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Witchcraft, Superstition, and Observant Franciscan Preachers: Pastoral Approach and Intellectual Debate in Renaissance Milan.

Conti, Fabrizio, Witchcraft, Superstition, and Observant Franciscan Preachers: Pastoral Approach and Intellectual Debate in Renaissance Milan (Europa Sacra, 18), Turnhout, Brepols, 2015; hardback; pp. xviii, 380; 5 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. [euro]100.00; ISBN 9782503549194.

Dispassionately reasoned, theologically sophisticated pedagogical writings produced at the height of the European witch craze? It sounds almost counterintuitive, and the more so during the period examined in the present book, the decades following the publication of Innocent VIII's bull, Summis desiderantes affectibus (1484)--papal licensing of inquisitorial excess--and Heinrich Institoris's treatise, Malleus Maleficarum (1486), to which, in many editions, Innocent's bull served as a preamble. Fabrizio Conti's monograph, developed from his 2011 doctoral dissertation, provides an important corrective to received opinion, and to the harsh, inquisitorial image evoked by those infamous texts and associated trial records.

A central focus of his study is the education of minorite friars in the key areas of their pastoral work, preaching and confessions. What sort of intellectual and spiritual training should friars receive to be able to instruct, monitor, and invigilate their congregations' beliefs, and discern what was unorthodox and what was licit in matters of faith? Conti explores these issues as they are dealt with in the writings of half a dozen Franciscan Observants at the Friary of St Angelo, Milan, during the last two decades of the fifteenth century and first decade of the sixteenth. His study 'places itself at the intersection of three different but complementary areas of exploration: sermon studies, confession, and superstition with the emergence of a specific set of beliefs in witchcraft' (p. xv). To be sure, Conti's close readings of the writings of these friars are provided with ample context, rich in detail, drawn from an impressive array of primary and secondary sources.

What emerges, the so-called Milanese pastoral approach, has been characterized by Heiko Oberman as the Observants' 'non-violent revolutionary eschatology' (p. 122, n. 104). It certainly stands in stark contrast to the stance taken by the Dominicans. Indeed, when the influence of their Malleus started to penetrate into Northern Italy, Samuel de Cassini from St Angelo's was one of the first to denounce as untrue and patently impossible its harrowing accounts of witches' Sabbaths.

ROBERT CURRY, The University of Sydney

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Title Annotation:Short Notices
Author:Curry, Robert
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2018
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