ordered investigators "to make minute search even in the most inaccessible tracts of woodland, even in the deepest graves, where some heretics might have hidden themselves." The princes and their vassals had to execute such orders without exception or stint, without the shadow of regard for the heretic's sex, age, or social status, and even against their closest kin. Pity, friendly sentiment, conjugal loyalty, fatherly affection, maternal tenderness, filial devotion, and the love of brother or sister--these bonds of nature became through the wisdom of Rome so many heresies, and as such were expiated by the most horrible death! Laws so abominable were in the meantime confirmed by solemn councils; by those of Melun and Beziers in 1231, Aries in 1234, and Narbonne in 1236, etc., and were proclaimed to be the "work of Jesus Christ, and inspired by Jesus Christ." Jesus Christ? The most dehumanized despot and the fiercest tiger were much better than their bloodthirsty Jesus Christ. With armed troops, bundles of faggots, and piles of logs they burned the baptized people who displeased them. One hundred and forty-three were burned alive in a single day on the Marne in 1239. Eighty expired in flame in Agen a little later. The historian Leger counted two million pitiable victims who were immolated in dreadful ways by Rome, down to two centuries ago. Many thousands were added after that! Droves of pious assassins with haughty frowns scoured cities, villages, and fields. Carriers of terror, massacre, and desolation, they fueled the stakes with heretics, heresy suspects, and those whose only crime was human fellowship or natural duty. Making from year to year, and even from month to month, those holocausts accepted by God, as they called them, on the groans of the dying they were pleased to bestow the strains of their lugubrious ritual psalmodies, chanting the praises of the Lord of mercies! And who will be able to compute the number of victims who thus perished in Spain! It is impossible to recount all the horrors which Holy Mother the Church made her daughter, the Inquisition, commit. And when she had disencumbered herself of an immense number of heretics who were populating a vast state, the Pope, perched on the Chair of Saint Peter, declared a crusade. At the voice of the vicar of Christ, repeated from a thousand pulpits, entire realms armed themselves to hasten to exterminate poor wretches who were either innocuous or merely wayward. And the crusaders, those demonic killers liveried in the cross, absolved of all sins committed or to be committed, always sure of earning the glory of heaven whether they slew or were slain, became real furies unchained. Rome loomed over the killing fields, the Virgilian Tisiphone who vocat agmina saeva sororum [summons the savage hosts of her sisters].

How much better it would have been for the Pontiff and his clergy, if instead of exhausting themselves exterminating they had striven to convert! They had been commissioned by the Divine Lawgiver in the office of apostles, not butchers. Reason and the Gospel, not force and fraud, were their true weapons, and with these alone they could have won. If instead of transfiguring poor Europe into a reeking cemetery, where heaps of Christian ashes were smoldering everywhere, around which bereft orphans and widows were giving vent to sobs and lamentations; if instead of brandishing an incendiary torch to destroy, they had lifted the lamp of instruction to illuminate, and to call in that way the strayed sheep back to the holy sheepfold, they would have done something not only worthy of their office, but much more profitable to their interests. It would have been enough, that lamp, to get the great multitudes of the bewitched to understand by what means a few men had bewitched them. It would have been enough to demonstrate to them that what they were showing themselves so zealous for was not our true religion, but a deceitful sham which resembled it; not the genuine christian dogma but a subtle pagan counterfeit; not the holy theology, in which everything is sincere, but a cunning mythology in which everything is fictitious. It was needful, in short, to get those swindled souls to recognize from what source their deception sprang--by exposing all the frauds of the sectarian schools then flourishing and by penetrating and dispelling all the seductive illusions of their seemingly conventional language. Nor were there lacking among the learned men of the Latin Church those disputants and men of penetrating intelligence who could have done that easily. A clear exposition of the various artifices of the pagan initiations, and another of the Manichee initiations which derived from them, would have been more than sufficient to the important task at hand. Instead, Rome resorted to murder. Why?

Before undertaking the cure of others, Rome should have taken care to cure herself, and to purge herself of all the proud leprosy and venal mange which were gnawing her viscera and skin, by ridding herself forever of the fever for power and opulence. Her worldliness was the fatal cause of a hundred other moral infirmities which, debasing and defacing her, had made her an object of disgust in the eyes of God and man. Rome should have remembered the words of her Divine Founder-that His kingdom is not of this world--and renounced mundanity. She should have closed the two scandalous wickets of Indulgences and Purgatory, where she pockets the money of the living to sell I don't know what to the dead. Rome should have ceased the manufacture of beatifications and canonizations by which she patterned heaven after earthly aristocracy and placed in the book of gold and silver certain saints who are nauseating murderers. She should have abolished the discredited miracles workshop which, declaring the impossible a fact, peddles legerdemain, mass hysteria, and shameless imposture as the astonishing work of God, to the detriment of His august religion. Rome should have removed from her altars the plethora of images and relics that feeds superstitious practices and renders the very cult that has repudiated them almost idolatrous. She should have expelled from her midst that rabid, seething intolerance which blows with puffed cheeks the dizzying spirit of hatred among brothers in Christ. Rome should have excised the cancer of Confession from the Mystical Body of Christ. She should have thrown to the ground those secret seats of sacramental espionage, the confessionals, where remorse and shame are throttled, and which the foulest sinner imagines to be a quick wash that rinses away his guilt, so that, having made his confession, he begins at once to dirty himself anew. Rome should not have condemned to sterility so many plants in the garden of the Lord, which becoming infertile become noxious ... O celibacy! O tormenting immoral law, high treason against humanity! By being insulting to God, you draw upon yourself the condemnation of reason, his daughter and his voice. (5) After having insanely sworn never to eat, the man or woman who feels the pangs of appetite seeks to snatch fraudulently the food he or she could honestly have tasted. And that's the way it is with those who through more equitable regulation would have been exemplary ministers of the sanctuary but have been distorted into seducers and seduced; and worse--into tinder for scandals and disorders. And what can we say of the use of Latin in the liturgy? S hall we say that the least of the Roman evils is the one that renders the faithful not only blind but deaf and dumb? To express the sacred rite, even the Gospel itself, in a dead language so that the ear of the hearer and the tongue of the one who repeats it find no correspondence in the soul, that is to close off for them the rich fountain of the law and to make it really a sealed fountain. That is to make the fruitful word of God barren and to fly blatantly in the face of St. Paul, who encouraged the use of the vernacular. (6)

The school of philosophy, the freemasonry, that found itself irresistibly dominated by "the people in the word who degenerate most" (7) [i.e. the celibate clergy, who, Rossetti implies, live unnaturally and become more degenerate, or unnatural, as they age], with the unmasking not only of the abuses enumerated above but even of others about which I have been silent, was little by little freeing the intellect and the heart of its proselytes from the slave mentality of the common herd. However, to avoid its own ruin and to succeed in its purpose, it was forced to proceed cautiously. In its plan to wage a silent war (its opponents would have ears and yet not hear what was really being said), it hoisted the flag of its adversary and knew quite well how to fight for its foe, so that no one ever took notice that it was wounding its enemy furtively. Knowing human nature, it never assaulted the mental blindness of its new disciples with sudden light but, by caressing even their prejudice, it went among them carefully, and by a slow, calculated, serpentine progress, through emblematic stages, step by step, and without their cognizance, it was leading them to its intent: the reconciliation of invigorated reason, with a religion freed of impurities. I can echo the verdict of careful historians that the philosophy of freemasonry prepared, produced, sustained, and perfected the reform of the Church. If Rome, with the diminution of error, felt the lack of those strengths which had enabled her to be abusive for so long a time, to what is that due? If Rome' s anathemas have lost the voice of thunder and the force of lightning, so that they no longer topple thrones or shake kingdoms; if the appalling fires of the Holy Office's stakes have been put out in country after country, to what is that due? To the progress of human civilization, to which that school of philosophy contributed to an exceptional degree.

The more we consider what its object was, the less shall we condemn the strategic deployment of the language to which it kept. Let us consider in this respect the achievement of three great Italian writers--Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. In aiming at political and dogmatic reform, they saw that they were constrained to follow an expedient which would serve them as a shield against an overbearing power that wished to apply the brake to them. They saw their country divided, bruised, and oppressed, thanks to that same Latin Church which should have been its dignity and health. They saw that Rome had developed a code language, only superficially christian, in order to promote her own radical secularism. Taking example from that, they formulated a code language of their own, but with opposite intent: they would make not mundanity but Christianity its import. Perhaps they believed (as I do) that it is a greater impiety to alter the nature of the Law [of Christian Dispensation] to make great harm come from it than it is to treat the Law as a fable [Boccaccio's sense of "fabula," in De Genealogia Deorum: Christ is the Law, or entelechy, of The Christian Myth] within the critical framework of hermeneutics, and thus to derive some great remedy from it. Clearly, to use the Gospel to exterminate thousands upon thousands of human beings is to mock, trample on, and annihilate it. Conversely, to use the Gospel (even fictively) to save unhappy souls from a shambles that instills horror is to vindicate the honor of God's Word and second its spirit. Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio thus availed themselves of a figurative system derived from Egypt and Persia, a system transmitted by Mani and diffused by his followers--not because they were true Manichees, but because they recongized there a profitable means of communicating the kernel truths of Christianity. They were not alone, and such writers worked in concert toward their grand goal, beset by the watchful eyes and attentive ears of their adversaries who, as if blinded and deafened by that unknown magic, saw but did not see, heard but did not hear. That those well-deserving men had sincere intentions is attested to by the splendid outcome of their toil. When their successors acquired sufficient strength to reap the fruit of the harvest, far from offering offense to dogma, they did no more than produce reform. Rome's power decreased, but religious zeal increased.

It can be asserted that this ancient school, which never ceased under impenetrable veils to exist and to work, not only succeeded in reforming the Church but contributed greatly to the betterment of governments. In proportion to the spreading of its roots in a country, the more or less abundant was the fruit that it produced there; and it has been observed that the magnanimous princes always protected it, and the despotic always persecuted it, because the former aim at the prosperity of their nations, and the latter are interested only in self aggrandisement. From this one can infer that the perpetuation of the old wisdom is intent on extending the dignity of persons and braking monarchic absolutism. It aided in establishing in the new world the freest of republics, and in greatly refining in Great Britain the most liberal of monarchies. This is why it enjoys great honor and prosperity in both countries.

Let us now take note that countless men, quite respectable either for credit or genius or authority or knowledge, have been disciples of this old wisdom. And shall we ever dare to think that personages so eminent, many of whom were mirrors of unblemished custom and guiltless conduct, would have professed a pernicious knowledge? Let us listen to a unanimous chorus of troubadours as they speak of their lady and their love in a way that transcends belief and magnifies lady and love as fountains of instruction which elevate the mind and educate the heart. What does Petrarch not say of them? And Dante does not hesitate to write that la signoria d' Amore trae l'intendimento del suo fedele da tutte le rie cose (Vita Nuova) [the Lordship of Love draws the purpose of its initiate away from wicked things]; also la sola per cui l'umana specie eccede ogni cosa contenuta in terra (Inf. ii) [the one thing through which humanity exceeds everything contained on earth]; and without recourse to the code idiom he speaks of the universale religione dell' umana specie (Convito) [universal religion of humanity]. One of those astonishing intellects which suffice to give name and light to an entire age, Isaac Newton, called the occult science to which we shall direct our glances la scienza delle scienze [the science of sciences]; thus also did the great Francis Bacon call it. Seeing that so many remarkable personages, examples of the purest morals, lofty piety, and luminous doctrine, have searched for it down through the ages and have passionately practised it and held it in the highest esteem, who will have the courage to condemn it?

God, best and greatest in revealing on earth the holiest of religions, wished to make all those strange sections of conflicting beliefs disappear--those bizarre hybrids of fragmentary truth and grisly, not to say impious, error which, separating human beings, splinters them into obsessed adversaries among themselves. He wished that the poor mortals assembling under a single flag of common salvation should give each other the embrace of peace and, forming a grand family of brothers, unanimously recognize a single father in the Creator, a single firstborn in the Redeemer, and a single law in the Holy Spirit--the law of charity. And yet the malice of the beneficiaries, perverting the nature of the benefit, has managed to frustrate the mind of the benefactor; it has made this same religion of love a growing source of hatred, a permanent occasion for discrepancies, a perennial wellspring of grudges and dissensions, and an unremitting goad for calamities, insults, wars, and fratricide. Do Christians worship God or the Lernean hydra? How many proliferating Christian sects there are of piebald color and crossgrained nomenclature! Where for them is the common father, the common firstborn, the universal law of the Paraclete, if they not only do not recognize each other as brothers but habitually square off against each other as antagonists? Look at them. Everywhere, surly and obstinate, they glare at each other--and crouch and bark and bite. They reciprocally accuse and despise one another, and they abominate and curse each other by turns until those among them who arrogate exclusive orthodoxy to themselves end up professing not love but systematic intolerance. As if sanctifying their hatred for all the others, they would rather be in communion with the believers in Brahma, of whom they haven't the slightest suspicion, than with other believers in Christ, whom they look upon as the abductors of their power, which, wholly selfish or otherwise crazed, they justify as "spiritual." O holy law of peace, is it you who activate men to make war on each other? Is it you who daubed the crusading cross on the backs and breasts of Christians (8) and still incites them to hate one another, ill-treat one another, and tear one another apart? No. You give the lie to madmen who twist you into the reason for their misdeeds, who insult and deny you even while they protest that they are honoring you.

We undertook to consider the gravity of the evil only to justify the nature of the remedy. Since we have now sufficiently seen how the wielded sword quivered with violent fanaticism, it may please us to see anew how the shield warding off the blow was clasped by the alert philosophy--that unknown art of screen and protection to which the one who used it skillfully owed his safety and salvation. And the continuance of the looming danger will make us totally alive to the urgency of the need.


(1) Labbe, Concil. tomo xi. Part i, p.428.

(2) We do not need to trundle out old books to find examples of that. What happened at Naples in 1820 suffices to prove it fully. Ferdinand I, whatever one may wish to say about his other qualities, was a king of good faith and sincerely Catholic; and he would never have betrayed his nation so shamelessly if Pius VII had not made a fool of him by the oath made with all the sacred pomp indicated in the body of this essay: the most solemn and inviolable oath sworn on the Holy Bible and on the Holy Eucharist in the august temple of God and in the presence of all the assembled people. That pope was a holy man, one can't deny it; but, his holiness notwithstanding, who else if not he, was the cause of the whole heap of miseries that came out of that betrayal? To him alone are attributable the deaths of so many, the exiles of so many others [including Rossetti, who had been sentenced to death but escaped to Malta with English help], the overflowing jails, the protracted dejections, and the languid state in which Italy lay prostrate.

(3) I did not want to believe that Rome could be so daring in the nineteenth century, but my illustrious friend Carlo Peopli, a professor at the University College (London) had a printed copy of the alleged edict sent to him from Italy, and when I read it, I was dumbfounded!

(4) See Legrand d'Aussey, Fabliaux ou Conte, vol. i, p. 228. Paris, 1829.

(5) Apologue. A gardener went early one morning into his orchard and heard the young trees, which promise so much, talking among themselves, and after many words they came to this conclusion: For the glory of our cultivator who planted us with such care and tended us with such affectionate industry, we resolve to produce no fruit. Doubtlessly, this decision of ours will honor him and be acceptable to him. The good cultivator laughed at these words, since he believed at first they were joking; but when he perceived that they were in earnest, he tried to dissuade them from following through on such a strange idea. He even sent his daughter to them several times, the wise Raziella, so that she might show them the strangeness of their determination; but every argument went by the boards. Her eloquent logic had less effect than the seductive insinuations of an ugly old big snake (and she quite thought that it must be the one that ruined mankind in Eden), which had breathed into them that false and injurious notion. When the gardener perceived them to be immovable in that twisted idea, and saw that in fact they were producing nothing but bizarre blighted plums which, poking surreptitiously from dull foliage, gave off a foul smell and promised only to be bitter to the taste and toxic to health, he became justly indignant, took up his ax, cut down the foolish trees and threw them all into the fire.

(6) "How will anyone understand what you are talking about if your message given in strange tongues is not clear? Your words will vanish in the air! There are many different languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. But if I do not know the language being spoken, the person who uses it will be a foreigner to me and I will be a foreigner to him. How shall he say Amen after your benediction, since he doesn't know what you are saying?" (Corin. Ep. I, xiv). In Spirito Antipapale I gave other texts from the same Apostle against other abuses, such as the one that makes absurd celibacy a sacred duty, and the one about working and proclaiming miracles. And in respect to the latter, the miracle fad, I'd like to transcribe a passage from a letter that a learned and pious prelate sent to me from Rome when, during the papacy of Leo XII, a Jesuit was canonized who, among other miracles attributed to him in the canonization process, was credited with reviving, refeathering, and causing to fly certain birds which had been roasted and set on the table. The prelate wrote to me: "Poor us! We have been made a laughingstock for foreigners ! That's all we needed. Two fellows, a German and an Englishman whom I know, greeted me yesterday with Latin epigrams--that' s the way pedants spit. One jeeringly cooed one of Livy's dicta: 'To keep pace with the credulity of simple men, even more things were announced.' And the other chimed in with Claudian, that after this fine example we must expect even greater things: 'Just as once the road lay exposed to monsters, all hallucinations are eager to come to life.' And let them come to life, I replied somewhat heatedly, they certainly are not welcome. Believe gentlemen, believe me: there is no blockhead among us who can swallow that tidbit. As far as we are concerned, the resurrection and flight of roasted birds is ludicrous humbug. Let him grieve who greives. Do you want to know what we consider to be a real miracle? I t is the resurrection and flight of a silkworm, 'born to become the silky butterfly,' because in that we see with our own eyes the real metamorphosis of a useful insect destined by Providence for the ease of his rational creature. The sham blood of Saint Gennaro that thaws and boils seems pitiable even to the street beggars of Naples, because they see it as a portent without a purpose. For us the true miracle is the thawing brook that runs to nurture vegetation. The wonder attributed to Saint Vincent Ferrer, of making a man who fell from a building hover in midair, seems obtuseness revisited. The real miracle is to see those immense bodies of Jupiter, Saturn, Sirius, etc. follow thus suspended their measured tours, without ever meeting and crashing into each other, holding prolific nature on course. The sun that rises and sets with such ordinary harmony is such a miracle that happens every day. Its daily revolution is a miracle at every instant. Every blade of grass that sprouts, every flower that blooms--those are the true miracles in our eyes, and not the violation of the laws of nature. Tell the atheists that they can deny these miracles. The fools that you laugh at even we laugh at, but in the heart or privately, because here there is the Holy Office, as you know, and we don' t want to waste our deeds. Once whatever the ignorant did not understand was called a miracle, which amounted to a facile shift to spare us the work of researching the scientific cause of things. 'Everybody prefers believing to judging,' says Seneca--since even I know how to cite my Latin to the point, you see. I am quite aware that in order to impose silence on philosophy, which investigates true causes and laughs at imaginary, many obscuranists promote religion. Under the sway of such speciousness, the ignoramous becomes pious, and the learned man passes for sacreligious. The impious person, I say, is the one who changes God into a loafer, who sets himself indolently to do unnecessary things; and the pious person is the one who contemplates God's wisdom in the primordial laws established by Him. The impious person makes of God a capricious and inconsequential being who tampers with the universal structure preestablished by Him; the pious person discerns in God the epitome of providence, omniscience, and immutability, who does not make and unmake in keeping with the whims of the ignorant. But what of the testimonials in the chronicles of the saints, which solemnly aver that the miracles referred to there have actually occurred? I reply, which of the two strikes against you as more plausible, that some tricksters may have deceived or may have wished to gull us, or else that the order of nature was arbitrarily suspended, interrrupted, and diverted? The scant soul who believes everything that he finds written is a poor simpleton, 'since he takes on authority what he does not have from truth,' Quintilian said. 'Where there is no witness, lies abound,' Pliny added. 'Investigate a new and marvelous thing, if you can. If you can discover no cause, continue the exploration. Nothing can exist without a cause. Use natural reason to erase the error to which novelty might have led you,' Cicero concluded. And there's more Latin where that came from. Do you want more? In that way I silenced them. And when they percieved that they were dealing with a skeptic, they modulated their contemptuous grins to protests of esteem. You see, my dear friend, to what contumely we are made vulnerable by the inanities of these infallibles of ours who want us to regress to the time of miracles!" So he wrote, that erudite prelate of the Roman Curia quem prudentiae causa non nomino [whom I prudently do not name].

(7) Parad. xvi., and the connisseur of Dante notes: "he says well of Rome that it degenerates most, because its fruit is altogether contrary to what it was in the beginning."

(8) This irreverent Tuscan phrase [sicari croce-segnati: hired killers warranted by the Sign of the Cross] changes that sign of health into an infernal fury that is unleashed on the backs of others. It derived precisely from the persecutions ordered by Rome, which by declaring a crusade against Christians, made a bludgeon of carnage and terror out of that symbol of peace.

TRANSLATOR'S POSTSCRIPT: Rossetti gives the quotations from St. Paul, Livy, Claudian, Seneca, Quintilian, Pliny, and Cicero in Latin.
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Author:Cervo, Nathan
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Date:Dec 22, 1990
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