The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy/Part 6
Morality and Judgement
The relation of the various peoples of the earth to the supreme interests of life, to God, virtue, and immortality, may be investigated up to a certain point, but can never be compared to one another with absolute strictness and certainty. The more plainly in these matters our evidence seems to speak, the more carefully must we refrain from unqualified assumptions and rash generalizations.
This remark is especially true with regard to our judgement on questions of morality. It may be possible to indicate many contrasts and shades of difference among different nations, but to strike the balance of the whole is not given to human insight. The ultimate truth with respect to the character, the conscience, and the guilt of a people remains for ever a secret; if only for the reason that its defects have another side, where they reappear as peculiarities or even as virtues. We must leave those who find pleasure in passing sweeping censures on whole nations, to do so as they like. The people of Europe can maltreat, but happily not judge one another. A great nation, interwoven by its civilization, its achievements, and its fortunes with the whole life of the modern world, can afford to ignore both its advocates and its accusers. It lives on with or without the approval of theorists.
Accordingly, what here follows is no judgement, but rather a string of marginal notes, suggested by a study of the Italian Renaissance extending over some years. The value to be attached to them is all the more qualified as they mostly touch on the life of the upper classes, with respect to which we are far better informed in Italy than in any other country in Europe at that period. But though both fame and infamy sound louder here than elsewhere, we are not helped thereby in forming an adequate moral estimate of the people.
What eye can pierce the depths in which the character and fate of nations are determined?--in which that which is inborn and that which has been experienced combine to form a new whole and a fresh nature?-- in which even those intellectual capacities which at first sight we should take to be most original are in fact evolved late and slowly? Who can tell if the Italian before the thirteenth century possessed that flexible activity and certainty in his whole being--that play of power in shaping whatever subject he dealt with in word or in form, which was peculiar to him later? And if no answer can be found to these questions, how can we possibly judge of the infinite and infinitely intricate channels through which character and intellect are incessantly pouring their influence one upon the other. A tribunal there is for each one of us, whose voice is our conscience; but let us have done with these generalities about nations. For the people that seems to be most sick the cure may be at hand; and one that appears to be healthy may bear within it the ripening germs of death, which the hour of danger will bring forth from their hiding-place.
Morality and Immorality
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, when the civilization of the Renaissance had reached its highest pitch, and at the same time the political ruin of the nation seemed inevitable, there were not wanting serious thinkers who saw a connexion between this ruin and the prevalent immorality. It was not one .of those methodistical moralists who in every age think themselves called to declaim against the wickedness of the time, but it was Machiavelli, who, in one of his best-considered works, said openly: 'We Italians are irreligious and corrupt above others.' Another man would perhaps have said, 'We are individually highly developed; we have outgrown the limits of morality and religion which were natural to us in our undeveloped state, and we despise outward law, because our rulers are illegitimate, and their judges and officers wicked men.' Machiavelli adds, 'because the Church and her representatives set us the worst example.'
Shall we add also, 'because the influence exercised by antiquity was in this respect unfavorable'? The statement can only be received with many qualifications. It may possibly be true of the humanists, especially as regards the profligacy of their lives. Of the rest it may perhaps be said with some approach to accuracy that, after they became familiar with antiquity, they substituted for holiness--the Christian ideal of life--the cult of historical greatness. We can understand, therefore, how easily they would be tempted to consider those faults and vices to be matters of indifference, in spite of which their heroes were great. They were probably scarcely conscious of this themselves, for if we are summoned to quote any statement of doctrine on this subject, we are again forced to appeal to humanists like Paolo Giovio, who excuses the perjury of Giangaleazzo Visconti, through which he was enabled to found an empire, by the example of Julius Caesar. The great Florentine historians and statesmen never stoop to these slavish quotations, and what seems antique in their deeds and their judgements is so because the nature of their political life necessarily fostered in them a mode of thought which has some analogy with that of antiquity.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Italy at the beginning of the sixteenth century found itself in the midst of a grave moral crisis, out of which the best men saw hardly any escape.
Let us begin by saying a few words about that moral force which was then the strongest bulwark against evil. The highly gifted man of that day thought to find it in the sentiment of honour. This is that enigmatic mixture of conscience and egotism which often survives in the modern man after he has lost, whether by his own fault or not, faith, love, and hope. This sense of honour is compatible with much selfishness and great vices, and may be the victim of astonishing illusions; yet, nevertheless, all the noble elements that are left in the wreck of a character may gather around it, and from this fountain may draw new strength. It has become, in a far wider sense than is commonly believed, a decisive test of conduct in the minds of the cultivated Europeans of our own day, and many of those who yet hold faithfully by religion and morality are unconsciously guided by this feeling in the gravest decisions of their lives.
It lies without the limits of our task to show how the men of antiquity also experienced this feeling in a peculiar form, and how, afterwards, in the Middle Ages, a special sense of honour became the mark of a particular class. Nor can we here dispute with those who hold that conscience, rather than honour, is the motive power. It would indeed be better and nobler if it were so; but since it must be granted that even our worthier resolutions result from 'a conscience more or less dimmed by selfishness,' it is better to call the mixture by its right name. It is certainly not always easy, in treating of the Italian of this period, to distinguish this sense of honour from the passion for fame, into which, indeed, it easily passes. Yet the two sentiments are essentially different.
There is no lack of witnesses on this subject. One who speaks plainly may here be quoted as a representative of the rest. We read in the recently published 'Aphorisms' of Guicciardini: 'who esteems honour highly succeeds in all that he undertakes, since he fears neither trouble, danger, nor expense; I have found it so in my own case, and may say it and write it; vain and dead are the deeds of men which have not this as their motive.' It is necessary to add that, from what is known of the life of the writer, he can here be only speaking of honour and not of fame. Rabelais has put the matter more clearly than perhaps any Italian. We quote him, indeed, unwillingly in these pages. What the great, baroque Frenchman gives us is a picture of what the Renaissance would be without form and without beauty. But his description of an ideal state of things in the Thelemite monastery is decisive as historical evidence. In speaking of his gentlemen and ladies of the Order of Free Will, he tells us as follows:
'En leur reigle n'estoit que ceste clause: Fay ce que vouldras. Parce que gens liberes, bien nayz, bien instruictz, conversans en compaignies honnestes, ont par nature ung instinct et aguillon qui tousjours les poulse ... faictz tueux, et retire de vice: lequel ilz nommoyent honneur.'
This is that same faith in the goodness of human nature which inspired the men of the second half of the eighteenth century, and helped to prepare the way for the French Revolution. Among the Italians, too, each man appeals to this noble instinct within him, and though with regard to the people as a whole--chiefly in consequence of the national disasters-- judgements of a more pessimistic sort became prevalent, the importance of this sense of honour must still be rated highly. If the boundless development of individuality, stronger than the will of the individual, be the work of a historical providence, not less so is the opposing force which then manifested itself in Italy. How often, and against what passionate attacks of selfishness it won the day, we cannot tell, and therefore no human judgement can estimate with certainty the absolute moral value of the nation.
A force which we must constantly take into account in judging of the morality of the more highly developed Italian of this period, is that of the imagination. It gives to his virtues and vices a peculiar color, and under its influence his unbridled egotism shows itself in its most terrible shape.
The force of his imagination explains, for example, the fact that he was the first gambler on a large scale in modern times. Pictures of future wealth and enjoyment rose in such lifelike colors before his eyes, that he was ready to hazard everything to reach them. The Mohammedan nations would doubtless have anticipated him in this respect, had not the Koran, from the beginning, set up the prohibition against gambling as a chief safeguard of public morals, and directed the imagination of its followers to the search after buried treasures. In Italy, the passion for play reached an intensity which often threatened or altogether broke up the existence of the gambler. Florence had already, at the end of the fourteenth century, its Casanova --a certain Buonaccorso Pitti, who, in the course of his incessant journeys as merchant, political agent, diplomatist and professional gambler, won and lost sums so enormous that none but princes like the Dukes of Brabant, Bavaria, and Savoy, were able to compete with him. That great lottery-bank, which was called the Court of Rome, accustomed people to a need of excitement, which found its satisfaction in games of hazard during the intervals between one intrigue and another. We read, for example, how Franceschetto Cibo, in two games with the Cardinal Raffaello Riario, lost no less than 14,000 ducats, and afterwards complained to the Pope that his opponent has cheated him. Italy has since that time been the home of the lottery.
It was to the imagination of the Italians that the peculiar character of their vengeance was due. The sense of justice was, indeed, one and the same throughout Europe, and any violation of it, so long as no punishment was inflicted, must have been felt in the same manner. But other nations, though they found it no easier to forgive, nevertheless forgot more easily, while the Italian imagination kept the picture of the wrong alive with frightful vividness. The fact that, according to the popular morality, the avenging of blood is a duty--a duty often performed in a way to make us shudder--gives to this passion a peculiar and still firmer basis. The government and the tribunals recognize its existence and justification, and only attempt to keep it within certain limits. Even among the peasantry, we read of Thyestean banquets and mutual assassination on the widest scale. Let us look at an instance.
In the district of Acquapendente three boys were watching cattle, and one of them said: 'Let us find out the way how people are hanged.' While one was sitting on the shoulders of the other, and the third, after fastening the rope round the neck of the first, was tying it to an oak, a wolf came, and the two who were free ran away and left the other hanging. Afterwards they found him dead, and buried him. On the Sunday his father came to bring him bread, and one of the two confessed what had happened, and showed him the grave. The old man then killed him with a knife, cut him up, brought away the liver, and entertained the boy's father with it at home. After dinner, he told him whose liver it was. Hereupon began a series of reciprocal murders between the two families, and within a month thirty-six persons were killed, women as well as men.
And such 'vendette,' handed down from father to son, and extending to friends and distant relations, were not limited to the lower classes, but reached to the highest. The chronicles and novels of the period are full of such instances, especially of vengeance taken for the violation of women. The classic land for these feuds was Romagna, where the 'vendetta' was interwoven with intrigues and party divisions of every conceivable sort. The popular legends present an awful picture of the savagery into which this brave and energetic people had relapsed. We are told, for instance, of a nobleman at Ravenna who had got all his enemies together in a tower, and might have burned them; instead of which he let them out, embraced them, and entertained them sumptuously; whereupon shame drove them mad, and they conspired against him. Pious and saintly monks exhorted unceasingly to reconciliation, but they can scarcely have done more than restrain to a certain extent the feuds already established; their influence hardly prevents the growth of new ones. The novelists sometimes describe to this effect of religion--how sentiments of generosity and forgiveness were suddenly awakened, and then again paralysed by the force of what had once been done and could never be un. done. The Pope himself was not always lucky as a peacemaker. Pope Paul II desired that the quarrel between Antonio Caffarello and the family of Alberino should cease, and ordered Giovanni Alberino and Antonio Caffarello to come before him bade them kiss one another, and threatened them with a fine of 2,000 ducats if they renewed this strife, and two days after Antonio was stabbed by the same Giacomo Alberino, son of Giovanni, who had wounded him once before; and the Pope was full of anger, and confiscated the goods of Alberino, and destroyed his houses, and banished father and son from Rome. The oaths and ceremonies by which reconciled enemies attempted to guard themselves against a relapse, are sometimes utterly horrible. When the parties of the 'Nove' and the 'Popolari' met and kissed one another by twos in the cathedral at Siena on New Year's Eve, 1494, an oath was read by which all salvation in time and eternity was denied to the future violator of the treaty--'an oath more astonishing and dreadful than had ever yet been heard.' The last consolations of religion in the hour of death were to turn to the damnation of the man who should break it. It is clear, however, that such a ceremony rather represents the despairing mood of the mediators than offers any real guarantee of peace, inasmuch as the truest reconciliation is just that one which has least need of it.
This personal need of vengeance felt by the cultivated and highly placed Italian, resting on the solid basis of an analogous popular custom, naturally displays itself under a thousand different aspects, and receives the unqualified approval of public opinion, as reflected in the works of the novelists. All are at one on the point that, in the case of those injuries and insults for which Italian justice offered no redress, and all the more in the case of those against which no human law can ever adequately provide, each man is free to take the law into his own hands. Only there must be art in the vengeance, and the satisfaction must be compounded of the material injury and moral humiliation of the offender. A mere brutal, clumsy triumph of force was held by public opinion to be no satisfaction. The whole man with his sense of fame and of scorn, not only his fist, must be victorious.
The Italian of that time shrank, it is true, from no dissimulation in order to attain his ends, but was wholly free from hypocrisy in matters of principle. In these he attempted to deceive neither himself nor others. Accordingly, revenge was declared with perfect frankness to be a necessity of human nature. Cool-headed people declared that it was then most worthy of praise when it was disengaged from passion, and worked simply from motives of expedience, 'in order that other men may learn to leave us unharmed.' Yet such instances must have formed only a small minority in comparison with those in which passion sought an outlet. This sort of revenge differs clearly from the avenging of blood, which has already been spoken of; while the latter keeps more or less within the limits of retaliation--the 'ius talionis'-- the former necessarily goes much further, not only requiring the sanction of the sense of justice, but craving admiration, and even striving to get the laugh on its own side.
Here lies the reason why men were willing to wait so long for their revenge. A 'bella vendetta' demanded as a rule a combination of circumstances for which it was necessary to wait patiently. The gradual ripening of such opportunities is described by the novelists with heartfelt delight.
There is no need to discuss the morality of actions in which plaintiff and judge are one and the same person. If this Italian thirst for vengeance is to be palliated at all, it must be by proving the existence of a corresponding national virtue, namely gratitude. The same force of imagination which retains and magnifies wrong once suffered, might be expected also to keep alive the memory of kindness received. It is not possible, however, to prove this with regard to the nation as a whole, though traces of it may be seen in the Italian character of today. The gratitude shown by the inferior classes for kind treatment, and the good memory of the upper for politeness in social life, are instances of this.
This connexion between the imagination and the moral qualities of the Italian repeats itself continually. If, nevertheless, we find more cold calculation in cases where the Northerner rather follows his impulses, the reason is that individual development in Italy was not only more marked and earlier in point of time, but also far more frequent. Where this is the case in other countries, the results are also analogous. We find, for example, that the early emancipation of the young from domestic and paternal authority is common to North America with Italy. Later on, in the more generous natures, a tie of freer affection grows up between parents and children.
It is, in fact, a matter of extreme difficulty to judge fairly of other nations in the sphere of character and feeling. In these respects a people may be developed highly, and yet in a manner so strange that a foreigner is utterly unable to understand it. Perhaps all the nations of the West are in this point equally favored.
But where the imagination has exercised the most powerful and despotic influence on morals is in the illicit intercourse of the two sexes. It is well known that prostitution was freely practiced in the Middle Ages, before the appearance of syphilis. A discussion, however, on these questions does not belong to our present work. What seems characteristic of Italy at this time, is that here marriage and its rights were more often and more deliberately trampled underfoot than anywhere else. The girls of the higher classes were carefully secluded, and of them we do not speak. All passion was directed to the married women.
Under these circumstances it is remarkable that, so far as we know, there was no diminution in the number of marriages, and that family life by no means underwent that disorganization which a similar state of things would have produced in the North. Men wished to live as they pleased, but by no means to renounce the family, even when they were not sure that it was all their own. Nor did the race sink, either physically or mentally, on this account; for that apparent intellectual decline which showed itself towards the middle of the sixteenth century may be certainly accounted for by political and ecclesiastical causes, even if we are not to assume that the circle of achievements possible to the Renaissance had been completed. Notwithstanding their profligacy, the Italians continued to be, physically and mentally, one of the healthiest and best-born populations in Europe, and have retained this position, with improved morals, down to our own time.
When we come to look more closely at the ethics of love at the time of the Renaissance, we are struck by a remarkable Contrast. The novelists and comic poets give us to understand that love consists only in sensual enjoyment, and that to win this, all means, tragic or comic, are not only permitted, but are interesting in proportion to their audacity and unscrupulousness. But if we turn to the best of the lyric poets and writers of dialogues, we find in them a deep and spiritual passion of the noblest kind, whose last and highest expression is a revival of the ancient belief in an original unity of souls in the Divine Being. And both modes of feeling were then genuine, and could co-exist in the same individual. It is not exactly a matter of glory, but it is a fact, that, in the cultivated man of modern times, this sentiment can be not merely unconsciously present in both its highest and lowest stages, but may also manifest itself openly, and even artistically. The modern man, like the man of antiquity, is in this respect too a microcosm, which the medieval man was not and could not be.
To begin with the morality of the novelists. They treat chiefly, as we have said, of married women, and consequently of adultery.
The opinion mentioned above of the equality of the two sexes is of great importance in relation to this subject. The highly developed and cultivated woman disposes of herself with a freedom unknown in Northern countries; and her unfaithfulness does not break up her life in the same terrible manner, so long as no outward consequences follow from it. The husband's claim on her fidelity has not that firm foundation which it acquires in the North through the poetry and passion of courtship and betrothal. After the briefest acquaintance with her future husband, the young wife quits the convent or the paternal roof to enter upon a world in which her character begins rapidly to develop. The rights of the husband are for this reason conditional, and even the man who regards them in the light of a 'ius quaesitum' thinks only of the outward conditions of the contract, not of the affections. The beautiful young wife of an old man sends back the presents and letters of a youthful lover, in the firm resolve to keep her honour (onesta). 'But she rejoiced in the love of the youth for his great excellence; and she perceived that a noble woman may love a man of merit without loss to her honour.' But the way is short from such a distinction to a complete surrender.
The latter seems indeed as good as justified when there is unfaithfulness on the part of the husband. The woman, conscious of her own dignity, feels this not only as a pain, but also as a humiliation and deceit, and sets to work, often with the calmest consciousness of what she is about, to devise the vengeance which the husband deserves. Her tact must decide as to the measure of punishment which is suited to the particular case. The deepest wound, for example, may prepare the way for a reconciliation and a peaceful life in the future, if only it remain secret. The novelists, who themselves undergo such experiences or invent them according to the spirit of the age, are full of admiration when the vengeance is skillfully adapted to the particular case, in fact, when it is a work of art. As a matter of course, the husband never at bottom recognizes this right of retaliation, and only submits to it from fear or prudence. Where these motives are absent, where his wife's unfaithfulness exposes him or may expose him to the derision of outsiders, the affair becomes tragical, and not seldom ends in murder or other vengeance of a violent sort. It is characteristic of the real motive from which these deeds arise, that not only the husbands, but the brothers and the father of the woman feel themselves not only justified in taking vengeance, but bound to take it. Jealousy, therefore, has nothing to do with the matter, moral reprobation but little; the real reason is the wish to spoil the triumph of others. 'Nowadays,' says Bandello, 'we see a woman poison her husband to gratify her lusts, thinking that a widow may do whatever she desires. Another, fearing the discovery of an illicit amour, has her husband murdered by her lover. And though fathers, brothers, and husbands arise to extirpate the shame with poison, with the sword, and by every other means, women still continue to follow their passions, careless of their honour and their lives.' Another time, in milder strain, he exclaims: 'Would that we were not daily forced to hear that one man has murdered his wife because he suspected her of infidelity; that another has killed his daughter, on account of a secret marriage; that a third has caused his sister to be murdered, because she would not marry as he wished! It is great cruelty that we claim the right to do whatever we list, and will not suffer women to do the same. If they do anything which does not please us, there we are at once with cords and daggers and poison. What folly it is of men to suppose their own and their house's honour depend on the appetite of a woman. The tragedy in which such affairs commonly ended was so well known that the novelist looked on the threatened gallant as a dead man, even while he went about alive and merry. The physician and lute-player Antonio Bologna had made a secret marriage with the widowed Duchess of Amalfi, of the house of Aragon. Soon afterwards her brother succeeded in securing both her and her children, and murdered them in a castle. Antonio, ignorant of their fate, and still cherishing the hope of seeing them again, was staying at Milan, closely watched by hired assassins, and one day in the society of Ippolita Sforza sang to the lute the story of his misfortunes. A friend of the house, Delio, 'told the story up to this point to Scipione Atellano, and added that he would make it the subject of a novel, as he was sure that Antonio would be murdered.' The manner in which this took place, almost under the eyes of both Delio and Atellano, is movingly described by Bandello.
Nevertheless, the novelists habitually show a sympathy for all the ingenious, comic, and cunning features which may happen to attend adultery. They describe with delight how the lover manages to hide himself in the house, all the means and devices by which he communicates with his mistress, the boxes with cushions and sweetmeats in which he can be hidden and carried out of danger. The deceived husband is described sometimes as a fool to be laughed at, sometimes as a bloodthirsty avenger of his honour; there is no third situation except when the woman is painted as wicked and cruel, and the husband or lover is the innocent victim. It may be remarked, however, that narratives of the latter kind are not strictly speaking novels, but rather warning examples taken from real life.
When in the course of the sixteenth century Italian life fell more and more under Spanish influence, the violence of the means to which jealousy had recourse perhaps increased. But this new phase must be distinguished from the punishment of infidelity which existed before, and which was founded in the spirit of the Italian Renaissance itself. As the influence of Spain declined, these excesses of jealousy declined also, till towards the close of the seventeenth century they had wholly disappeared, and their place was taken by that indifference which regarded the 'Cicisbeo' as an indispensable figure in every household, and took no offence at one or two contemporary lovers ('Patiti').
But who can undertake to compare the vast sum of wickedness which all these facts imply, with what happened in other countries? Was the marriage-tie, for instance, really more sacred in France during the fifteenth century than in Italy? The 'fabliaux' and farces would lead us to doubt it, and rather incline us to think that unfaithfulness was equally common, though its tragic consequences were less frequent, because the individual was less developed and his claims were less consciously felt than in Italy. More evidence, however, in favour of the Germanic peoples lies in the fact of the social freedom enjoyed among them by girls and women, which impressed Italian travellers so pleasantly in England and in the Netherlands. And yet we must not attach too much importance to this fact. Unfaithfulness was doubtless very frequent, and in certain cases led to a sanguinary vengeance. We have only to remember how the northern princes of that time dealt with their wives on the first suspicion of infidelity.
But it was not merely the sensual desire, not merely the vulgar appetite of the ordinary man, which trespassed upon forbidden ground among the Italians of that day, but also the passion of the best and noblest; and this, not only because the unmarried girl did not appear in society, but also because the man, in proportion to the completeness of his own nature, felt himself most strongly attracted by the woman whom marriage had developed. These are the men who struck the loftiest notes of lyrical poetry, and who have attempted in their treatises and dialogues to give us an idealized image of the devouring passion-- 'l'amor divino.' When they complain of the cruelty of the winged god, they are not only thinking of the coyness or hard-heartedness of the beloved one, but also of the unlawfulness of the passion itself. They seek to raise themselves above this painful consciousness by that spiritualization of love which found a support in the Platonic doctrine of the soul, and of which Pietro Bembo is the most famous representative. His thoughts on this subject are set forth by himself in the third book of the 'Asolani,' and indirectly by Castiglione, who puts in his mouth the splendid speech with which the fourth book of the 'Cortigiano' concludes. Neither of these writers was a stoic in his conduct, but at that time it meant something to be at once a famous and a good man, and this praise must be accorded to both of them; their contemporaries took what these men said to be a true expression of their feeling, and we have not the right to despise it as affectation. Those who take the trouble to study the speech in the 'Cortigiano' will see how poor an idea of it can be given by an extract. There were then living in Italy several distinguished women, who owed their celebrity chiefly to relations of this kind, such as Giulia Gonzaga, Veronica da Correggio, and, above all, Vittoria Colonna. The land of profligates and scoffers respected these women and this sort of love--and what more can be said in their favour? We cannot tell how far vanity had to do with the matter, how far Vittoria was flattered to hear around her the sublimated utterances of hopeless love from the most famous men in Italy. If the thing was here and there a fashion, it was still no trifling praise for Vittoria that she, as least, never went out of fashion, and in her latest years produced the most profound impressions. It was long before other countries had anything similar to show.
In the imagination then, which governed this people more than any other, lies one general reason why the course of every passion was violent, and why the means used for the gratification of passion were often criminal. There is a violence which cannot control itself because it is born of weakness; but in Italy we find what is the corruption of powerful natures. Sometimes this corruption assumes a colossal shape, and crime seems to acquire almost a personal existence of its own.
The restraints of which men were conscious were but few. Each individual, even among the lowest of the people, felt himself inwardly emancipated from the control of the State and its police, whose title to respect was illegitimate, and itself founded on violence; and no man believed any longer in the justice of the law. When a murder was committed, the sympathies of the people, before the circumstances of the case were known, ranged themselves instinctively on the side of the murderer. A proud, manly bearing before and at the execution excited such admiration that the narrator often forgets to tell us for what offence the criminal was put to death. But when we add to this inward contempt of law and to the countless grudges and enmities which called for satisfaction, the impunity which crime enjoyed during times of political disturbance, we can only wonder that the State and society were not utterly dissolved. Crises of this kind occurred at Naples, during the transition from the Aragonese to the French and Spanish rule, and at Milan, on the repeated expulsions and returns of the Sforzas; at such times those men who have never in their hearts recognized the bonds of law and society, come forward and give free play to their instincts of murder and rapine. Let us take, by way of example, a picture drawn from a humbler sphere.
When the Duchy of Milan was suffering from the disorders which followed the death of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, about the year 1480, all safety came to an end in the provincial cities. This was the case in Parma, where the Milanese Governor, terrified by threats of murder, consented to throw open the gaols and let loose the most abandoned criminals. Burglary, the demolition of houses, public assassination and murders, were events of everyday occurrence. At first the authors of these deeds prowled about singly, and masked; soon large gangs of armed men went to work every night without disguise. Threatening letters, satires, and scandalous jests circulated freely; and a sonnet in ridicule of the Government seems to have roused its indignation far more than the frightful condition of the city. In many churches the sacred vessels with the host were stolen, and this fact is characteristic of the temper which prompted these outrages. It is impossible to say what would happen now in any country of the world, if the government and police ceased to act, and yet hindered by their presence the establishment of a provisional authority; but what then occurred in Italy wears a character of its own, through the great share which the personal hatred and revenge had in it. The impression, indeed, which Italy at this period makes on us is, that even in quiet times great crimes were commoner than in other countries. We may, it is true, be misled by the fact that we have far fuller details on such matters here than elsewhere, and that the same force of imagination, which gives a special character to crimes actually committed, causes much to be invented which never really happened. The amount of violence was perhaps as great elsewhere. It is hard to say for certain, whether in the year 1500 men were any safer, whether human life was any better protected, in powerful, wealthy Germany, with its robber knights, extortionate beggars, and daring highwaymen. But one thing is certain, that premeditated crimes, committed professionally and for hire by third parties, occurred in Italy with great and appalling frequency.
So far as regards brigandage, Italy, especially in the more fortunate provinces, such as Tuscany, was certainly not more, and probably less, troubled than the countries of the North. But the figures which do meet us are characteristic of the country. It would be hard, for instance, to find elsewhere the case of a priest, gradually driven by passion from one excess to another, till at last he came to head a band of robbers. That age offers us this example among others. On August 12, 1495, the priest Don Niccolo de' Pelagati of Figarolo was shut up in an iron cage outside the tower of San Giuliano at Ferrara. He had twice celebrated his first mass; the first time he had the same day committed murder, but afterwards received absolution at Rome; he then killed four people and married two wives, with whom he travelled about. He afterwards took part in many assassinations, violated women, carried others away by force, plundered far and wide, and infested the territory of Ferrara with a band of followers in uniform, extorting food and shelter by every sort of violence. When we think of what all this implies, the mass of guilt on the head of this one man is something tremendous. The clergy and monks had many privileges and little supervision, and among them were doubtless plenty of murderers and other malefactors--but hardly a second Pelagati. It is another matter, though by no means creditable, when ruined characters sheltered themselves in the cowl in order to escape the arm of the law, like the corsair whom Masuccio knew in a convent at Naples. What the real truth was with regard to Pope John XXIII in this respect, is not known with certainty.
The age of the famous brigand chief did not begin till later, in the seventeenth century, when the political strife of Guelph and Ghibelline, of Frenchman and Spaniard, no longer agitated the country. The robber then took the place of the partisan.
In certain districts of Italy, where civilization had made little progress, the country people were disposed to murder any stranger who fell into their hands. This was especially the case in the more remote parts of the Kingdom of Naples, where the barbarism dated probably from the days of the Roman 'latifundia,' and when the stranger and the enemy ('hospes' and 'hostis') were in all good faith held to be one and the same. These people were far from being irreligious. A herdsman once appeared in great trouble at the confessional, avowing that, while making cheese during Lent, a few drops of milk had found their way into his mouth. The confessor, skilled in the customs of the country, discovered in the course of his examination that the penitent and his friends were in the practice of robbing and murdering travellers, but that, through the force of habit, this usage gave rise to no twinges of conscience within them. We have already mentioned to what a degree of barbarism the peasants elsewhere could sink in times of political confusion.
A worse symptom than brigandage of the morality of that time was the frequency of paid assassination. In that respect Naples was admitted to stand at the head of all the cities of Italy. 'Nothing,' says Pontano, 'is cheaper here than human life.' But other districts could also show a terrible list of these crimes. It is hard, of course, to classify them according to the motives by which they were prompted, since political expediency, personal hatred, party hostility, fear, and revenge, all play into one another. It is no small honour to the Florentines, the most highly developed people of Italy, that offenses of this kind occurred more rarely among them than anywhere else, perhaps because there was a justice at hand for legitimate grievances which was recognized by all, or because the higher culture of the individual gave him different views as to the right of men to interfere with the decrees of fate. In Florence, if anywhere, men were able to feel the incalculable consequences of a deed of blood, and to understand how uncertain the author of a so-called profitable crime is of any true and lasting gain. After the fall of Florentine liberty, assassination, especially by hired agents, seems to have rapidly increased, and continued till the government of Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici had attained such strength that the police were at last able to repress it.
Elsewhere in Italy paid crimes were probably more or less frequent in proportion to the number of powerful and solvent buyers. Impossible as it is to make any statistical estimate of their amount, yet if only a fraction of the deaths which public report attributed to violence were really murders, the crime must have been terribly frequent. The worst example of all was set by princes and governments, who without the faintest scruple reckoned murder as one of the instruments of their power. And this, without being in the same category with Cesare Borgia. The Sforzas, the Aragonese monarchs, and, later on, the agents of Charles V resorted to it whenever it suited their purpose. The imagination of the people at last became so accustomed to facts of this kind that the death of any powerful man was seldom or never attributed to natural causes. There were certainly absurd notions current with regard to the effect of various poisons. There may be some truth in the story of that terrible white powder used by the Borgias, which did its work at the end of a definite period, and it is possible that it was really a 'venenum atterminatum' which the Prince of Salerno handed to the Cardinal of Aragon, with the words: 'In a few days you will die, because your father, King Ferrante, wished to trample upon us all.' But the poisoned letter which Caterina Riario sent to Pope Alexander VI would hardly have caused his death even if he had read it; and when Alfonso the Great was warned by his physicians not to read in the Livy which Cosimo de' Medici had presented to him, he told them with justice not to talk like fools. Nor can that poison with which the secretary of Piccinino wished to anoint the sedan-chair of Pius II have affected any other organ than the imagination. The proportion which mineral and vegetable poisons bore to one another, cannot be ascertained precisely. The poison with which the painter Rosso Fiorentino destroyed himself (1541) was evidently a powerful acid, which it would have been impossible to administer to another person without his knowledge. The secret use of weapons, especially of the dagger, in the service of powerful individuals, was habitual in Milan, Naples, and other cities. Indeed, among the crowds of armed retainers who were necessary for the personal safety of the great, and who lived in idleness, it was natural that outbreaks of this mania for blood should from time to time occur. Many a deed of horror would never have been committed, had not the master known that he needed but to give a sign to one or other of his followers.
Among the means used for the secret destruction of others-- so far, that is, as the intention goes--we find magic, practiced, however, sparingly. Where 'maleficii,' 'malie,' and so forth, are mentioned, they appear rather as a means of heaping up additional terror on the head of some hated enemy. At the courts of France and England in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, magic, practiced with a view to the death of an opponent, plays a far more important part than in Italy. In this country, finally, where individuality of every sort attained its highest development, we find instances of that ideal and absolute wickedness which delights in crimes for their own sake, and not as means to an end, or at any rate as means to ends for which our psychology has no measure.
Among these appalling figures we may first notice certain of the 'Condottieri,' such as Braccio da Montone, Tiberto Brandolino, and that Werner von Urslingen whose silver hauberk bore the inscription: 'The enemy of God, of pity and of mercy.' This class of men offers us some of the earliest instances of criminals deliberately repudiating every moral restraint. Yet we shall be more reserved in our judgement of them when we remember that the worst part of their guilt--in the estimate of those who record it-- lay in their defiance of spiritual threats and penalties, and that to this fact is due that air of horror with which they are represented as surrounded. In the case of Braccio, the hatred of the Church went so far that he was infuriated at the sight of monks at their psalms, and had them thrown down from the top of a tower; but at the same time 'he was loyal to his soldiers and a great general.' As a rule, the crimes of the 'Condottieri' were committed for the sake of some definite advantage, and must be attributed to a position in which men could not fail to be demoralized. Even their apparently gratuitous cruelty had commonly a purpose, if it were only to strike terror. The barbarities of the House of Aragon, as we have seen, were mainly due to fear and to the desire for vengeance. The thirst for blood on its own account, the devilish delight in destruction, is most clearly exemplified in the case of the Spaniard Cesare Borgia, whose cruelties were certainly out of all proportion to the end which he had in view. In Sigismondo Malatesta, tyrant of Rimini, the same disinterested love of evil may also be detected. It is not only the Court of Rome, but the verdict of history, which convicts him of murder, rape, adultery, incest, sacrilege, perjury and treason, committed not once but often. The most shocking crime of all--the unnatural attempt on his own son Roberto, who frustrated it with his drawn dagger--may have been the result not merely of moral corruption, but perhaps of some magical or astrological superstition. The same conjecture has been made to account for the rape of the Bishop of Fano by Pierluigi Farnese of Parma, son of Paul III.
If we now attempt to sum up the principal features in the Italian character of that time, as we know it from a study of the life of the upper classes, we shall obtain something like the following result. The fundamental vice of this character was at the same time a condition of its greatness, namely, excessive individualism. The individual first inwardly casts off the authority of a State which, as a fact, is in most cases tyrannical and illegitimate, and what he thinks and does is, rightly or wrongly, now called treason. The sight of victorious egotism in others drives him to defend his own right by his own arm. And, while thinking to restore his inward equilibrium, he falls, through the vengeance which he executes, into the hands of the powers of darkness. His love, too, turns mostly for satisfaction to another individuality equally developed, namely, to his neighbor's wife. In face of all objective facts, of laws and restraints of whatever kind, he retains the feeling of his own sovereignty, and in each single instance forms his decision independently, according as honour or interest, passion or calculation, revenge or renunciation, gain the upper hand in his own mind.
If therefore egotism in its wider as well as narrower sense is the root and fountain of all evil, the more highly developed Italian was for this reason more inclined to wickedness than the members of other nations of that time.
But this individual development did not through any fault of his own, but rather through necessity. It did not come upon him alone, but also, and chiefly, by means of Italian culture, upon the other nations of Europe, and has constituted since then the higher atmosphere which they breathe. In itself it is neither good nor bad, but necessary; within it has grown up a modern standard of good and evil-- a sense of moral responsibility--which is essentially different from that which was familiar to the Middle Ages.
But the Italian of the Renaissance had to bear the first mighty surging of a new age. Through his gifts and his passions, he has become the most characteristic representative of all the heights and all the depths of his time. By the side of profound corruption appeared human personalities of the noblest harmony, and an artistic splendor which shed upon the life of man a lustre which neither antiquity nor medievalism could or would bestow upon it.
Religion in Daily Life
The morality of a people stands in the closest connection with its consciousness of God, that is to say, with its firmer or weaker faith in the divine government of the world, whether this faith looks on the world as destined to happiness or to misery and speedy destruction. The infidelity then prevalent in Italy is notorious, and whoever takes the trouble to look about for proofs, will find them by the hundred. Our present task, here as elsewhere, is to separate and discriminate; refraining from an absolute and final verdict.
The belief in God at earlier times had its source and chief support in Christianity and the outward symbol of Christianity, the Church. When the Church became corrupt, men ought to have drawn a distinction, and kept their religion in spite of all. But this is more easily said than done. It is not every people which is calm enough, or dull enough, to tolerate a lasting contradiction between a principle and its outward expression. But history does not record a heavier responsibility than that which rests upon the decaying Church. She set up as absolute truth, and by the most violent means, a doctrine which she had distorted to serve her own aggrandizement. Safe in the sense of her inviolability, she abandoned herself to the most scandalous profligacy, and, in order to maintain herself in this state, she levelled mortal blows against the conscience and the intellect of nations, and drove multitudes of the noblest spirits, whom she had inwardly estranged, into the arms of unbelief and despair.
Here we are met by the question: Why did not Italy, intellectually so great, react more energetically against the hierarchy; why did she not accomplish a reformation like that which occurred in Germany, and accomplish it at an earlier date?
A plausible answer has been Italian mind, we are told, never of the hierarchy, while the origin given to this question. The went further than the denial and the vigor of the German Reformation was due to its positive religious doctrines, most of all to the doctrines of justification by faith and of the inefficacy of good works.
It is certain that these doctrines only worked upon Italy through Germany, and this not till the power of Spain was sufficiently great to root them out without difficulty, partly by itself and partly by means of the Papacy, and its instruments.105 Nevertheless, in the earlier religious movements of Italy, from the Mystics of the thirteenth century down to Savonarola, there was a large amount of positive religious doctrine which, like the very definite Christianity of the Huguenots, failed to achieve success only because circumstances were against it. Mighty events like the Reformation elude, as respects their details, their outbreak and their development, the deductions of the philosophers, however clearly the necessity of them as a whole may be demonstrated. The movements of the human spirit, its sudden flashes, its expansions and its pauses, must for ever remain a mystery to our eyes, since we can but know this or that of the forces at work in it, never all of them together.
The feeling of the upper and middle classes in Italy with regard to the Church at the time when the Renaissance culminated, was compounded of deep and contemptuous aversion, of acquiescence in the outward ecclesiastical customs which entered into daily life, and of a sense of dependence on sacraments and ceremonies. The great personal influence of religious preachers may be added as a fact characteristic of Italy.
That hostility to the hierarchy, which displays itself more especially from the time of Dante onwards in Italian literature and history, has been fully treated by several writers. We have already said something of the attitude of public opinion with regard to the Papacy. Those who wish for the strongest evidence which the best authorities offer us, can find it in the famous passages of Machiavelli's 'Discorsi,' and in the unmutilated edition of Guicciardini. Outside the Roman Curia, some respect seems to have been felt for the best men among the bishops, and for many of the parochial clergy. On the other hand, the mere holders of benefices, the canons and the monks were held in almost universal suspicion, and were often the objects of the most scandalous aspersions, extending to the whole of their order.
It has been said that the monks were made the scapegoats for the whole clergy, for the reason that none but they could be ridiculed without danger. But this is certainly incorrect. They are introduced so frequently in the novels and comedies, because these forms of literature need fixed and well-known types where the imagination of the reader can easily fill up an outline. Besides which, the novelists do not as a fact spare the secular clergy. In the third place, we have abundant proof in the rest of Italian literature that men could speak boldly enough about the Papacy and the Court of Rome. In works of imagination we cannot expect to find criticism of this kind. Fourthly, the monks, when attacked, were sometimes able to take a terrible vengeance.
It is nevertheless true that the monks were the most unpopular class of all, and that they were reckoned a living proof of the worthlessness of conventual life, of the whole ecclesiastical organization, of the system of dogma, and of religion altogether, according as men pleased, rightly or wrongly, to draw their conclusions. We may also assume that Italy retained a clearer recollection of the origin of the two great mendicant orders than other countries, and had not forgotten that they were the chief agents in the reaction against what is called the heresy of the thirteenth century, that is to say, against an unruly and vigorous movement of the modern Italian spirit. And that spiritual police which was permanently entrusted to the Dominicans certainly never excited any other feeling than secret hatred and contempt.
After reading the 'Decameron' and the novels of Franco Sacchetti, we might imagine that the vocabulary of abuse directed at the monks and nuns was exhausted. But towards the time of the Reformation this abuse became still fiercer. To say nothing of Aretino, who in the 'Ragionamenti' uses conventual life merely as a pretext for giving free play to his own poisonous nature, we may quote one author as typical of the rest--Masuccio, in the first ten of his fifty novels. They are written in a tone of the deepest indignation, and with the purpose to make this indignation general; and are dedicated to men in the highest position, such as King Ferrante and Prince Alfonso of Naples. The stories are many of them old, and some of them familiar to readers of Boccaccio. But others reject, with a frightful realism, the actual state of things at Naples. The way in which the priests befool and plunder the people by means of spurious miracles, added to their own scandalous lives, is enough to drive any thoughtful observer to despair. We read of the Minorite friars who travelled to collect alms: 'They cheat, steal, and fornicate, and when they are at the end of their resources, they set up as saints and work miracles, one displaying the cloak of St. Vincent, another the handwriting of St. Bernardino, a third the bridle of Capistrano's donkey.' Others 'bring with them confederates who pretend to be blind or afflicted with some mortal disease, and after touching the hem of the monk's cowl, or the relics which he carries, are healed before the eyes of the multitude. All then shout "Misericordia," the bells are rung, and the miracle is recorded in a solemn protocol.' Or else the monk in the pulpit is denounced as a liar by another who stands below among the audience; the accuser is immediately possessed by the devil, and then healed by the preacher. The whole thing was a prearranged comedy, in which, however, the principal with his assistant made so much money that he was able to buy a bishopric from a Cardinal, on which the two confederates lived comfortably to the end of their days. Masuccio makes no great distinction between Franciscans and Dominicans, finding the one worth as much as the other. 'And yet the foolish people lets itself be drawn into their hatreds and divisions, and quarrels about them in public places, and calls itself "franceschino" or "domenichino." ' The nuns are the exclusive property of the monks. Those of the former who have anything to do with the laity, are prosecuted and put in prison, while others are wedded in due form to the monks, with the accompaniments of mass, a marriage-contract, and a liberal indulgence in food and wine. 'I myself,' says the author, 'have been there not once, but several times, and seen it all with my own eyes. The nuns afterwards bring forth pretty little monks or else use means to hinder that result. And if anyone charges me with falsehood, let him search the nunneries well, and he will find there as many little bores as in Bethlehem at Herod's time.' These things, and the like, are among the secrets of monastic life. The monks are by no means too strict with one another in the confessional, and impose a Paternoster in cases where they would refuse all absolution to a layman as if he were a heretic. 'Therefore may the earth open and swallow up the wretches alive, with those who protect them.' In another place Masuccio, speaking of the fact that the influence of the monks depends chiefly on the dread of another world, utters the following remarkable wish: 'The best punishment for them would be for God to abolish Purgatory; they would then receive no more alms, and would be forced to go back to their spades.'
If men were free to write, in the time of Ferrante, and to him, in this strain, the reason is perhaps to be found in the fact that the king himself had been incensed by a false miracle which had been palmed off on him. An attempt had been made to urge him to a persecution of the Jews, like that carried out in Spain and imitated by the Popes, by producing a tablet with an inscription bearing the name of St. Cataldus, said to have been buried at Taranto, and afterwards dug up again. When he discovered the fraud, the monks defied him. He had also managed to detect and expose a pretended instance of fasting, as his father, Alfonso, had done before him. The Court, certainly, was no accomplice in maintaining these blind superstitions.
We have been quoting from an author who wrote in earnest, and who by no means stands alone in his judgement. All the Italian literature of that time is full of ridicule and invective aimed at the begging friars. It can hardly be doubted that the Renaissance would soon have destroyed these two Orders, had it not been for the German Reformation and the Counter-Reformation which intervened. Their saints and popular preachers could hardly have saved them. It would only have been necessary to come to an understanding at a favourable moment with a Pope like Leo X, who despised the Mendicant Orders. If the spirit of the age found them ridiculous or repulsive? they could no longer be anything but an embarrassment to the Church. And who can say what fate was in store for the Papacy itself, if the Reformation had not saved it?
The influence which the Father Inquisitor of a Dominican monastery was able habitually to exercise in the city where it was situated, was in the latter part of the fifteenth century just considerable enough to hamper and irritate cultivated people, but not strong enough to extort any lasting fear or obedience. It was no longer possible to punish men for their thoughts, as it once was, and those whose tongues wagged most impudently against the clergy could easily keep clear of heretical doctrine. Except when some powerful party had an end to serve, as in the case of Savonarola, or when there was a question of the use of magical arts, as was often the case in the cities of North Italy, we seldom read at this time of men being burnt at the stake. The Inquisitors were in some instances satisfied with the most superficial retraction, in others it even happened that the victim was saved out of their hands on the way to the place of execution. In Bologna (1452) the priest Niccolo da Verona had been publicly degraded on a wooden scaffold in front of San Domenico as a wizard and profaner of the sacraments, and was about to be led away to the stake, when he was set free by a gang of armed men, sent by Achille Malvezzi, a noted friend of heretics and violator of nuns. The legate, Cardinal Bessarion, was only able to catch and hang one of the party; Malvezzi lived on in peace.
It deserves to be noticed that the higher monastic orders-- e.g. Benedictines, with their many branches--were, notwithstanding their great wealth and easy lives, far less disliked than the mendicant friars. For ten novels which treat of 'frati' hardly one can be found in which a 'monaco' is the subject and the victim. It was no small advantage to these orders that they were founded earlier, and not as an instrument of police, and that they did not interfere with private life. They contained men of learning, wit, and piety, but the average has been described by a member of it, Firenzuola, who says: 'These well-fed gentlemen with the capacious cowls do not pass their time in barefooted journeys and in sermons, but sit in elegant slippers with their hands crossed over their paunches, in charming cells wainscoted with cyprus-wood. And when they are obliged to quit the house, they ride comfortably, as if for their amusement, on mules and sleek, quiet horses. They do not overstrain their minds with the study of many books, for fear lest knowledge might put the pride of Lucifer in the place of monkish simplicity.'
Those who are familiar with the literature of the time, will see that we have only brought forward what is absolutely necessary for the understanding of the subject. That the reputation attaching to the monks and the secular clergy must have shattered the faith of multitudes in all that is sacred is, of course, obvious.
And some of the judgements which we read are terrible; we will quote one of them in conclusion, which has been published only lately and is but little known. The historian Guicciardini who was for many years in the service of the Medicean Popes, says (1529) in his 'Aphorisms': 'No man is more disgusted than I am with the ambition, the avarice and the profligacy of the priests, not only because each of these vices is hateful in itself, but because each and all of them are most unbecoming in those who declare themselves to be men in special relations with God, and also because they are vices so opposed to one another, that they can only co-exist in very singular natures. Nevertheless, my position at the Court of several Popes forced me to desire their greatness for the sake of my own interest. But, had it not been for this, I should have loved Martin Luther as myself, not in order to free myself from the laws which Christianity, as generally understood and explained, lays upon us, but in order to see this swarm of scoundrels (questa caterva di scelerati) put back into their proper place, so that they may be forced to live either without vices or without power.'
The same Guicciardini is of opinion that we are in the dark as to all that is supernatural, that philosophers and theologians have nothing but nonsense to tell us about it, that miracles occur in every religion and prove the truth of none in particular, and that all of them may be explained as unknown phenomena of nature. The faith which moves mountains, then common among the followers of Savonarola, is mentioned by Guicciardini as a curious fact, but without any bitter remark.
Notwithstanding this hostile public opinion, the clergy and the monks had the great advantage that the people were used to them, and that their existence was interwoven with the everyday existence of all. This is the advantage which every old and powerful institution possesses. Everybody had some cowled or frocked relative, some prospect of assistance or future gain from the treasure of the Church; and in the centre of Italy stood the Court of Rome, where men sometimes became rich in a moment. Yet it must never be forgotten that all this did not hinder people from writing and speaking freely. The authors of the most scandalous satires were themselves mostly monks or beneficed priests. Poggio, who wrote the_Facetiae, was a clergyman; Francesco Berni, the satirist, held a canonry; Teofilo Folengo, the author of the_Orlandino, was a Benedictine, certainly by no means a faithful one; Matteo Bandello, who held up his own order to ridicule, was a Dominican, and nephew of a general of this order. Were they encouraged to write by the sense that they ran no risks. Or did they feel an inward need to clear themselves personally from the infamy which attached to their order? Or were they moved by that selfish pessimism which takes for its maxim, 'it will last our time'. Perhaps all of these motives were more or less at work. In the case of Folengo, the unmistakable influence of Lutheranism must be added.
The sense of dependence on rites and sacraments, which we have already touched upon in speaking of the Papacy, is not surprising among that part of the people which still believed in the Church. Among those who were more emancipated, it testifies to the strength of youthful impressions, and to the magical force of traditional symbols. The universal desire of dying men for priestly absolution shows that the last remnant of the dread of hell had not, even in the case of one like Vitellozzo, been altogether extinguished. It would hardly be possible to find a more instructive instance than this. The doctrine taught by the Church of the 'character indelibilis' of the priesthood, independently of the personality of the priest, had so far borne fruit that it was possible to loathe the individual and still desire his spiritual gifts. It is true, nevertheless, that there were defiant natures like Galeotto of Mirandola, who died unabsolved in 1499) after living for sixteen years under the ban of the Church. All this time the city lay under an interdict on his account, so that no mass was celebrated and no Christian burial took place.
A splendid contrast to all this is offered by the power exercised over the nation by its great Preachers of Repentance. Other countries of Europe were from time to time moved by the words of saintly monks, but only superficially, in comparison with the periodical upheaval of the Italian conscience. The only man, in fact, who produced a similar effect in Germany during the fifteenth century, was an Italian, born in the Abruzzi, named Giovanni Capistrano. Those natures which bear within them this religious vocation and this commanding earnestness, wore then in Northern countries an intuitive and mystical aspect. In the South they were practical and expansive, and shared in the national gift of oratorical skill. The North produced an 'Imitation of Christ,' which worked silently, at first only within the walls of the monastery, but worked for the ages; the South produced men who made on their fellows an immediate and mighty but passing impression.
This impression consisted chiefly in the awakening of the conscience. The sermons were moral exhortations free from abstract notions and full of practical application, rendered more impressive by the saintly and ascetic character of the preacher, and by the miracles which, even against his will, the inflamed imagination of the people attributed to him. The most powerful argument used was not the threat of Hell and Purgatory, but rather the living results of the 'maledizione,' the temporal ruin wrought on the individual by the curse which clings to wrong-doing. The grieving of Christ and the Saints has its consequences in this life. And only thus could men, sunk in passion and guilt, be brought to repentance and amendment--which was the chief object of these sermons.
Among these preachers were Bernardino da Siena, Alberto da Sarzana, Jacopo della Marca, Giovanni Capistrano, Roberto da Lecce and others j and finally, Girolamo Savonarola. No prejudice of the day was stronger than that against the mendicant friar, and this they overcame. They were criticized and ridiculed by a scornful humanism; but when they raised their voices, no one gave heed to the humanists. The thing was no novelty, and the scoffing Florentines had already in the fourteenth century learned to caricature it whenever it appeared in the pulpit. But no sooner did Savonarola come forward than he carried the people so triumphantly with him, that soon all their beloved art and culture melted away ill the furnace which he lighted. Even the grossest profanation done to the cause by hypocritical monks, who got up an effect in the audience by means of confederates, could not bring the thing itself into discredit. Men kept on laughing at the ordinary monkish sermons, with their spurious miracles and manufactured relics; but did not cease to honour the great and genuine preachers. These are a true speciality of the fifteenth century.
The Order--generally that of St. Francis, and more particularly the so- called Observantines--sent them out according as they were wanted. This was commonly the case when there was some important public or private feud in a city, or some alarming outbreak of violence, immorality, or disease. When once the reputation of a preacher was made, the cities were all anxious to hear him even without any special occasion. He went wherever his superiors sent him. A special form of this work was the preaching of a Crusade against the Turks; but here we have to speak more particularly of the exhortations to repentance.
The order of these, when they were treated methodically, seems to have followed the customary list of the deadly sins. The more pressing, however, the occasion is, the more directly does the preacher make for his main point. He begins perhaps in one of the great churches of the Order, or in the cathedral. Soon the largest piazza is too small for the crowds which throng from every side to hear him, and he himself can hardly move without risking his life. The sermon is commonly followed by a great procession; but the first magistrates of the city, who take him in their midst, can hardly save him from the multitude of women who throng to kiss his hands and feet, and cut off fragments from his cowl.
The most immediate consequences which follow from the preacher's denunciations of usury, luxury, and scandalous fashions, are the opening of the gaols--which meant no more than the discharge of the poorest debtors--and the burning of various instruments of luxury and amusement, whether innocent or not. Among these are dice, cards, games of all kinds, written incantations, masks, musical instruments, song- books, false hair, and so forth. All these would then be gracefully arranged on a scaffold ('talamo'), a figure of the devil fastened to the top, and then the whole set on fire.
Then came the turn of the more hardened consciences. Men who had long never been near the confessional, now acknowledged their sins. Ill- gotten gains were restored, and insults which might have borne fruit in blood retracted. Orators like Bernardino of Siena entered diligently into all the details of the daily life of men, and the moral laws which are involved in it. Few theologians nowadays would feel tempted to give a morning sermon 'on contracts, restitutions, the public debt (monte), and the portioning of daughters,' like that which he once delivered in the Cathedral at Florence. Imprudent speakers easily fell into the mistake of attacking particular classes, professions, or offices, with such energy that the enraged hearers proceeded to violence against those whom the preacher had denounced. A sermon which Bernardino once preached in Rome (1424) had another consequence besides a bonfire of vanities on the Capitol: 'After this,' we read, 'the witch Finicella was burnt, because by her diabolical arts she had killed many children and bewitched many other persons; and all Rome went to see the sight.'
But the most important aim of the preacher was, as has been already said, to reconcile enemies and persuade them to give up thoughts of vengeance. Probably this end was seldom attained till towards the close of a course of sermons, when the tide of penitence flooded the city, and when the air resounded with the cry of the whole people: 'Misericordia! ' Then followed those solemn embracings and treaties of peace, which even previous bloodshed on both sides could not hinder. Banished men were recalled to the city to take part in these sacred transactions. It appears that these 'Paci' were on the whole faithfully observed, even after the mood which prompted them was over; and then the memory of the monk was blessed from generation to generation. But there were sometimes terrible crises like those in the families Della Valle and Croce in Rome (1482) where even the great Roberto da Lecce raised his voice in vain. Shortly before Holy Week he had preached to immense crowds in the square before the Minerva. But on the night before Maundy Thursday a terrible combat took place in front of the Palazzo della Valle, near the Ghetto. In the morning Pope Sixtus gave orders for its destruction, and then performed the customary ceremonies of the day. On Good Friday Roberto preached again with a crucifix in his hand; but he and his hearers could do nothing but weep.
Violent natures, which had fallen into contradictions with themselves, often resolved to enter a convent, under the impression made by these men. Among such were not only brigands and criminals of every sort, but soldiers without employment. This resolve was stimulated by their admiration of the holy man, and by the desire to copy at least his outward position.
The concluding sermon is a general benediction, summed up in the words: 'la pace sia con voi!' Throngs of hearers accompany the preacher to the next city, and there listen for a second time to the whole course of sermons.
The enormous influence exercised by these preachers made it important, both for the clergy and for the government, at least not to have them as opponents; one means to this end was to permit only monks or priests who had received at all events the lesser consecration, to enter the pulpit, so that the Order or Corporation to which they belonged was, to some extent, responsible for them. But it was not easy to make the rule absolute, since the Church and pulpit had long been used as a means of publicity in many ways, judicial, educational, and others, and since even sermons were sometimes delivered by humanists and other laymen. There existed, too, in Italy, a dubious class of persons who were neither monks nor priests, and who yet had renounced the world--that is to say, the numerous class of hermits who appeared from time to time in the pulpit on their own authority, and often carried the people with them. A case of this kind occurred at Milan in 1516 after the second French conquest, certainly at a time when public order was much disturbed. A Tuscan hermit, Hieronymus of Siena, possibly an adherent of Savonarola, maintained his place for months together in the pulpit of the Cathedral, denounced the hierarchy with great violence, caused a new chandelier and a new altar to be set up in the church, worked miracles, and only abandoned the field after a long and desperate struggle. During the decades in which the fate of Italy was decided, the spirit of prophecy was unusually active, and nowhere where it displayed itself was it confined to any one particular class. We know with what a tone of true prophetic defiance the hermits came forward before the sack of Rome. In default of any eloquence of their own, these men made use of messengers with symbols of one kind or another, like the ascetic near Siena (1496) who sent a 'little hermit,' that is a pupil, into the terrified city with a skull upon a pole to which was attached a paper with a threatening text from the Bible.
Nor did the monks themselves scruple to attack princes, governments, the clergy, or even their own order. A direct exhortation to overthrow a despotic house, like that uttered by Jacopo Bussolaro at Pavia in the fourteenth century, hardly occurs again in the following period: but there is no want of courageous reproofs, addressed even to the Pope in his own chapel, and of naive political advice given in the presence of rulers who by no means held themselves in need of it. In the Piazza del Castello at Milan, a blind preacher from the Incoronata--consequently an Augustinian--ventured in 1494 to exhort Lodovico il Moro from the pulpit: 'My lord, beware of showing the French the way, else you will repent it.' There were further prophetic monks who, without exactly preaching political sermons, drew such appalling pictures of the future that the hearers almost lost their senses. After the election of Leo X, in the year 1513 a whole association of these men, twelve Franciscan monks in all, journeyed through the various districts of Italy, of which one or other was assigned to each preacher. The one who appeared in Florence, fra Francesco da Montepulcian, struck terror into the whole people. The alarm was not diminished by the exaggerated reports of his prophecies which reached those who were too far off to hear him. After one of his sermons he suddenly died 'of pain in the chest.' The people thronged in such numbers to kiss the feet of the corpse that it had to be secretly buried in the night. But the newly awakened spirit of prophecy, which seized upon even women and peasants, could not be controlled without great difficulty. 'In order to restore to the people their cheerful humour, the Medici--Giuliano, Leo's brother, and Lorenzo--gave on St. John's Day, 1514, those splendid festivals, tournaments, processions, and hunting-parties, which were attended by many distinguished persons from Rome, and among them, though disguised, no less than six cardinals.'
But the greatest of the prophets and apostles had already been burnt in Florence in the year 1498--Fra Girolamo Savonarola of Ferrara. We must content ourselves with saying a few words respecting him.
The instrument by means of which he transformed and ruled the city of Florence (1494-8) was his eloquence. Of this the meagre reports that are left to us, which were taken down mostly on the spot, give us evidently a very imperfect notion. It was not that he possessed any striking outward advantages, for voice, accent, and rhetorical skill constituted precisely his weakest side; and those who required the preacher to be a stylist, went to his rival Fra Mariano da Genazzano. The eloquence of Savonarola was the expression of a lofty and commanding personality, the like of which was not seen again till the time of Luther. He himself held his own influence to be the result of a divine illumination, and could therefore, without presumption, assign a very high place to the office of the preacher, who, in the great hierarchy of spirits, occupies, according to him, the next place below the angels.
This man, whose nature seemed made of fire, worked another and greater miracle than any of his oratorical triumphs. His own Dominican monastery of San Marco, and then all the Dominican monasteries of Tuscany, became like-minded with himself, and undertook voluntarily the work of inward reform. When we reflect what the monasteries then were, and what measureless difficulty attends the least change where monks are concerned, we are doubly astonished at so complete a revolution. While the reform was still in progress large numbers of Savonarola's followers entered the Order, and thereby greatly facilitated his plans. Sons of the first houses in Florence entered San Marco as novices.
This reform of the Order in a particular province was the first step to a national Church, in which, had the reformer himself lived longer, it must infallibly have ended. Savonarola, indeed, desired the regeneration of the whole Church) and near the end of his career sent pressing exhortations to the great potentates urging them to call together a Council. But in Tuscany his Order and party were the only organs of his spirit--the salt of the earth--while the neighbouring provinces remained in their old condition. Fancy and asceticism tended more and more to produce in him a state of mind to which Florence appeared as the scene of the kingdom of God upon earth.
The prophecies, whose partial fulfilment conferred on Savonarola a supernatural credit, were the means by which the ever active Italian imagination seized control of the soundest and most cautious natures. At first the Franciscans of the Osservanza, trusting in the reputation which had been bequeathed to them by St. Bernardino of Siena, fancied that they could compete with the great Dominican. They put one of their own men into the Cathedral pulpit, and outbid the Jeremiads of Savonarola by still more terrible warnings, till Piero de' Medici, who then still ruled over Florence, forced them both to be silent. Soon after, when Charles XII came to Italy and the Medici were expelled, as Savonarola had clearly foretold, he alone was believed in.
It must be frankly confessed that he never judged his own premonitions and visions critically, as he did those of others. In the funeral oration on Pico della Mirandola, he deals somewhat harshly with his dead friend. Since Pico, notwithstanding an inner voice which came from God, would not enter the Order, he had himself prayed to God to chasten him for his disobedience. He certainly had not desired his death, and alms and prayers had obtained the favour that Pico's soul was safe in Purgatory. With regard to a comforting vision which Pico had upon his sickbed, in which the Virgin appeared and promised him that he should not die, Savonarola confessed that he had long regarded it as a deceit of the I)evil, till it was revealed to him that the Madonna meant the second and eternal death. If these things and the like are proofs of presumption, it must be admitted that this great soul at all events paid a bitter penalty for his fault. In his last days Savonarola seems to have recognized the vanity of his visions and prophecies. And yet enough inward peace was left to him to enable him to meet death like a Christian. His partisans held to his doctrine and predictions for thirty years longer.
He only undertook the reorganization of the State for the reason that otherwise his enemies would have got the government into their own hands. It is unfair to judge him by the semi-democratic constitution of the beginning of the year 1495, which was neither better nor worse than other Florentine constitutions.
He was at bottom the most unsuitable man who could be found for such a work. His idea was a theocracy, in which all men were to bow in blessed humility before the Unseen, and all conflicts of passion wert not even to be able to arise. His whole mind is written in that inscription on the Palazzo della Signoria, the substance of which was his maxim as early as 1495, and which was solemnly renewed by his partisans in 1527: 'Jesus Christus Rex populi Florentini S.P.Q. decreto creatus.' He stood in no more relation to mundane affairs and their actual conditions than any other inhabitant of a monastery. Man, according to him, has only to attend to those things which make directly for his salvation.
This temper comes out clearly in his opinions on ancient literature: 'The only good thing which we owe to Plato and Aristotle, is that they brought forward many arguments which we can use against the heretics. Yet they and other philosophers are now in Hell. An old woman knows more about the Faith than Plato. It would be good for religion if many books that seem useful were destroyed. When there were not so many books and not so many arguments ("ragioni naturali") and disputes, religion grew more quickly than it has done since.' He wished to limit the classical instruction of the schools to Homer, Virgil and Cicero, and to supply the rest from Jerome and Augustine. Not only Ovid and Catullus, but Terence and Tibullus, were to be banished. This may be no more than the expressions of a nervous morality, but elsewhere in a special work he admits that science as a whole is harmful. He holds that only a few people should have to do with it, in order that the tradition of human knowledge may not perish, and particularly that there may be no want of intellectual athletes to confute the sophisms of the heretics. For all others, grammar, morals, and religious teaching ('litterae sacrae') suffice. Culture and education would thus return wholly into the charge of the monks, and as, in his opinion, the 'most learned and the most pious' are to rule over the States and empires, these rulers would also be monks. Whether he really foresaw this conclusion, we need not inquire.
A more childish method of reasoning cannot be imagined. The simple reflection that the newborn antiquity and the boundless enlargement of human thought and knowledge which was due to it, might give splendid confirmation to a religion able to adapt itself thereto, seems never even to have occurred to the good man. He wanted to forbid what he could not deal with by any other means. In fact, he was anything but liberal, and was ready, for example, to send the astrologers to the same stake at which he afterwards himself died.
How mighty must have been the soul which dwelt side by side with this narrow intellect! And what a flame must have glowed within him before he could constrain the Florentines, possessed as they were by the passion for knowledge and culture, to surrender themselves to a man who could thus reason!
How much of their heart and their worldliness they were ready to sacrifice for his sake is shown by those famous bonfires by the side of which all the 'talami' of Bernardino da Siena and others were certainly of small account.
All this could not, however, be effected without the agency of a tyrannical police. He did not shrink from the most vexatious interferences with the much-prized freedom of Italian private life, using the espionage of servants on their masters as a means of carrying out his moral reforms. That transformation of public and private life which the Iron Calvin was but just able to effect at Geneva with the aid of a permanent state of siege necessarily proved impossible at Florence, and the attempt only served to drive the enemies of Savonarola into a more implacable hostility. Among his most unpopular measures may be mentioned those organized parties of boys, who forced their way into the houses and laid violent hands on any objects which seemed suitable for the bonfire. As it happened that they were sometimes sent away with a beating, they were afterwards attended, in order to keep up the figment of a pious 'rising generation,' by a bodyguard of grown-up persons.
On the last day of the Carnival in the year 1497, and on the same day the year after, the great 'Auto da Fe' took place on the Piazza della Signoria. In the center of it rose a high pyramid of several tiers, like the 'rogus' on which the Roman Emperors were commonly burned. On the lowest tier were arranged false beards, masks, and carnival disguises; above came volumes of the Latin and Italian poets, among others Boccaccio, the 'Morgante' of Pulci, and Petrarch, partly in the form of valuable printed parchments and illuminated manuscripts; then women's ornaments and toilet articles, scents, mirrors, veils and false hair; higher up, lutes, harps, chessboards, playing-cards; and finally, on the two uppermost tiers, paintings only, especially of female beauties, partly fancy pictures, bearing the classical names of Lucretia, Cleopatra, or Faustina, partly portraits of the beautiful Bencina, Lena Morella, Bina and Maria de' Lenzi. On the first occasion a Venetian merchant who happened to be present offered the Signoria 22,000 gold florins for the objects on the pyramid; but the only answer he received was that his portrait, too, was painted, and burned along with the rest. When the pile was lighted, the Signoria appeared on the balcony, and the air echoed with song, the sound of trumpets, and the pealing of bells. The people then adjourned to the Piazza di San Marco, where they danced round in three concentric circles. The innermost was composed of monks of the monastery, alternating with boys, dressed as angels; then came young laymen and ecclesiastics; and on the outside, old men, citizens, and priests, the latter crowned with wreaths of olive.
All the ridicule of his victorious enemies, who in truth bad no lack of justification or of talent for ridicule, was unable to discredit the memory of Savonarola. The more tragic the fortunes of Italy became, the brighter grew the halo which in the recollection of the survivors surrounded the figure of the great monk and prophet. Though his predictions may not have been confirmed in detail, the great and general calamity which he foretold was fulfilled with appalling truth.
Great, however, as the influence of all these preachers may have been, and brilliantly as Savonarola justified the claim of the monks to this office, nevertheless the order as a while could not escape the contempt and condemnation of the people. Italy^ showed that she could give her enthusiasm only to individuals.
Strength of the Old Faith
If, apart from all that concerns the priests and the monks, we attempt to measure the strength of the old faith, it will be found great or small according to the light in which it is considered. We have spoken already of the need felt for the Sacraments as something indispensable. Let us now glance for a moment at the position of faith and worship in daily life. Both were determined partly by the habits of the people and partly by the policy and example of the rulers.
All that has to do with penitence and the attainment of salvation by means of good works was in much the one stage of development or corruption as in the North of Europe, both among the peasantry and among the poorer inhabitants of the cities. The instructed classes were sometimes influenced by the same motives. Those sides of popular Catholicism which had their origin in the old pagan ways of invoking, rewarding, and propitiating the gods have fixed themselves ineradicably in the consciousness of the people. The eighth eclogue of Battista Mantovano, which has already been quoted elsewhere, contains the prayer of a peasant to the Madonna, in which she is called upon as the special patroness of all rustic and agricultural interests. And what conceptions they were which the people formed of their protectress in heaven. What was in the mind of the Florentine woman who gave 'ex voto' a keg of wax to the Annunziata, because her lover, a monk, had gradually emptied a barrel of wine without her absent husband finding it out. Then, too, as still in our own days, different departments of human life were presided over by their respective patrons.
The attempt has often been made to explain a number of the commonest rites of the Catholic Church as remnants of pagan ceremonies, and no one doubts that many local and popular usages, which are associated with religious festivals, are forgotten fragments of the old pre- Christian faiths of Europe. In Italy, on the contrary, we find instances in which the affiliation of the new faith to the old seems consciously recognized. So, for example, the custom of setting out food for the dead four days before the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, that is to say, on February 18, the date of the ancient Feralia. Many other practices of this kind may then have prevailed and have since then been extirpated. Perhaps the paradox is only apparent if we say that the popular faith in Italy had a solid foundation just in proportion as it was pagan.
The extent to which this form of belief prevailed in the upper classes can to a certain point be shown in detail. It had, as we have said in speaking of the influence of the clergy, the power of custom and early impressions on its side. The love for ecclesiastical pomp and display helped to confirm it, and now and then there came one of those epidemics of revivalism, which few even among the scoffers and the sceptics were able to withstand.
But in questions of this kind it is perilous to grasp too hastily at absolute results. We might fancy, for example, that the feeling of educated men towards the relics of the saints would be a key by which some chambers of their religious consciousness might be opened. And in fact, some difference of degree may be demonstrable, though by no means as clearly as might be wished. The Government of Venice in the fifteenth century seems to have fully shared in the reverence felt throughout the rest of Europe for the remains of the bodies of the saints. Even strangers who lived in Venice found it well to adapt themselves to this superstition. If we can judge of scholarly Padua from the testimony of its topographer Michele Savonarola, things must have been much the same there. With a mixture of pride and pious awe, Michele tells us how in times of great danger the saints were heard to sigh at night along the streets of the city, how the hair and nails on the corpse of a holy nun in Santa Chiara kept continually growing, and how the same corpse. when any disaster was impending, used to make a noise and lift up the arms. When he sets to work to describe the chapel of St. Anthony in the Santo, the writer loses himself in ejaculations and fantastic dreams. In Milan the people at least showed a fanatical devotion to relics; and when once, in the year 1517, the monks of San Simpliciano were careless enough to expose six holy corpses during certain alterations of the high altar, which event was followed by heavy floods of rain, the people attributed the visitation to this sacrilege, and gave the monks a sound beating whenever they met them in the street. In other parts of Italy, and even in the case of the Popes themselves, the sincerity of this feeling is much more dubious, though here, too, a positive conclusion is hardly attainable. It is well known amid what general enthusiasm Pius II solemnly deposited the head of the Apostle Andrew, which had been brought from Greece, and then from San
Maura, in the Church of St. Peter (1462); but we gather from his own narrative that he only did it from a kind of shame, as so many princes were competing for the relic. It was not till afterwards that the idea struck him of making Rome the common refuge for all the remains of the saints which had been driven from their own churches. Under Sixtus IV, the population of the city was still more zealous in this cause than the Pope himself, and the magistracy (1483) complained bitterly that Sixtus had sent to Louis XI, the dying King of France, some specimens of the Lateran relics. A courageous voice was raised about thin time at Bologna, advising the sale of the skull of St. Dominic to the King of Spain, and the application of the money to some useful public object. But those who had the least reverence of all for the relics were the Florentines. Between the decision to honour their saint, St. Zanobi, with a new sarcophagus and the final execution of the project by Ghiberti, ten years elapsed (1432-42) and then it only happened by chance, because the master had executed a smaller order of the same kind with great skill (1428).
Perhaps through being tricked by a cunning Neapolitan abbess (1352), who sent them a spurious arm of the patroness of the Cathedral, Santa Reparata, made of wood and plaster, they began to get tired of relics. Or perhaps it would be truer to say that their aesthetic sense turned them away in disgust from dismembered corpses and mouldy clothes. Or perhaps their feeling was rather due to that sense of glory which thought Dante and Petrarch worthier of a splendid grave than all the twelve apostles put together. It is probable that throughout Italy, apart from Venice and from Rome, the condition of which latter city was exceptional, the worship of relics had long been giving way to the adoration of the Madonna, at all events to a greater extent than elsewhere in Europe; and in this fact lies indirect evidence of an early development of the aesthetic sense.
It may be questioned whether in the North, where the vastest cathedrals are clearly all dedicated to Our Lady, and where an extensive branch of Latin and indigenous poetry sang the praises of the Mother of God, a greater devotion to her was impossible. In Italy, however, the number of miraculous pictures of the Virgin was far greater, and the part they played in the daily life of the people much more important. Every town of any size contained a quantity of them, from the ancient, or ostensibly ancient, paintings by St. Luke, down to the works of contemporaries, who not seldom lived to see the miracles wrought by their own handiwork. The work of art was in these cases by no means as harmless as Battista Mantovano thinks; sometimes it suddenly acquired a magical virtue. The popular craving for the miraculous, especially strong in women, may have been fully satisfied by these pictures, and for this reason the relics been less regarded. It cannot be said with certainty how far the respect for genuine relics suffered from the ridicule which the novelist aimed at the spurious. The attitude of the educated classes in Italy towards Mariolatry, or the worship of the Virgin, is more clearly recognizable than towards the worship of images. One cannot but be struck with the fact that in Italian literature Dante's 'Paradise' is the last poem in honour of the Virgin, while among the people hymns in her praise have been constantly produced down to our own day. The names of Sannazaro and Sabellico and other writers of Latin poems prove little on the other side, since the object with which they wrote was chiefly literary. The poems written in Italian in the fifteenth and at the beginning of the sixteenth centuries, in which we meet with genuine religious feeling, such as the hymns of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and the sonnets of Vittoria Colonna and of Michelangelo might have been just as well composed by Protestants. Besides the lyrical expression of faith in God, we chiefly notice in them the sense of sin, the consciousness of deliverance through the death of Christ, the longing for a better world. The intercessiOn of the Mother of God is only mentioned by the way. The same phenomenon is repeated in the classical literature of the French at the time of Louis XIV. Not till the time of the Counter-Reformation did Mariolatry reappear in the higher Italian poetry. Meanwhile the visual arts had certainly done their utmost to glorify the Madonna. It may be added that the worship of the saints among the educated classes often took an essentially pagan form.
We might thus critically examine the various sides of Italian Catholicism at this period, and so establish with a certain degree of probability the attitude of the instructed classes towards popular faith. Yet an absolute and positive result cannot be reached. We meet with contrasts hard to explain. While architects, painters, and sculptors were working with restless activity in and for the churches, we hear at the beginning of the sixteenth century the bitterest complaints of the neglect of public worship and of these churches themselves.
It is well known how Luther was scandalized by the irreverence with which the priests in Rome said Mass. And at the same time the feasts of the Church were celebrated with a taste and magnificence of which Northern countries had no conception. It looks as if this most imaginative of nations was easily tempted to neglect everyday things, and as easily captivated by anything extraordinary.
It is to this excess of imagination that we must attribute the epidemic of religious revivals upon which we shall again say a few words. They must be clearly distinguished from the excitement called forth by the great preachers. They were rather due to general public calamities, or to the dread of such.
In the Middle Ages all Europe was from time to time flooded by these great tides, which carried away whole peoples in their waves. The Crusades and the Flagellant revival are instances. Italy took part in both of these movements. The first great companies of flagellants appeared, immediately after the fall of Ezzelino and his house, in the neighbourhood of the same Perugia which has been already spoken of as the headquarters of the revivalist preachers. Then followed the flagellants of 1310 and 1334, and then the great pilgrimage without encouraging in the year 1349, which Corio has recorded. It is not impossible that the Jubilees were founded partly in order to regulate and render harmless this sinister passion for vagabondage which seized on the whole populations at times of religious excitement. The great sanctuaries of Italy, such as Loreto and others, had meantime become famous, and no doubt diverted a certain part of this enthusiasm.
But terrible crises had still at a much later time the power to reawaken the glow of mediaeval penitence, and the conscience - stricken people, often still further appalled by signs and wonders, sought to move the pity of Heaven by wailings and scourgings. So it was at Bologna when the plague came in 1457, and so in 1496 at a time of internal discord at Siena) to mention two only out of countless instances. No more moving scene can be imagined than that which we read of at Milan in 1529) when famine, plague, and war conspired with Spanish extortion to reduce the city to the lowest depths of despair. It chanced that the monk who had the ear of the people, Fra Tomasso Nieto, was himself a Spaniard. The Host was borne along in a novel fashion, amid barefooted crowds of old and young. It was placed on a decorated bier, which rested on the shoulders of four priests in linen garments--an imitation of the Ark of the Covenant which the children of Israel once carried round the walls of Jericho. Thus did the afflicted people of Milan remind their ancient God of His old covenant with man; and when the procession again entered the cathedral, and it seemed as if the vast building must fall in with the agonized cry of 'Misericordia!', many who stood there may have believed that the Almighty would indeed subvert the laws of nature and of history, and send a miraculous deliverance.
There was one government in Italy, that of Duke Ercole I of Ferrara, which assumed the direction of public feeling, and compelled the popular revivals to move in regular channels. At the time when Savonarola was powerful in Florence, and the movement which he began spread far and wide among the population of Central Italy, the people of Ferrara voluntarily entered on a general fast (at the beginning of 1496). A Lazarist announced from the pulpit the approach of a season of war and famine such as the world had never seen; but the Madonna had assured some pious people that these evils might be avoided by fasting. Upon this, the court itself had no choice but to fast, but it took the conduct of the public devotions into its own hands. On Easter Day, the 3rd of April, a proclamation on morals and religion was published, forbidding blasphemy, prohibiting games, sodomy, concubinage, the letting of houses to prostitutes or panders, and the opening of all shops on feast days, excepting those of the bakers and greengrocers. The Jews and Moors, who had taken refuge from the Spaniards at Ferrara, were now again compelled to wear the yellow O upon the breast. Contraveners were threatened, not only with the punishments already provided by law, but also 'with such severer penalties as the Duke might think good to inflict.' After this, the Duke and the court went several days in succession to hear sermons in church, and on the 10th of April all the Jews in Ferrara were compelled to do the same. On the 3rd of May, the director of police, Zampante, sent the crier to announce that whoever had given money to the police-officers in order not to be denounced as a blasphemer, might, if he came forward, have it back with a further indemnification. These wicked officers, he said, had extorted as much as two or three ducats from innocent persons by threatening to lodge an information against them. They had then mutually informed against one another, and so had all found their way into prison. But as the money had been paid precisely in order not to have to do with Zampante, it is probable that his proclamation induced few people to come forward. In the year 1500, after the fall of Lodovico il Moro, when a similar outbreak of popular feeling took place, Ercole ordered a series of nine processions, in which there were 4,000 children dressed in white, bearing the standard of Jesus. He himself rode on horseback, as he could not walk without difficulty. An edict was afterwards published of the same kind as that of 1496. It is well known how many churches and monasteries were built by this ruler. He even sent for a live saint, the Suor Colomba, shortly before he married his son Alfonso to Lucrezia Borgia (1502). A special messenger fetched the saint with fifteen other nuns from Viterbo, and the Duke himself conducted her on her arrival at Ferrara into a convent prepared for her reception. We shall probably do him no injustice if we attribute all these measures very largely to political calculation. To the conception of government formed by the House of Este, this employment of religion for the ends of statecraft belongs by a kind of logical necessity.
Religion and the Spirit of the Renaissance
But in order to reach a definite conclusion with regard to the religious sense of the men of this period, we must adopt a different method. From their intellectual attitude in general, we can infer their relation both to the divine idea and to the existing religion of their age.
These modern men, the representatives of the culture of Italy, were born with the same religious instincts as other mediaeval Europeans. But their powerful individuality made them in religion, as in other matters, altogether subjective, and the intense charm which the discovery of the inner and outer universe exercised upon them rendered them markedly worldly. In the rest of Europe religion remained, till a much later period. something given from without, and in practical life egotism and sensuality alternated with devotion and repentance. The latter had no spiritual competitors) as in Italy, or only to a far smaller extent.
Further, the close and frequent relations of Italy with Byzantium and the Mohammedan peoples had produced a dispassionate tolerance which weakened the ethnographical conception of a privileged Christendom. And when classical antiquity with its men and institutions became an ideal of life) as well as the greatest of historical memories, ancient speculation and skepticism obtained in many cases a complete mastery over the minds of Italians. Since, again, the Italians were the first modern people of Europe who gave themselves boldly to speculations on freedom and necessity, and since they did so under violent and lawless political circumstances, in which evil seemed often to win a splendid and lasting victory, their belief in God began to waver, and their view of the government of the world became fatalistic. And when their passionate natures refused to rest in the sense of uncertainty, they made a shift to help themselves out with ancient, Oriental, or medieval superstition. They took to astrology and magic.
Finally, these intellectual giants, these representatives of the Renaissance, show, in respect to religion, a quality which is common in youthful natures. Distinguishing keenly between good and evil, they yet are conscious of no sin. Every disturbance of their inward harmony they feel themselves able to make good out of the plastic resources of their own nature, and therefore they feel no repentance. The need of salvation thus becomes felt more and more dimly, while the ambitions and the intellectual activity of the present either shut out altogether every thought of a world to come, or else caused it to assume a poetic instead of a dogmatic form.
When we look on all this as pervaded and often perverted by the all- powerful Italian imagination, we obtain a picture of that time which is certainly more in accordance with truth than are vague declarations against modern paganism. And closer investigation often reveals to us that underneath this outward shell much genuine religion could still survive.
The fuller discussion of these points must be limited to a few of the more essential explanations.
That religion should again become an affair of the individual and of his own personal feeling was inevitable when the Church became corrupt in doctrine and tyrannous in practice, and is a proof that the European mind was still alive. It is true that this showed itself in many different ways. While the mystical and ascetical sects of the North lost no time in creating new outward forms for their new modes of thought and feeling, each individual in Italy went his own way, and thousands wandered on the sea of life without any religious guidance whatever. All the more must we admire those who attained and held fast to a personal religion. They were not to blame for being unable to have any part or lot in the old Church, as she then was; nor would it be reasonable to expect that they should all of them go through that mighty spiritual labor which was appointed to the German reformers. The form and aim of this personal faith, as it showed itself in the better minds, will bc set forth at the close of our work.
The worldliness, through which the Renaissance seems to offer so striking a contrast to the Middle Ages, owed its first origin to the flood of new thoughts, purposes, and views, which transformed the mediaeval conception of nature and man. The spirit is not in itself more hostile to religion than that 'culture' which now holds its place, but which can give us only a feeble notion of the universal ferment which the discovery of a new world of greatness then called forth. This worldliness was not frivolous, but earnest, and was ennobled by art and poetry. It is a lofty necessity of the modern spirit that this attitude, once gained, can never again be lost, that an irresistible impulse forces us to the investigation of men and things, and that we must hold this inquiry to be our proper end and work. How soon and by what paths this search will lead us back to God, and in what ways the religious temper of the individual will be affected by it, are questions which cannot be met by any general answer. The Middle Ages, which spared themselves the trouble of induction and free inquiry, can have no right to impose upon us their dogmatical verdict in a matter of such vast importance.
To the study of man, among many other causes, was due the tolerance and indifference with which the Mohammedan religion was regarded. The knowledge and admiration of the remarkable civilization which Islam, particularly before the Mongol inundation, had attained, was peculiar to Italy from the time of the Crusades. This sympathy was fostered by the half-Mohammedan government of some Italian princes, by dislike and even contempt for the existing Church, and by constant commercial intercourse with the harbors of the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean. It can be shown that in the thirteenth century the Italians recognized a Mohammedan ideal of nobleness, dignity, and pride, which they loved to connect with the person of a Sultan. A Mameluke Sultan is commonly meant; if any name is mentioned, it is the name of Saladin. Even the Osmanli Turks, whose destructive tendencies were no secret, gave the Italians only half a fright, and a peaceable accord with them was looked upon as no impossibility.
The truest and most characteristic expression of this religious indifference is the famous story of the Three Rings, which Lessing has put into the mouth of his Nathan, after it had been already told centuries earlier, though with some reserve, in the 'Hundred Old Novels' (nov. 12 or 73), and more boldly in Boccaccio (Decamerone, i, nov. 3). In what language and in what corner of the Mediterranean it was first told can never be known; most likely the original was much more plain-spoken than the two Italian adaptations. The religious postulate on which it rests, namely Deism, will be discussed later on in its wider significance for this period. The same idea is repeated, though in a clumsy caricature, in the famous proverb of the 'three who have deceived the world, that is, Moses, Christ, and Mohammed.' If the Emperor Frederick II, in whom this saying is said to have originated, really thought so, he probably expressed himself with more wit.
Ideas of the same kind were also current in Islam. At the height of the Renaissance, towards the close of the fifteenth century, Luigi Pulci offers us an example of the same mode of thought in the 'Morgante Maggiore.' The imaginary world of which his story treats is divided, as in all heroic poems of romance, into a Christian and a Mohammedan camp. In accordance with the medieval temper, the victory of the Christian and the final reconciliation among the combatants was attended by the baptism of the defeated Islamites, and the Improvisatori, who preceded Pulci in the treatment of these subjects, must have made free use of this stock incident. It was Pulci's object to parody his predecessors, particularly the worst among them, and this he does by the invocations of God, Christ, and the Madonna, with which each canto begins; and still more clearly by the sudden conversions and baptisms, the utter senselessness of which must have struck every reader or hearer. This ridicule leads him further to the confession of his faith in the relative goodness of all religions, which faith, notwithstanding his profession of orthodoxy, rests on an essentially theistic basis. In another point, too, he departs widely from mediaeval conceptions. The alternatives in past centuries were: Christian, or else Pagan and Mohammedan; orthodox believer or heretic. Pulci draws a picture of the Giant Margutte who, disregarding each and every religion, jovially confesses to every form of vice and sensuality, and only reserves to himself the merit of having never broken faith. Perhaps the poet intended to make something of this--in his way--honest monster, possibly to have led him into virtuous paths by Morgante, but he soon got tired of his own creation, and in the next canto brought him to a comic end. Margutte has been brought forward as a proof of Pulci's frivolity; but he is needed to complete the picture of the poetry of the fifteenth century. It was natural that it should somewhere present in grotesque proportions the figure of an untamed egotism, insensible to all established rule, and yet with a remnant of honorable feeling left. In other poems sentiments are put into the mouths of giants, fiends, infidels, and Mohammedans which no Christian knight would venture to utter.
Antiquity exercised an influence of another kind than that of Islam, and this not through its religion, which was but too much like the Catholicism of this period, but through its philosophy. Ancient literature, now respected as something incomparable, is full of the victory of philosophy over religious tradition. An endless number of systems and fragments of systems were suddenly presented to the Italian mind, not as curiosities or even as heresies, but almost with the authority of dogmas, which had now to be reconciled rather than discriminated. In nearly all these various opinions and doctrines a certain kind of belief in God was implied; but taken altogether they formed a marked contrast to the Christian faith in a Divine government of the world. And there was one central question, which mediaeval theology had striven in vain to solve, and which now urgently demanded an answer from the wisdom of the ancients, namely, the relation of Providence to the freedom or necessity of the human will. To write the history of this question even superficially from the fourteenth century onwards, would require a whole volume. A few hints must here suffice.
If we take Dante and his contemporaries as evidence, we shall find that ancient philosophy first came into contact with Italian life in the form which offered the most marked contrast to Christianity, that is to say, Epicureanism. The writings of Epicurus were no longer preserved, and even at the close of the classical age a more or less one-sided conception had been formed of his philosophy. Nevertheless, that phase of Epicureanism which can be studied in Lucretius, and especially in Cicero, is quite sufficient to make men familiar with a godless universe. To what extent his teaching was actually understood, and whether the name of the problematic Greek sage was not rather a catchword for the multitude, it is hard to say. It is probable that the Dominican Inquisition used it against men who could not be reached by a more definite accusation. In the case of sceptics born before the time was ripe, whom it was yet hard to convict of positive heretical utterances, a moderate degree of luxurious living may have sufficed to provoke the charge. The word is used in this conventional sense by Giovanni Villani, when he explains the Florentine fires of 1115 and 1117 as a Divine judgement on heresies, among others, 'on the luxurious and gluttonous sect of Epicureans.' The same writer says of Manfred, 'His life was Epicurean, since he believed neither in God, nor in the Saints, but only in bodily pleasure.'
Dante speaks still more clearly in the ninth and tenth cantos of the 'Inferno.' That terrible fiery field covered with half-opened tombs, from which issued cries of hopeless agony, was peopled by the two great classes of those whom the Church had vanquished or expelled in the thirteenth century. The one were heretics who opposed the Church by deliberately spreading false doctrine; the other were Epicureans, and their sin against the Church lay in their general disposition, which was summed up in the belief that the soul dies with the body. The Church was well aware that this one doctrine, if it gained ground, must be more ruinous to her authority than all the teachings of the Manichaeans and Paterines, since it took away all reason for her interference in the affairs of men after death. That the means which she used in her struggles were precisely what had driven the most gifted natures to unbelief and despair was what she naturally would not herself admit.
Dante's loathing of Epicurus, or of what he took to be his doctrine, was certainly sincere. The poet of the life to come could not but detest the denier of immortality; and a world neither made nor ruled by God, no less than the vulgar objects of earthly life which the system appeared to countenance, could not but be intensely repugnant to a nature like his. But if we look closer, we find that certain doctrines of the ancients made even on him an impression which forced the biblical doctrine of the Divine government into the background unless, indeed, it was his own reflection, the influence of opinions then prevalent, or loathing for the injustice that seemed to rule this world, which made him give up the belief in a special Providence His God leaves all the details of the world's government to a deputy, Fortune, whose sole work it is to change and change again all earthly things, and who can disregard the wailings of men in unalterable beatitude. Nevertheless, Dante does not for a moment fail to insist on the moral responsibility of man; he believes in free will. The belief in the freedom of the will, in the popular sense of the words, has always prevailed in Western countries. At all times men have been held responsible for their actions, as though this freedom were a matter of course. The case is otherwise with the religious and philosophical doctrine, which labors under the difficulty of harmonizing the nature of the will with the laws of the universe at large. We have here to do with a question of more or less, which every moral estimate must take into account. Dante is not wholly free from those astrological superstitions which illumined the horizon of his time with deceptive light, but they do not hinder him from rising to a worthy conception of human nature. 'The stars,' he makes his Marco Lambert say ('Purgatorio,' xvi, 73), 'the stars give the first impulse to your actions, but a light is given you to know good and evil, and free will, which, if it endure the strain in its first battlings with the heavens, at length gains the whole victory, if it be well nurtured.'
Others might seek the necessity which annulled human freedom in another power than the stars, but the question was henceforth an open and inevitable one. So far as it was a question for the schools or the pursuit of isolated thinkers, its treatment belongs to the historian of philosophy. But inasmuch as it entered into the consciousness of a wider public, it is necessary for us to say a few words respecting it.
The fourteenth century was chiefly stimulated by the writings of Cicero, who, though in fact an eclectic, yet, by his habit of setting forth the opinions of different schools, without coming to a decision between them, exercised the influence of a skeptic. Next in importance came Seneca, and the few works of Aristotle which had been translated into Latin. The immediate fruit of these studies was the capacity to reflect on great subjects, if not in direct opposition to the authority of the Church, at all events independently of it.
In the course of the fifteenth century the works of antiquity were discovered and diffused with extraordinary rapidity. All the writings of the Greek philosophers which we ourselves possess were now, at least in the form of Latin translations, in everybody's hands. It is a curious fact that some of the most zealous apostles of this new culture were men of the strictest piety, or even ascetics. Fra Ambrogio Camaldolese, as a spiritual dignitary chiefly occupied with ecclesiastical affairs, and as a literary man with the translation of the Greek Fathers of the Church, could not repress the humanistic impulse, and at the request of Cosimo de' Medici, undertook to translate Diogenes Laertius into Latin. His contemporaries, Niccolo Niccoli, Giannozzo Manetti, Donato Acciaiuoli, and Pope Nicholas V, united to a many-sided humanism profound biblical scholarship and deep piety. In Vittorino da Feltre the same temper has been already noticed. The same Maffeo Vegio, who added a thirteenth book to the Aeneid, had an enthusiasm for the memory of St. Augustine and his mother, Monica, which cannot have been without a deeper influence upon him. The result of all these tendencies was that the Platonic Academy at Florence deliberately chose for its object the reconciliation of the spirit of antiquity with that of Christianity. It was a remarkable oasis in the humanism of the period.
This humanism was in fact pagan, and became more and more so as its sphere widened in the fifteenth century. Its representatives, whom we have already described as the advance guard of an unbridled individualism, display as a rule such a character that even their religion, which is sometimes professed very definitely, becomes a matter of indifference to us. They easily got the name of atheists, if they showed themselves indifferent to religion and spoke freely against the Church; but not one of them ever professed, or dared to profess, a formal, philosophical atheism. If they sought for any leading principle, it must have been a kind of superficial rationalism--a careless inference from the many and contradictory opinions of antiquity with which they busied themselves, and from the discredit into which the Church and her doctrines had fallen This was the sort of reasoning which was near bringing Galeotto Martio to the stake, had not his former pupil, Pope Sixtus IV, perhaps at the request of Lorenzo de' Medici, saved him from the hands of the Inquisition. Galeotto had ventured to write that the man who lived uprightly, and acted according to the natural law born within him, would go to heaven, whatever nation he belonged to.
Let us take, by way of example, the religious attitude of one of the smaller men in the great army. Codrus Urceus was first the tutor of the last Ordelaffo, Prince of Forli, and afterwards for many years professor at Bologna. Against the Church and the monks his language is as abusive as that of the rest. His tone in general is reckless to the last degree, and he constantly introduces himself in all his local history and gossip. But he knows how to speak to the edification of the true God-Man, Jesus Christ, and to commend himself by letter to the prayers of a saintly priest. On one occasion, after enumerating the follies of the pagan religions, he thus goes on: 'Our theologians, too, quarrel about "the guinea-pig's tail," about the Immaculate Conception, Antichrist, Sacraments, Predestination, and other things, which were better let alone than talked of publicly.' Once, when he was not at home, his room and manuscripts were burnt. When he heard the news he stood opposite a figure of the Madonna in the street, and cried to it: 'Listen to what I tell you; I am not mad, I am saying what I mean. If I ever call upon you in the hour of my death, you need not hear me or take me among your own, for I will go and spend eternity with the devil.' After which speech he found it desirable to spend six months in retirement at the home of a woodcutter. With all this, he was so superstitious that prodigies and omens gave him incessant frights, leaving him no belief to spare for the immortality of the soul. When his hearers questioned him on the matter, he answered that no one knew what became of a man, of his soul or his spirit, after death, and the talk about another life was only fit to frighten old women. But when he came to die, he commended in his will his soul or his spirit to Almighty God, exhorted his weeping pupils to fear the Lord, and especially to believe in immortality and future retribution, and received the Sacrament with much fervor. We have no guarantee that more famous men in the same calling, however significant their opinions may be, were in practical life any more consistent. It is probable that most of them wavered inwardly between incredulity and a remnant of the faith in which they were brought up, and outwardly held for prudential reasons to the Church.
Through the connexion of rationalism with the newly born science of historical investigation, some timid attempts at biblical criticism may here and there have been made. A saying of Pius II has been recorded, which seems intended to prepare the way for such criticism: 'Even if Christianity were not confirmed by miracles, it ought still to be accepted on account of its morality.' The legends of the Church, in so far as they contained arbitrary versions of the biblical miracles, were freely ridiculed, and this reacted on the religious sense of the people. Where Judaizing heretics are mentioned, we must understand chiefly those who denied the Divinity of Christ, which was probably the offence for which Giorgio da Novara was burnt at Bologna about the year 1500. But again at Bologna in the year 1497 the Dominican Inquisitor was forced to let the physician Gabriele da Salo, who had powerful patrons, escape with a simple expression of penitence, although he was in the habit of maintaining that Jesus was not God, but son of Joseph and Mary, and conceived in the usual way; that by his cunning he had deceived the world to its ruin; that he may have died on the cross on account of crimes which he had committed; that his religion would soon come to an end; that his body was not really contained in the sacrament, and that he performed his miracles, not through any divine power, but through the influence of the heavenly bodies. This latter statement is most characteristic of the time: Faith is gone, but magic still holds its ground.
With respect to the moral government of the world, the humanists seldom get beyond a cold and resigned consideration of the prevalent violence and misrule. In this mood the main works 'On Fate,' or whatever name they bear, are written. They tell of the turning of the wheel of Fortune, and of the instability of earthly, especially political, things. Providence is only brought in because the writers would still be ashamed of undisguised fatalism, of the avowal of their ignorance, or of useless complaints. Gioviano Pontano ingeniously illustrates the nature of that mysterious something which men call Fortune by a hundred incidents, most of which belonged to his own experience. The subject is treated more humorously by Aeneas Sylvius, in the form of a vision seen in a dream. The aim of Poggio, on the other hand, in a work written in his old age, is to represent the world as a vale of tears, and to fix the happiness of various classes as low as possible. This tone became in future the prevalent one. Distinguished men drew up a debit and credit of the happiness and unhappiness of their lives, and generally found that the latter outweighed the former. The fate of Italy and the Italians, so far as it could be told in the year 1510, has been described with dignity and almost elegiac pathos by Tristan Caracciolo. Applying this general tone of feeling to the humanists themselves, Pierio Valeriano afterwards composed his famous treatise. Some of these themes, such as the fortunes of Leo X, were most suggestive. All the good that can be said of him politically has been briefly and admirably summed up by Francesco Vettori; the picture of Leo's pleasures is given by Paolo Giovio and in the anonymous biography; and the shadows which attended his prosperity are drawn with inexorable truth by the same Pierio Valeriano.
We cannot, on the other hand, read without a kind of awe how men sometimes boasted of their fortune in public inscriptions. Giovanni II Bentivoglio, ruler of Bologna, ventured to carve in stone on the newly built tower by his palace that his merit and his fortune had given him richly of all that could be desired--and this a few years before his expulsion. The ancients, when they spoke in this tone, had nevertheless a sense of the envy of the gods. In Italy it was probably the Condottieri who first ventured to boast so loudly of their fortune. But the way in which resuscitated antiquity affected religion most powerfully, was not through any doctrines or philosophical system, but through a general tendency which it fostered. The men, and in some respects the institutions, of antiquity were preferred to those of the Middle Ages, and in the eager attempt to imitate and reproduce them, religion was left to take care of itself. All was absorbed in the admiration for historical greatness. To this the philologians added many special follies of their own, by which they became the mark for general attention. How far Paul II was justified in calling his Abbreviators and their friends to account for their paganism, is certainly a matter of great doubt, as his biographer and chief victim, Platina, has shown a masterly skill in explaining his vindictiveness on other grounds, and especially in making him play a ludicrous figure. The charges of infidelity, paganism, denial of immortality, and so forth, were not made against the accused till the charge of high treason had broken down. Paul, indeed, if we are correctly informed about him, was by no means the man to judge of intellectual things. It was he who exhorted the Romans to teach their children nothing beyond reading and writing. His priestly narrowness of views reminds us of Savonarola, with the difference that Paul might fairly have been told that he and his like were in great part to blame if culture made men hostile to religion. It cannot, nevertheless, be doubted that he felt a real anxiety about the pagan tendencies which surrounded him. And what, in truth, may not the humanists have allowed themselves at the court of the profligate pagan, Sigismondo Malatesta, How far these men, destitute for the most part of fixed principle, ventured to go, depended assuredly on the sort of influences they were exposed to. Nor could they treat of Christianity without paganizing it. It is curious, for instance, to notice how far Gioviano Pontano carried this confusion. He speaks of a saint not only as 'divus,' but as 'deus'; the angels he holds to be identical with the genii of antiquity; and his notion of immortality reminds us of the old kingdom of the shades. This spirit occasionally appears in the most extravagant shapes. In 1526, when Siena was attacked by the exiled party, the worthy Canon Tizio, who tells us the story himself, rose from his bed on the 22nd of July, called to mind what is written in the third book of Macrobius, celebrated Mass, and then pronounced against the enemy the curse with which his author had supplied him, only altering 'Tellus mater teque Jupiter obtestor' into 'Tellus teque Christe Deus obtestor.' After he had done this for three days, the enemy retreated. On the one side, these things strike us as an affair of mere style and fashion j on the other, as a symptom of religious decadence.
Influence of Ancient Superstition
But in another way, and that dogmatically, antiquity exercised perilous influence. It imparted to the Renaissance its own forms of superstition. Some fragments of this had survived in Italy all through the Middle Ages, and the resuscitation of the whole was thereby made so much the more easy. The part played by the imagination in the process need not be dwelt upon. This only could have silenced the critical intellect of the Italians.
The belief in a Divine government of the world was in many minds destroyed by the spectacle of so much injustice and misery. Others, like Dante, surrendered at all events this life to the caprices of chance, and if they nevertheless retained a sturdy faith, it was because they held that the higher destiny of man would be accomplished in the life to come. But when the belief in immortality began to waver, then Fatalism got the upper hand, or sometimes the latter came first and had the former as its consequence.
The gap thus opened was in the first place filled by the astrology of antiquity, or even of the Arabs. From the relation of the planets among themselves and to the signs of the zodiac. future events and the course of whole lives were inferred, and the most weighty decisions were taken in consequence. In many cases the line of action thus adopted at the suggestion of the stars may not have been more immoral than that which would otherwise have been followed. But too often the decision must have been made at the cost of honour and conscience. It is profoundly instructive to observe how powerless culture and enlightenment were against this delusion; since the latter had its support in the ardent imagination of the people, in the passionate wish to penetrate and determine the future. Antiquity, too, was on the side of astrology.
At the beginning of the thirteenth century this superstition suddenly appeared in the foreground of Italian life. The Emperor Frederick II always travelled with his astrologer Theodorus; and Ezzelino da Romano with a large, well-paid court of such people, among them the famous Guido Bonatto and the long-bearded Saracen, Paul of Baghdad. In all important undertakings they fixed for him the day and the hour, and the gigantic atrocities of which he was guilty may have been in part practical inferences from their prophecies. Soon all scruples about consulting the stars ceased. Not only princes, but free cities, had their regular astrologers, and at the universities, from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, professors of this pseudo-science were appointed, and lectured side by side with the astronomers. The Popes commonly made no secret of their stargazing, though Pius II, who also despised magic, omens, and the interpretation of dreams, is an honorable exception. Even Leo X seems to have thought the flourishing condition of astrology a credit to his pontificate, and Paul III never held a Consistory till the stargazers had fixed the hour.
It may fairly be assumed that the better natures did not allow their actions to be determined by the stars beyond a certain point, and that there was a limit where conscience and religion made them pause. In fact, not only did pious and excellent people share the delusion, but they actually came forward to profess it publicly. One of these was Maestro Pagolo of Florence, in whom we can detect the same desire to bring astrology to moral account which meets us in the late Roman Firmicus Maternus. His life was that of a saintly ascetic. He ate almost nothing, despised all temporal goods, and only collected books. A skilled physician, he only practiced among his friends, and made it a condition of his treatment that they should confess their sins. He frequented the small but famous circle which assembled in the Monastery of the Angeli around Fra Ambrogio Camaldolese. He also saw much of Cosimo the Elder, especially in his last years; for Cosimo accepted and used astrology, though probably only for objects of lesser importance. As a rule, however, Pagolo only interpreted the stars to his most confidential friends. But even without this severity of morals, the astrologers might be highly respected and show themselves everywhere. There were also far more of them in Italy than in other European countries, where they only appeared at the great courts, and there not always. All the great householders in Italy, when the fashion was once established, kept an astrologer, who, it must be added, was not always sure of his dinner. Through the literature of this science, which was widely diffused even before the invention of printing, a dilettantism also grew up which as far as possible followed in the steps of the masters. The worst class of astrologers were those who used the stars either as an aid or a cloak to magical arts.
Yet apart from the latter, astrology is a miserable feature in the life of that time. What a figure do all these highly gifted, many-sided, original characters play, when the blind passion for knowing and determining the future dethrones their powerful will and resolution! Now and then, when the stars send them too cruel a message, they manage to brace themselves up, act for themselves, and say boldly: 'Vir sapiens dominabitus lustris', the wise man is master of the stars--and then again relapse into the old delusion.
In all the better families the horoscope of the children was drawn as a matter of course, and it sometimes happened that for half a lifetime men were haunted by the idle expectation of events which never occurred! The stars were questioned whenever a great man had to come to any important decision, and even consulted as to the hour at which any undertaking was to be begun. The journeys of princes, the reception of foreign ambassadors, the laying of the foundation-stones of public buildings, depended on the answer. A striking instance of the latter occurs in the life of the aforenamed Guido Bonatto, who by his personal activity and by his great systematic work on the subject deserves to be called the restorer of astrology in the thirteenth century. In order to put an end to the struggle of the Guelphs and Ghibellines at Forli, he persuaded the inhabitants to rebuild the city walls and to begin the works under a constellation indicated by himself. If then two men, one from each party, at the same moment put a stone into the foundation, there would henceforth and for ever be no more party divisions in Forli. A Guelph and a Ghibelline were selected for this office; the solemn moment arrived, each held the stone in his hands, the workmen stood ready with their implements. Bonatto gave the signal, and the Ghibelline threw down his stone on to the foundation. But the Guelph hesitated, and at last refused to do anything at all, on the ground that Bonatto himself had the reputation of a Ghibelline and might be devising some mysterious mischief against the Guelphs. Upon which the astrologer addressed him: 'God damn thee and the Guelph party with your distrustful malice! This constellation will not appear above our city for 500 years to come.' In fact God soon afterwards did destroy the Guelphs of Forli, but now, writes the chronicler about 1480, the two parties are thoroughly reconciled, and their very names are heard no longer.
Nothing that depended upon the stars was more important than decisions in time of war. The same Bonatto procured for the great Ghibelline leader Guido da Montefeltro a series of victories, by telling him the propitious hour for marching. When Montefeltro was no longer accompanied by him he lost the courage to maintain his despotism, and entered a Minorite monastery, where he lived as a monk for many years till his death. In the war with Pisa in 1362, the Florentines commissioned their astrologer to fix the hour for the march, and almost came too late through suddenly receiving orders to take a circuitous route through the city. On former occasions they had marched out by the Via di Borgo Santi Apostoli, and the campaign had been unsuccessful. It was clear that there was some bad omen connected with the exit through this street against Pisa, and consequently the army was now led out by the Porta Rossa. But as the tents stretched out there to dry had not been taken away, the flags--another bad omen--had to be lowered. The influence of astrology in war was confirmed by the fact that nearly all the Condottieri believed in it. Jacopo Caldora was cheerful in the most serious illness, knowing that he was fated to fall in battle, which in fact happened. Bartolommeo Alviano was convinced that his wounds in the head were as much a gift of the stars as his military command. Niccolo Orsini-Pitigliano asked the physicist and astrologer Alessandro Benedetto to fix a favourable hour for the conclusion of his bargain with Venice. When the Florentines on June 1, 1498, solemnly invested their new Condottiere Paolo Vitelli with his office, the Marshal's staff which they handed him was, at his own wish, decorated with pictures of the constellations.
Sometimes it is not easy to make out whether }n important political events the stars were questioned beforehand, or whether the astrologers were simply impelled afterwards by curiosity to find out the constellation which decided the result. When Giangaleazzo Visconti by a master-stroke of policy took prisoner his uncle Bernabo, with the latter's family (1385), we are told by a contemporary that Jupiter, Saturn and Mars stood in the house of the Twins, but we cannot say if the deed was resolved on in consequence. It is also probable that the advice of the astrologers was often determined by political calculation not less than by the course of the planets.
All Europe, through the latter part of the Middle Ages, had allowed itself to be terrified by predictions of plagues, wars, floods, and earthquakes, and in this respect Italy was by no means behind other countries. The unlucky year 1494, which for ever opened the gates of Italy to the stranger, was undeniably ushered in by many prophecies of misfortune--only we cannot say whether such prophecies were not ready for each and every year.
This mode of thought was extended with thorough consistency into regions where we should hardly expect to meet with it. If the whole outward and spiritual life of the individual is determined by the facts of his birth, the same law also governs groups of individuals and historical products --that is to say, nations and religions; and as the constellation of these things changes, so do the things themselves. The idea that each religion has its day, first came into Italian culture in connection with these astrological beliefs. The conjunction of Jupiter with Saturn brought forth, we are told, the faith of Israel; that of Jupiter and Mars, the Chaldean; with the Sun, the Egyptian; with Venus, the Mohammedan; with Mercury, the Christian; and the conjunction of Jupiter with the Moon will one day bring forth the religion of Antichrist. Cecco d'Ascoli had already blasphemously calculated the nativity of Christ, and deduced from it his death upon the Cross. For this he was burnt at the stake in 1327, at Florence. Doctrines of this sort ended by simply darkening men's whole perceptions of spiritual things.
So much more worthy then of recognition is the warfare which the clear Italian spirit waged against this army of delusions. Notwithstanding the great monumental glorification of astrology, as in the frescoes in the Salone at Padua, and those in Borso's summer palace (Schifanoia) at Ferrara, notwithstanding the shameless praises of even such a man as the elder Beroaldus, there was no want of thoughtful and independent minds to protest against it. Here, too, the way had been prepared by antiquity, but it was their own common sense and observation which taught them what to say. Petrarch's attitude towards the astrologers, whom he knew by personal intercourse, is one of bitter contempt; and no one saw through their system of lies more clearly than he. The novels, from the time when they first began to appear from the time of the 'Cento novelle antiche,' are almost always hostile to the astrologers. The Florentine chroniclers bravely keep themselves free from the delusions which, as part of historical tradition, they are compelled to record. Giovanni Villani says more than once, 'No constellation can subjugate either the free will of man, or the counsels of God.' Matteo Villani declares astrology to be a vice which the Florentines had inherited, along with other superstitions, from their pagan ancestors, the Romans. The question, however, did not remain one for mere literary discussion, but the parties for and against disputed publicly. After the terrible floods of 1333, and again in 1345, astrologers and theologians discussed with great minuteness the influence of the stars, the will of God, and the justice of his punishments. These struggles never ceased throughout the whole time of the Renaissance, and we may conclude that the protestors were ill earnest, since it was easier for them to recommend themselves to the great by defending, than by opposing astrology.
In the circle of Lorenzo the Magnificent, among his most distinguished Platonists, opinions were divided on this question. Marsilio Ficino defended astrology, and drew the horoscope of the children of the house, promising the little Giovanni, afterwards Leo X, that he would one day be Pope. Pico della Mirandola, on the other hand, made an epoch in the subject by his famous refutation. He detects in this belief the root of all impiety and immorality. If the astrologer, he maintains, believes in anything at all, he must worship not God, but the planets, from which all good and evil are derived. All other superstitions find a ready instrument in astrology, which serves as handmaid to geomancy, chiromancy, and magic of every kind. As to morality, he maintains that nothing can more foster evil than the opinion that heaven itself is the cause of it, in which case the faith in eternal happiness and punishment must also disappear. Pico even took the trouble to check off the astrologers inductively, and found that in the course of a month three-fourths of their weather prophecies turned out false. But his main achievement was to set forth, in the Fourth Book, a positive Christian doctrine of the freedom of the will and the government of the universe, which seems to have made a greater impression on the educated classes throughout Italy than all the revivalist preachers put together. The latter, in fact, often failed to reach these classes.
The first result of his book was that the astrologers ceased to publish their doctrines, and those who had already printed them were more or less ashamed of what they had done. Gioviano Pontano, for example, in his book on Fate, had recognized the science, and in a great work of his had expounded the whole theory of it in the style of the old Firmicus, ascribing to the stars the growth of every bodily and spiritual quality. He now in his dialogue 'Aegidius' surrendered, if not astrology, at least certain astrologers) and sounded the praises of free will, by which man is enabled to know God. Astrology remained more or less in fashion, but seems not to have governed human life in the way it formerly had done. The art of painting, which in the fifteenth century had done its best to foster the delusion now expressed the altered tone of thought. Raphael, in the cupola of the Capella Chigi, represents the gods of the different planets and the starry firmament, watched, however, and guided by beautiful angel-figures, and receiving from above the blessing of the eternal Father. There was also another cause which now began to tell against astrology in Italy. The Spaniards took no interest in it, not even the generals, and those who wished to gain their favour declared open war against the half-heretical, half- Mohammedan science. It is true that Guicciardini writes in the year 1529: 'How happy are the astrologers, who are believed if they tell one truth to a hundred lies, while other people lose all credit if they tell one lie to a hundred truths.' But the contempt for astrology did not necessarily lead to a return to the belief in Providence. It could as easily lead to an indefinite fatalism.
In this respect, as in others, Italy was unable to make its own way healthily through the ferment of the Renaissance, because the foreign invasion and the Counter-Reformation came upon it in the middle. Without such interfering causes its own strength would have enabled it thoroughly to get rid of these fantastic illusions. Those who hold that the onslaught of the strangers and the Catholic reactions were necessities for which the Italian people was itself solely responsible, will look on the spiritual bankruptcy which they produced as a just retribution. But it is a pity that the rest of Europe had indirectly to pay so large a part of the penalty.
The belief in omens seems a much more innocent matter than astrology. The Middle Ages had everywhere inherited them in abundance from the various pagan religions; and Italy did not differ in this respect from other countries. What is characteristic of Italy is the support lent by humanism to the popular superstition. The pagan inheritance was here backed up by a pagan literary development.
The popular superstition of the Italians rested largely on premonitions and inferences drawn from ominous occurrences. with which a good deal of magic, mostly of an innocent sort, was connected. There was, however. no lack of learned humanists who boldly ridiculed these delusions, and to whose attacks we partly owe the knowledge of them. Gioviano Pontano, the author of the great astrological work already mentioned above, enumerates with pity in his 'Charon' a long string of Neapolitan superstitions--the grief of the women when a fowl or goose caught the pip; the deep anxiety of the nobility if a hunting falcon did not come home, or if a horse sprained its foot; the magical formulae of the Apulian peasants, recited on three Saturday evenings, when mad dogs were at large. The animal kingdom, as in antiquity, was regarded as specially significant in this respect, and the behavior of the lions, leopards, and other beasts kept by the State gave the people all the more food for reflection, because they had come to be considered as living symbols of the State. During the siege of Florence, in 1597 an eagle which had been shot at fled into the city, and the Signoria gave the bearer four ducats because the omen was good. Certain times and places were favourable or unfavorable, or even decisive one way or the other, for certain actions. The Florentines, so Varchi tells us, held Saturday to be the fateful day on which all important events, good as well as bad, commonly happened. Their prejudice against marching out to war through a particular street has been already mentioned. At Perugia one of the gates, the 'Porta Eburnea,' was thought lucky, and the Baglioni always went out to fight through it. Meteors and the appearance of the heavens were as significant in Italy as elsewhere in the Middle Ages, and the popular imagination saw warring armies in an unusual formation of clouds, and heard the clash of their collision high in the air. The superstition became a more serious matter when it attached itself to sacred things, when figures of the Virgin wept or moved the eyes, or when public calamities were associated with some alleged act of impiety, for which the people demanded expiation. In 1478, when Piacenza was visited with a violent and prolonged rainfall, it was said that there would be no dry weather till a certain usurer, who had been lately buried in San Francesco, had ceased to rest in consecrated earth. As the bishop was not obliging enough to have the corpse dug up the young fellows of the town took it by force, dragged it down the streets amid frightful confusion, and at last threw it into the Po. Even Politian accepted this point of view in speaking of Giacomo Pazzi, one of the chiefs of the conspiracy of 1478, In Florence, which is called after his family. When he was put to death, he devoted his soul to Satan with fearful words; here, too, rain followed and threatened to ruin the harvest; here, too, a party of men, mostly peasants, dug up the body in the church, and immediately the clouds departed and the sun shone--'so gracious was fortune to the opinion of the people,' adds the great scholar. The corpse was first cast into unhallowed ground, the next day dug up, and after a horrible procession through the city thrown into the Arno.
These facts and the like bear a popular character, and might have occurred in the tenth, just as well as in the sixteenth century. But now comes the literary influence of antiquity. We know positively that the humanists were peculiarly accessible to prodigies and auguries, and instances of this have been already quoted. If further evidence were needed, it would be found in Poggio. The same radical thinker who denied the rights of noble birth and the inequality of men, not only believed in all the mediaeval stories of ghosts and devils, but also in prodigies after the ancient pattern, like those said to have occurred on the last visit of Pope Eugenius IV to Florence. 'Near Como there were seen one evening four thousand dogs, who took the road to Germany; these were followed by a great herd of cattle, and these by an army on foot and horseback, some with no heads and some with almost invisible heads, and then a gigantic horseman with another herd of cattle behind him.' Poggio also believes in a battle of magpies and jackdaws. He even relates, perhaps without being aware of it, a well-preserved piece of ancient mythology. On the Dalmatian coast a Triton had appeared, bearded and horned, a genuine sea-satyr, ending in fins and a tail; he carried away women and children from the shore, till five stout-hearted washerwomen killed him with sticks and stones. A wooden model of the monster, which was exhibited at Ferrara, makes the whole story credible to Poggio. Though there were no more oracles, and it was no longer possible to take counsel of the gods, yet it became again the fashion to open Virgil at hazard, and take the passage hit upon as an omen ('Sorted Virgilianae'). Nor can the belief in daemons current in the later period of antiquity have been without influence on the Renaissance. The work of Iamblichus or Abarnmon on the Mysteries of the Egyptians, which may have contributed to this result, was printed in a Latin translation at the end of the fifteenth century. The Platonic Academy at Florence was not free from these and other neoplatonic delusions of the Roman decadence. A 'few words must here be given to the belief in demons and to the magic which was connected with this belief.
The popular faith in what is called the spirit-world was nearly the same in Italy as elsewhere in Europe. In Italy as elsewhere there were ghosts, that is, reappearances of deceased persons; and if the view taken of them differed in any respect from that which prevailed in the North, the difference betrayed itself only in the ancient name 'ombra.' Even nowadays if such a shade presents itself, a couple of Masses are said for its repose. That the spirits of bad men appear in a dreadful shape, is a matter of course, but along with this we find the notion that the ghosts of the departed are universally malicious. The dead, says the priest in a novel of Bandello, kill the little children. It seems as if a certain shade was here thought of as separate from the soul, since the latter suffers in Purgatory, and when it appears, does nothing but wail and pray. At other times what appears is not the ghost of a man, but of an event - -of a past condition of things. So the neighbors explained the diabolical appearances in the old palace of the Visconti near San Giovanni in Conca, at Milan, since here it was that Bernab
Visconti had caused countless victims of his tyranny to be
tortured and strangled, and no wonder if there were strange things to be seen. One evening a swarm of poor people with candles in their hands appeared to a dishonest guardian of the poor at Perugia, and danced round about him; a great figure spoke in threatening tones on their behalf, it was St. Alo, the patron saint of the poorhouse. These modes of belief were so much a matter of course that the poets could make use of them as something which every reader would understand. The appearance of the slain Lodovico Pico under the walls of the besieged Mirandola is finely represented by Castiglione. It is true that poetry made the freest use of these conceptions when the poet himself had outgrown them.
Italy, too, shared the belief in demons with the other nations of the Middle Ages. Men were convinced that God sometimes allowed bad spirits of every class to exercise a destructive influence on parts of the world and of human life. The only reservation made was that the man to whom the Evil One came as tempter, could use his free will to resist. In Italy the demonic influence, especially as shown in natural events, easily assumed a character of poetical greatness. In the night before the great inundation of the Val d'Arno in 1333, a pious hermit above Vallombrosa heard a diabolical tumult in his cell, crossed himself, stepped to the door, and saw a crowd of black and terrible knights gallop by in amour. When conjured to stand, one of them said: 'We go to drown the city of Florence on account of its sins, if God will let us.' With this, the nearly contemporary vision at Venice (1340) may be compared, out of which a great master of the Venetian school, probably Giorgione, made the marvelous picture of a galley full of daemons, which speeds with the swiftness of a bird over the stormy lagoon to destroy the sinful island-city, till the three saintS, who have stepped unobserved into a poor boatman's skiff, exorcised the fiends and sent them and their vessel to the bottom of the waters.
To this belief the illusion was now added that by means of magical arts it was possible to enter into relations with the evil ones, and use their help to further the purposes of greed, ambition, and sensuality. Many persons were probably accused of doing so before the time when it was actually attempted by many; but when the so-called magicians and witches began to be burned, the deliberate practice of the black art became more frequent. With the smoke of the fires in which the suspected victims were sacrificed, were spread the narcotic fumes by which numbers of ruined characters were drugged into magic; and with them many calculating impostors became associated.
The primitive and popular form in which the superstition had probably lived on uninterruptedly from the time of the Romans, was the art of the witch_(strege)._The witch, so long as she limited herself to mere divination, might be innocent enough. were it not that the transition from prophecy to active help could easily, though often imperceptibly, be a fatal downward step. She was credited in such a case not only with the power of exciting love or hatred between man and woman, but also with purely destructive and malignant arts, and was especially charged with the sickness of little children, even when the malady obviously came from the neglect and stupidity of the parents. It is still questionable how far she was supposed to act by mere magical ceremonies and formula, or by a conscious alliance with the fiends, apart from the poisons and drugs which she administered with a full knowledge of their effect.
The more innocent form of the superstition, in which the mendicant friar could venture to appear as the competitor of the witch, is shown in the case of the witch of Gaeta whom we read of in Pontano. His traveller Suppatius reaches her dwelling while she is giving audience to a girl and a servingmaid, who come to her with a black hen, nine eggs laid on a Friday, a duck, and some white thread, for it is the third day since the new moon. They are then sent away, and bidden to come again at twilight. It is to be hoped that nothing worse than divination is intended. The mistress of the servant-maid is pregnant by a monk; the girl's lover has proved untrue and has gone into a monastery. The witch complains: 'Since my husband's death I support myself in this way, and should make a good thing of it, since the Gaetan women have plenty of faith, were it not that the monks balk me of my gains by explaining dreams, appeasing the anger of the saints for money, promising husbands to the girls, men-children to the pregnant women, offspring to the barren, and besides all this visiting the women at night when their husbands are away fishing, in accordance with the assignations made in daytime at church.' Suppatius warns her against the envy of the monastery, but she has no fear, since the guardian of it is an old acquaintance of hers.
But the superstition further gave rise to a worse sort of witches, namely those who deprived men of their health and life. In these cases the mischief, when not sufficiently accounted for by the evil eye and the like, was naturally attributed to the aid of powerful spirits. The punishment, as we have seen in the case of Finicella, was the stake; and yet a compromise with fanaticism was sometimes practicable. According to the laws of Perugia, for example, a witch could settle the affair by paying down 400 pounds. The matter was not then treated with the seriousness and consistency of later times. In the territories of the Church? at Norcia (Nursia), the home of St. Benedict in the upper Apennines, there was a perfect nest of witches and sorcerers, and no secret was made of it. It is spoken of in one of the most remarkable letters of Aeneas Sylvius, belonging to his earlier period. He writes to his brother: 'The bearer of this came to me to ask if I knew of a Mount of Venus in Italy, for in such a place magical arts were taught, and his master, a Saxon and a great astronomer, was anxious to learn them. I told him that I knew of a Porto Venere not far from Carrara, on the rocky coast of Liguria, where I spent three nights on the way to Basle; I also found that there was a mountain called Eryx, in Sicily, which was dedicated to Venus, but I did not know whether magic was taught here. But it came into my mind while talking, that in Umbria, in the old Duchy (Spoleto)? near the town of Nursia, there is a cave beneath a steep rock, in which water flows. There, as I remember to have heard, are witches (striges), demons, and nightly shades, and he that has the courage can see and speak to ghosts (spiritus), and learn magical arts. I have not seen it, nor taken any trouble about it, for that which is learned with sin is better not learned at all.' He nevertheless names his informant, and begs his brother to take the bearer of the letter to him, should he be still alive. Aeneas goes far enough here in his politeness to a man of position, but personally he was not only freer from superstition than his contemporaries, but he also stood a test on the subject which not every educated man of our own day could endure. At the time of the Council of Basle, when he lay sick of the fever for seventy-five days at Milan, he could never be persuaded to listen to the magic doctors, though a man was brought to his bedside who a short time before had marvelously cured 2,000 soldiers of fever in the camp of Piccinino. While still an invalid, Aeneas rode over the mountains to Basle, and got well on the journey.
We learn something more about the neighborhood of Norcia through the necromancer who tried to get Benvenuto Cellini into his power. A new book of magic was to be consecrated, and the best place for the ceremony was among the mountains in that district. The master of the magician had once, it is true, done the same thing near the abbey of Farfa, but had there found difficulties which did not present themselves at Norcia; further, the peasants in the latter neighborhood were trustworthy people who had had practice in the matter, and who could afford considerable help in case of need. The expedition did not take place, else Benvenuto would probably have been able to tell us something of the impostor's assistants. The whole neighborhood was then proverbial. Aretino says somewhere of an enchanted well, 'there dwell the sisters of the sibyl of Norcia and the aunt of the Fata Gloriana.' And about the same time Trissino could still celebrate the place in his great epic with all the resources of poetry and allegory as the home of authentic prophecy.
After the notorious Bull of Innocent VIII (1484), witchcraft and the persecution of witches grew into a great and revolting system. The chief representatives of this system of persecution were German Dominicans; and Germany and, curiously enough, those parts of Italy nearest Germany were the countries most afflicted by this plague. The bulls and injunctions of the Popes themselves refer, for example, to the Dominican Province of Lombardy, to Cremona, to the dioceses of Brescia and Bergamo. We learn from Sprenger's famous theoretico- practical guide, the 'Malleus Maleficarum,' that forty-one witches were burnt at Como in the first year after the publication of the bull; crowds of Italian women took refuge in the territory of the Archduke Sigismund, where they believed themselves to be still safe. Witchcraft ended by taking firm root in a few unlucky Alpine valleys, especially in the Val Camonica; the system of persecution had succeeded in permanently infecting with the delusion those populations which were in any way predisposed for it. This essentially German form of witchcraft is what we should think of when reading the stories and novels of Milan or Bologna. That it did not make further progress in Italy is probably due to the fact that here a highly developed 'stregheria' was already in existence, resting on a different set of ideas. The Italian witch practiced a trade, and needed for it money and, above all, sense. We find nothing about her of the hysterical dreams of the Northern witch, of marvelous journeys through the air, of Incubus and Succubus; the business of the 'strega' was to provide for other people's pleasures. If she was credited with the power of assuming different shapes, or of transporting herself suddenly to distant places, she was so far content to accept this reputation, as her influence was thereby increased; on the other hand, it was perilous for her when the fear of her malice and vengeance, and especially of her power for enchanting children, cattle, and crops, became general. Inquisitors and magistrates were then most thoroughly in accord with popular wishes if they burnt her.
By far the most important field for the activity of the 'strega' lay, as has been said, in love-affairs, and included the stirring up of love and of hatred, the producing of abortion, the pretended murder of the unfaithful man or woman by magical arts, and even the manufacture of poisons. Owing to the unwillingness of many persons to have to do with these women, class of occasional practitioners arose who secretly learned from them some one or other of their arts, and then used this knowledge on their own account. The Roman prostitutes, for example, tried to enhance their personal attractions by charms of another description in the style of the Horatian Canidia. Aretino may not only have known, but have also told the truth about them in this particular. He gives a list of the loathsome messes which were to be found in their boxes--hair, skulls, ribs, teeth, dead men's eyes, human skin, the navels of little children, the soles of shoes and pieces of clothing from tombs. They even went themselves to the graveyard and fetched bits of rotten flesh, which they slyly gave their lovers to eat--with more that is still worse. Pieces of the hair and nails of the lover were boiled in oil stolen from the ever-burning lamps in the church. The most innocuous of their charms was to make a heart of glowing ashes, and then to pierce it while singing: 'Prima che'l fuoco spenghi, Fa ch'a mia porta venghi; Tal ti punga mio amore Quale io fo questo cuore.'
There were other charms practiced by moonshine, with drawings on the ground, and figures of wax or bronze, which doubtless represented the lover, and were treated according to circumstances.
These things were so customary that a woman who, without youth and beauty, nevertheless exercised a powerful charm on men, naturally became suspected of witchcraft. The mother of Sanga, secretary to Clement VII, poisoned her son's mistress, who was a woman of this kind. Unfortunately the son died too, as well as a party of friends who had eaten of the poisoned salad.
Next comes, not as helper, but as competitor to the witch, the magician or enchanter--'incantatore'--who was still more familiar with the most perilous business of the craft. Sometimes he was as much or more of an astrologer than of a magician; he probably often gave himself out as an astrologer in order not to be prosecuted as a magician, and a certain astrology was essential in order to find out the favourable hour for a magical process. But since many spirits are good or indifferent, the magician could sometimes maintain a very tolerable reputation, and Sixtus IV, in the year 1474, had to proceed expressly against some Bolognese Carmelites, who asserted in the pulpit that there was no harm in seeking information from the demons. Very many people believed in the possibility of the thing itself; an indirect proof of this lies in the fact that the most pious men believed that by prayer they could obtain visions of good spirits. Savonarola's mind was filled with these things; the Florentine Platonists speak of a mystic union with God; and Marcellus Palingenius gives us to understand clearly enough that he had to do with consecrated spirits. The same writer is convinced of the existence of a whole hierarchy of bad demons, who have their seat from the moon downwards, and are ever on the watch to do some mischief to nature and human life. He even tells of his own personal acquaintance with some of them, and as the scope of the present work does not allow of a systematic exposition of the then prevalent belief in spirits, the narrative of Palingenius may be given as one instance out of many.
At San Silvestro, on Soracte, he had been receiving instruction from a pious hermit on the nothingness of earthly things and the worthlessness of human life; and when the night drew near he set out on his way back to home. On the road, in the full light of the moon, he was joined by three men, one of whom called him by name, and asked him whence he came. Palingenius made answer: 'From the wise man on the mountain.' 'O fool,' replied the stranger, 'dost thou in truth believe that anyone on earth is wise? Only higher beings (Divi) have wisdom, and such are we three, although we wear the shapes of men. I am named Saracil, and these two Sathiel and Jana. Our kingdom lies near the moon, where dwell that multitude of intermediate beings who have sway over earth and sea.' Palingenius then asked, not without an inward tremor, what they were going to do at Rome. The answer was: 'One of our comrades, Ammon, is kept in servitude by the magic arts of a youth from Narni, one of the attendants of Cardinal Orsini; for mark it, O men, there is proof of your own immortality therein, that you can control one of us: I myself shut up in crystal, was once forced to serve a German, till a bearded monk set me free. This is the service which we wish to render at Rome to our friend, and he shall also take the opportunity of sending one or two distinguished Romans to the nether world.' At these words a light breeze arose, and Sathiel said: 'Listen, our messenger is coming back from Rome, and this wind announces him.' And then another being appeared, whom they greeted joyfully and then asked about Rome. His utterances are strongly anti-papal: Clement VII was again allied with the Spaniards and hoped to root out Luther's doctrines, not with arguments, but by the Spanish sword. This is wholly in the interest of the demons, whom the impending bloodshed would enable to carry away the souls of thousands into hell. At the close of this conversation, in which Rome with all its guilt is represented as wholly given over to the Evil One, the apparitions vanish, and leave the poet sorrowfully to pursue his way alone.
Those who would form a conception of the extent of the belief in those relations to the demons which could be openly avowed in spite of the penalties attaching to witchcraft, may be referred to the much-read work of Agrippa of Nettesheim 'On secret Philosophy.' He seems originally to have written it before he was in Italy, but in the dedication to Trithemius he mentions Italian authorities among others, if only by way of disparagement. In the case of equivocal persons like Agrippa, or of the knaves and fools into whom the majority of the rest may be divided, there is little that is interesting in the system they profess, with its formula, fumigations, ointments, and the rest of it. But this system was filled with quotations from the superstitions of antiquity, the influence of which on the life and the passions of Italians is at times most remarkable and fruitful. We might think that a great mind must be thoroughly ruined, before it surrendered itself to such influences; but the violence of hope and desire led even vigorous and original men of all classes to have recourse to the magician, and the belief that the thing was feasible at all weakened to some extent the faith, even of those who kept at a distance, in the moral order of the world. At the cost of a little money and danger it seemed possible to defy with impunity the universal reason and morality of mankind, and to spare oneself the intermediate steps which otherwise lie between a man and his lawful or unlawful ends.
Let us here glance for a moment at an older and now decaying form of superstition. From the darkest period of the Middle Ages, or even from the days of antiquity, many cities of Italy had kept the remembrance of the connection of their fate with certain buildings, statues, or other material objects. The ancients had left records of consecrating priests or Telestae, who were present at the solemn foundation of cities, and magically guaranteed their prosperity by erecting certain monuments or by burying certain objects (Telesmata). Traditions of this sort were more likely than anything else to live on in the form of popular, unwritten legend; but in the course of centuries the priest naturally became transformed into the magician, since the religious side of his function was no longer understood. In some of the Virgilian miracles at Naples, the ancient remembrance of one of these Telestae is clearly preserved, his name being in course of time supplanted by that of Virgil. The enclosing of the mysterious picture of the city in a vessel is neither more nor less than a genuine ancient Telesma; and Virgil, as founder of Naples, is but the officiating priest who took part in the ceremony, presented in another dress. The popular imagination went on working at these themes, till Virgil became also responsible for the brazen horse, for the heads at the Nolan gate, for the brazen fly over another gate, and even for the Grotto of Posilippo--all of them things which in one respect or other served to put a magical constraint upon fate, and the first two of which seemed to determine the whole fortune of the city. Medieval Rome also preserved confused recollections of the same kind. At the church of Sant' Ambrogio at Milan, there was an ancient marble Hercules; so long, it was said, as this stood in its place, so long would the Empire last. That of the Germans is probably meant, as the coronation of their emperors at Milan took place in this church. The Florentines were convinced that the temple of Mars, afterwards transformed into the Baptistery, would stand to the end of time, according to the constellation under which it had been built; they had, as Christians, removed from it the marble equestrian statue; but since the destruction of the latter would have brought some great calamity on the city--also according to a constellation--they set it upon a tower by the Arno. When Totila conquered Florence, the statue fell into the river, and was not fished out again till Charlemagne refounded the city. It was then placed on a pillar at the entrance to the Ponte Vecchio, and on this spot Buondelmonti was slain in 1215. The origin of the great feud between Guelph and Ghibelline was thus associated with the dreaded idol. During the inundation of 1333 the statue vanished for ever.
But the same Telesma reappears elsewhere. Guido Bonatto, already mentioned, was not satisfied, at the refounding of the walls of Forli, with requiring certain symbolic acts of reconciliation from the two parties. By burying a bronze or stone equestrian statue, which he had produced by astrological or magical arts, he believed that he had defended the city from ruin, and even from capture and plunder. When Cardinal Albornoz was governor of Romagna some sixty years later, the statue was accidentally dug up and then shown to the people, probably by the order of the Cardinal, that it might be known by what means the cruel Montefeltro had defended himself against the Roman Church. And again, half a century later, when an attempt to surprise Forli had failed, men began to talk afresh of the virtue of the statue, which had perhaps been saved and reburied. It was the last time that they could do so; for a year later Forli was really taken. The foundation of buildings all through the fifteenth century was associated not only with astrology but also with magic. The large number of gold and silver medals which Paul II buried in the foundation of his buildings was noticed, and Platina was by no means displeased to recognize an old pagan Telesma in the fact. Neither Paul nor his biographer were in any way conscious of the mediaeval religious significance of such an offering.
But this official magic, which in many cases only rests on hearsay, was comparatively unimportant by the side of the secret arts practiced for personal ends.
The form which these most often took in daily life is shown by Ariosto in his comedy of the necromancers. His hero is one of the many Jewish exiles from Spain, although he also gives himself out for a Greek, an Egyptian, and an African, and is constantly changing his name and costume. He pretends that his incantations can darken the day and lighten the darkness, that he can move the earth, make himself invisible, and change men into beasts; but these vaunts are only an advertisement. His true object is to make his account out of unhappy and troubled marriages, and the traces which he leaves behind him in his course are like the slime of a snail, or often like the ruin wrought by a hailstorm. To attain his ends he can persuade people that the box in which a lover is hidden is full of ghosts, or that he can make a corpse talk. It is at all events a good sign that poets and novelists could reckon on popular applause in holding up this class of men to ridicule. Bandello not only treats this sorcery of a Lombard monk as a miserable, and in its consequences terrible, piece of knavery, but he also describes with unaffected indignation the disasters which never cease to pursue the credulous fool. 'A man hopes with "Solomon's Key' and other magical books to find the treasures hidden in the bosom of the earth, to force his lady to do his will, to find out the secret of princes, and to transport himself in the twinkling of an eye from Milan to Rome. The more often he is deceived, the more steadfastly he believes.... Do you remember the time, Signor Carlo, when a friend of ours, in order to win a favour of his beloved, filled his room with skulls and bones like a churchyard?' The most loathsome tasks were prescribed--to draw three teeth from a corpse or a nail from its finger, and the like; and while the hocus-pocus of the incantation was going on, the unhappy participants sometimes died of terror.
Benvenuto Cellini did not die during the well-known incantation (1532) in the Colosseum at Rome, although both he and his companions witnessed no ordinary horrors; the Sicilian priest, who probably expected to find him a useful coadjutor in the future, paid him the compliment as they went home of saying that he had never met a man of so sturdy a courage. Every reader will make his own reflections on the proceedings themselves. The narcotic fumes and the fact that the imaginations of the spectators were predisposed for all possible terrors, are the chief points to be noticed, and explain why the lad who formed one of the party, and on whom they made most impression, saw much more than the others. but it may be inferred that Benvenuto himself was the one whom it was wished to impress, since the dangerous beginning of the incantation can have had no other aim than to arouse curiosity. For Benvenuto had to think before the fair Angelica occurred to him; and the magician told him afterwards that love-making was folly compared with the finding of treasures. Further, it must not be forgotten that it flattered his vanity to be able to say, 'The demons have kept their word, and Angelica came into my hands, as they promised, just a month later' (I, cap. 68). Even on the supposition that Benvenuto gradually lied himself into believing the whole story, it would still be permanently valuable as evidence of the mode of thought then prevalent.
As a rule, however, the Italian artists, even 'the odd, capricious, and eccentric' among them, had little to do with magic. One of them, in his anatomical studies, may have cut himself a jacket out of the skin of a corpse, but at the advice of his confessor he put it again into the grave. Indeed the frequent study of anatomy probably did more than anything else to destroy the belief in the magical influence of various parts of the body, while at the same time the incessant observation and representation of the human form made the artist familiar with a magic of a wholly different sort.
In general, notwithstanding the instances which have been quoted, magic seems to have been markedly on the decline at the beginning of the sixteenth century--that is to say, at a time when it first began to flourish vigorously out of Italy; and thus the tours of Italian sorcerers and astrologers in the North seem not to have begun till their credit at home was thoroughly impaired. In the fourteenth century it was thought necessary carefully to watch the lake on Mount Pilatus, near Scariotto, to hinder the magicians from there consecrating their books. In the fifteenth century we find, for example, that the offer was made to produce a storm of rain, in order to frighten away a besieged army; and even then the commander of the besieged town, Niccolo Vitelli in Citta di Castello had the good sense to dismiss the sorcerers as godless persons. In the sixteenth century no more instances of this official kind appear, although in private life the magicians were still active. To this time belongs the classic figure of German sorcery, Dr. Johann Faust; the Italian ideal, on the other hand, Guido Bonatto, dates back to the thirteenth century.
It must nevertheless be added that the decrease of the belief in magic was not necessarily accompanied by an increase of the belief in a moral order, but that in many cases, like the decaying faith in astrology, the delusion left behind it nothing but a stupid fatalism.
One or two minor forms of this superstition, pyromancy, chiromancy and others, which obtained some credit as the belief in sorcery and astrology was declining, may be here passed over, and even the pseudo- science of physiognomy has by no means the interest which the name might lead us to expect. For it did not appear as the sister and ally of art and psychology, but as a new form of fatalistic superstition, and, what it may have been among the Arabs, as the rival of astrology. The author of a physiognomical treatise, Bartolommeo Cocle, who styled himself a 'metoposcopist,' and whose science, according to Giovio, seemed like one of the most respectable of the free arts, was not content with the prophecies which he made to the many people who daily consulted him, but wrote also a most serious 'catalogue of such whom great dangers to life were awaiting.' Giovio, although grown old in the free thought of Rome 'in hac luce romana'--is of opinion that the predictions contained therein had only too much truth in them We learn from the same source how the people aimed at in these and similar prophecies took vengeance on a seer. Giovanni Bentivoglio caused Lucas Gauricus to be five times swung to and fro against the wall, on a rope hanging from a lofty, winding staircase, because Lucas had foretold to him the loss of his authority. Ermes Bentivoglio sent an assassin after Cocle, because the unlucky metopOscopist had unwillingly prophesied to him that he would die an exile in battle. The murderer seems to have derided the dying man in his last moments, saying that Cocle himself had foretold him he would shortly commit an infamous murder. The reviver of chiromancy, Antioco Tiberto of Cesena, came by an equally miserable end at the hands of Pandolfo Malatesta of Rimini, to whom he had prophesied the worst that a tyrant can imagine, namely, death in exile and in the most grievous poverty. Tiberto was a man of intelligence, who was supposed to give his answers less according to any methodical chiromancy than by means of his shrewd knowledge of mankind; and his high culture won for him the respect of those scholars who thought little of his divination.
Alchemy, in conclusion, which is not mentioned in antiquity till quite late under Diocletian, played only a very subordinate part at the best period of the Renaissance. Italy went through the disease earlier, when Petrarch in the fourteenth century confessed, in his polemic against it, that gold-making was a general practice. Since then that particular kind of faith, devotion, and isolation which the practice of alchemy required became more and more rare in Italy, just when Italian and other adepts began to make their full profit out of the great lords in the North. Under Leo X the few Italians who busied themselves with it were called 'ingenia curiosa,' and Aurelio Augurelli, who dedicated to Leo X, the great despiser of gold, his didactic poem on the making of the metal, is said to have received in return a beautiful but empty purse. The mystic science which besides gold sought for the omnipotent philosopher's stone, is a late northern growth, which had its rise in the theories of Paracelsus and others.
General Spirit of Doubt
With these superstitions, as with ancient modes of thought generally, the decline in the belief of immortality stands in the closest connection. This questiOn has the widest and deepest relations with the whole development of the modern spirit.
One great source of doubt in immortality was the inward wish to be under no obligations to the hated Church. We have seen that the Church branded those who thus felt as Epicureans. In the hour of death many doubtless called for the sacraments, but multitudes during their whole lives, and especially during their most vigorous years, lived and acted on the negative supposition. That unbelief on this particular point must often have led to a general skepticism, is evident of itself, and is attested by abundant historical proof. These are the men of whom Ariosto says: 'Their faith goes no higher than the roof.' In Italy, and especially in Florence, it was possible to live as an open and notorious unbeliever, if a man only refrained from direct acts of hostility against the Church. The confessor, for instance, who was sent to prepare a political offender for death, began by inquiring whether the prisoner was a believer, 'for there was a false report that he had no belief at all.'
The unhappy transgressor here referred to--the same Pierpaolo Boscoli who has been already mentioned--who in 1513 took part in an attempt against the newly restored family of the Medici, is a faithful mirror of the religious confusion then prevalent. Beginning as a partisan of Savonarola, he became afterwards possessed with an enthusiasm for the ancient ideals of liberty, and for paganism in general; but when he was in prison his early friends regained the control of his mind, and secured for him what they considered a pious ending. The tender witness and narrator of his last hours is one of the artistic family of the Della Robbia, the learned philologist Luca. 'Ah,' sighs Boscoli, 'get Brutus out of my head for me, that I may go my way as a Christian.' 'If you will,' answers Luca, 'the thing is not difficult; for you know that these deeds of the Romans are not handed down to us as they were, but idealized (con arte accresciute).' The penitent now forces his understanding to believe, and bewails his inability to believe voluntarily. If he could only live for a month with pious monks he would truly become spiritually minded. It comes out that these partisans of Savonarola knew their Bible very imperfectly; Boscoli can only say the Paternoster and Ave Maria, and earnestly begs Luca to exhort his friends to study the sacred writings, for only what a man has learned in life does he possess in death. Luca then reads and explains to him the story of the Passion according to the Gospel of St. John; the poor listener, strange to say, can perceive clearly the Godhead of Christ, but is perplexed at His manhood; he wishes to get as firm a hold of it 'as if Christ came to meet him out of a wood.' His friend thereupon exhorts him to be humble, since this was only a doubt sent him by the Devil. Soon after it occurs to the penitent that he has not fulfilled a vow made in his youth to go on pilgrimage to the Impruneta; his friend promises to do it in his stead. Meantime the confessor--a monk, as was desired, from Savonarola's monastery-- arrives, and after giving him the explanation quoted above of the opinion of St. Thomas Aquinas on tyrannicide, exhorts him to bear death manfully. Boscoli makes answer: 'Father, waste no time on this; the philosophers have taught it me already; help me to bear death out of love to Christ.' What follows, the communion, the leave-taking and the execution--is very touchingly described; one point deserves special mention. When Boscoli laid his head on the block, he begged the executioner to delay the stroke for a moment: 'During the whole time since the announcement of the sentence he had been striving after a close union with God, without attaining it as he wished, and now in this supreme moment he thought that by a strong effort he could give himself wholly to God.' It is clearly some half-understood expression of Savonarola which was troubling him.
If we had more confessions of this character the spiritual picture of the time would be richer by many important features which no poem or treatise has preserved for us. We should see more clearly how strong the inborn religious instinct was, how subjective and how variable the relation of the individual to religion, and what powerful enemies and competitors religion had. That men whose inward condition is of this nature, are not the men to found a new church, is evident; but the history of the Western spirit would be imperfect without a view of that fermenting period among the Italians, while other nations, who have had no share in the evolution of thought, may be passed over without loss. But we must return to the question of immortality.
If unbelief in this respect made such progress among the more highly cultivated natures, the reason lay partly in the fact that the great earthly task of discovering the world and representing it in word and form, absorbed most of the higher spiritual faculties. We have already spoken of the inevitable worldliness of the Renaissance. But this investigation and this art were necessarily accompanied by a general spirit of doubt and inquiry. If this spirit shows itself but little in literature, if we find, for example, only isolated instances of the beginnings of biblical criticism, we are not therefore to infer that it had no existence. The sound of it was only overpowered by the need of representation and creation in all departments-- that is, by the artistic instinct; and it was further checked, whenever it tried to express itself theoretically, by the already existing despotism of the Church. This spirit of doubt must, for reasons too obvious to need discussion, have inevitably and chiefly busied itself with the question of the state of man after death.
And here came in the influence of antiquity, and worked in a twofold fashion on the argument. In the first place men set themselves to master the psychology of the ancients, and tortured the letter of Aristotle for a decisive answer. In one of the Lucianic dialogues of the time, Charon tells Mercury how he questioned Aristotle on his belief in immortality, when the philosopher crossed in the Stygian boat; but the prudent sage, although dead in the body and nevertheless living on, declined to compromise himself by a definite answer--and centuries later how was it likely to fare with the interpretation of his writings? All the more eagerly did men dispute about his opinion and that of others on the true nature of the soul, its origin, its pre-existence, its unity in all men, its absolute eternitY, even its transformations; and there were men who treated of these things in the pulpit. The dispute was warmly carried on even in the fifteenth century; some proved that Aristotle taught the doctrine of an immortal soul; others complained of the hardness of men's hearts, who would not believe that there was a soul at all, till they saw it sitting down on a chair before them; Filelfo, in his funeral oration on Francesco Sforza, brings forward a long list of opinions of ancient and even of Arab philosophers in favour of immortality, and closes the mixture, which covers a folio page and a half of print, with the words, 'Besides all this we have the Old and New Testaments, which are above all truth.' Then came the Florentine Platonists with their master's doctrine of the soul, supplemented at times, as in the case of Pico, by Christian teaching. But the opposite opinion prevailed in the instructed world. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the stumbling-block which it put in the way of the Church was so serious that Leo X set forth a Constitution at the Lateran Council in 1513, in defence of the immortality and individuality of the soul, the latter against those who asserted that there was but one soul in all men. A few years later appeared the work of Pomponazzo, in which the impossibility of a philosophical proof of immortality is maintained; and the contest was now waged incessantly with replies and 'apologies,' till it was silenced by the Catholic reaction. The pre-existence of the soul in God, conceived more or less in accordance with Plato's theory of ideas, long remained a common belief, and proved of service even to the poets. The consequences which followed from it as to the mode of the soul's continued existence after death were not more closely considered.
There was a second way in which the influence of antiquity made itself felt, chiefly by means of that remarkable fragment of the sixth book of Cicero's 'Republic,' known by the name of Scipio's Dream. Without the commentary of Macrobius it would probably have perished like the rest of the second part of the work; it was now diffused in countless manuscript copies, and, after the discovery of typography, in a printed form and edited afresh by various commentatOrs. It is the description of a transfigured hereafter for great men, pervaded by the harmony of the spheres. This pagan heaven, for which many other testimonies were gradually extracted from the writings of the ancients, came step by step to supplant the Christian heaven in proportion as the ideal of fame and historical greatness threw into the shade the ideal of the Christian life, without, nevertheless, the public feeling being thereby offended as it was by the doctrine of personal annihilation after death. Even Petrarch founds his hope chiefly on this Dream of Scipio, on the declarations found in other Ciceronian works, and on Plato's 'Phaedo,' without making any mention of the Bible. 'Why,' he asks elsewhere, 'should not I as a Catholic share a hope which was demonstrably cherished by the heathen?' Soon afterwards Coluccio Salutati wrote his 'Labors of Hercules' (still existing in manuscript), in which it is proved at the end that the valorous man, who has well endured the great labors of earthly life, is justly entitled to a dwelling among the stars. If Dante still firmly maintained that the great pagans, whom he would have gladly welcomed in Paradise, nevertheless must not come beyond the Limbo at the entrance to Hell, the poetry of a later time accepted joyfully the new liberal ideas of a future life. Cosimo the Elder, according to Bernardo Pulci's poem on his death, was received in heaven by Cicero, who had also been called the 'father of his country,' by the Fabii, by Curius, Fabricius and many others; with them he would adorn the choir where only blameless spirits sing.
But in the old writers there was another and less pleasing picture of the world to come--the shadowy realms of Homer and of those poets who had not sweetened and humanized the conception. This made an impression on certain temperaments. Gioviano Pontano somewhere attributes to Sannazaro the story of a vision which he beheld one morning early while half awake. He seemed to see a departed friend, Ferrandus Januarius, with whom he had often discoursed on the immortality of the soul, and whom he now asked whether it was true that the pains of Hell were really dreadful and eternal. The shadow gave an answer like that of Achilles when Odysseus questioned him. 'So much I tell and aver to thee, that we who are parted from earthly life have the strongest desire to return to it again.' He then saluted his friend and disappeared.
It cannot but be recognized that such views of the state of man after death partly presuppose and partly promote the dissolution of the most essential dogmas of Christianity. The notion of sin and of salvation must have almost entirely evaporated. We must not be misled by the effects of the great preachers of repentance or by the epidemic revivals which have been described above. For even granting that the individually developed classes had shared in them like the rest, the cause of their participation was rather the need of emotional excitement, the rebound of passionate natures, the horror felt at great national calamities, the cry to heaven for help. The awakening of the conscience had by no means necessarily the sense of sin and the felt need of salvation as its consequence and even a very severe outward penance did not perforce involve any repentance in the Christian meaning of the word. When the powerful natures of the Renaissance tell us that their principle is to repent of nothing, they may have in their minds only matters that are morally indifferent, faults of unreason or imprudence; but in the nature of the case this contempt for repentance must extend to the sphere of morals, because its origin, namely the consciousness of individual force, is common to both sides of human nature. The passive and contemplative form of Christianity, with its constant reference to a higher world beyond the grave, could no longer control these men. Machiavelli ventured still further, and maintained that it could not be serviceable to the State and to the maintenance of public freedom.
The form assumed by the strong religious instinct which, notwithstanding all, survived in many natures, was Theism or Deism, as we may please to call it. The latter name may be applied to that mode of thought which simply wiped away the Christian element out of religion, without either seeking or finding any other substitute for the feelings to rest upon. Theism may be considered that definite heightened devotion to the one Supreme Being which the Middle Ages were not acquainted with. This mode of faith does not exclude Christianity, and can either ally itself with the Christian doctrines of sin, redemption, and immortality, or else exist and flour;sh without them.
Sometimes this belief presents itself with childish_naivete and even with a half-pagan air, God appearing as the almighty fulfiller of human wishes. Agnolo Pandolfini tells us how, after his wedding, he shut himself in with his wife, and knelt down before the family altar with the picture of the Madonna, and prayed, not to her, but to God, that He would vouchsafe to them the right use of their property, a long life in joy and unity with one another, and many male descendants: 'For myself I prayed for wealth, honour, and friends; for her blamelessness, honesty, and that she might be a good housekeeper.' When the language used has a strong antique flavor, it is not always easy to keep apart the pagan style and the theistic belief.
This temper sometimes manifests itself in times of misfortune with a striking sincerity. Some addresses to God are left us from the latter period of Firenzuola, when for years he lay ill of fever, in which, though he expressly declares himself a believing Christian, he shows that his religious consciousness is essentially theistic. Hie sufferings seem to him neither as the punishment of sin, nor as preparation for a higher world; they are an affair between him and God only, who has put the strong love of life between man and his despair. 'I curse, but only curse Nature, since Thy greatness forbids me to utter Thy name.... Give me death, Lord, I beseech Thee, give it me now!'
In these utterances and the like, it would be vain to look for a conscious and consistent Theism; the speakers partly believed themselves to be still Christians, and for various other reasons respected the existing doctrines of the Church. But at the time of the Reformation, when men were driven to come to a distinct conclusion on such points, this mode of thought was accepted with a fuller consciousness; a number of the Italian Protestants came forward as Anti-Trinitarians and Socinians, and even as exiles in distant countries made the memorable attempt to found a church on these principles. From the foregoing exposition it will be clear that, apart from humanistic rationalism, other spirits were at work in this field.
One chief centre of theistic modes of thought lay in the Platonic Academy at Florence, and especially in Lorenzo il Magnifico himself. The theoretical works and even the letters of these men show us only half their nature. It is true that Lorenzo, from his youth till he died, expressed himself dogmatically as a Christian, and that Pico was drawn by Savonarola's influence to accept the point of view of a monkish ascetic. But in the hymns of Lorenzo, which we are tempted to regard as the highest product of the spirit of this school, an unreserved Theism is set forth a Theism which strives to treat the world as a great moral and physical Cosmos.
While the men of the Middle Ages look on the world as a vale of tears, which Pope and Emperor are set to guard against the coming of Antichrist; while the fatalists of the Renaissance oscillate between seasons of overflowing energy and seasons of superstition or of stupid resignation) here, in this circle of chosen spirits, the doctrine is upheld that the visible world was created by God in love, that it is the copy of a pattern pre-existing in Him, and that He will ever remain its eternal mover and restorer. The soul of man can by recognizing God draw Him into its narrow boundaries, but also by love of Him expand itself into the Infinite--and this is blessedness on earth.
Echoes of medieval mysticism here flow into one current with Platonic doctrines and with a characteristically modern spirit. One of the most precious fruits of the knowledge of the world and of man here comes to maturity, on whose account alone the Italian Renaissance must be called the leader of modern ages.