Witchcraft, Superstition, and Observant Franciscan Preachers – Review by Borbála Lovas

december 22nd, 2016 § 0 comments


Fab­ri­zio Con­ti, Witchc­raft, Su­per­s­tit­ion, and Ob­ser­vant Fran­cis­can Pre­a­chers: Pas­tor­al App­ro­ach and In­tel­lec­tu­al De­ba­te in Re­na­is­sance Mi­lan, Turn­ho­ut, Bre­pols, 2015.

The new vo­lu­me of the Eu­ro­pa Sac­ra se­ri­es, pub­lis­hed in 2015, con­cent­ra­tes on late-medieval Italy, spe­ci­fi­cally Mi­lan. The name of the aut­hor is well-known to tho­se fa­mi­li­ar with the con­nec­tions bet­ween the Ob­ser­vant Fran­cis­cans and witchc­raft. Ha­v­ing pub­lis­hed and pre­sen­ted papers for se­ve­ral ye­ars, this vo­lu­me by Fab­ri­zio Con­ti is a wel­co­me re­vi­si­on of his PhD dis­ser­ta­ti­on that was de­fen­ded at Cent­ral Euro­pe­an Uni­ver­sity, Bu­da­pest in 2011.

The study of the Ob­ser­vant Fran­cis­cans and the­ir views on witchc­raft is fre­qu­ently one-sided and li­mi­ted. His­to­ri­ans have ty­pi­cally fo­cu­s­ed on the lead­ing fi­gu­re of the mo­ve­ment, Ber­nar­di­no da Sie­na. More nu­an­ced and de­tai­led stu­di­es exist al­most exc­lu­si­vely in Ita­li­an. For­tu­na­tely, in ad­di­ti­on to pro­vi­ding a fresh pers­pec­tive on the to­pic in Eng­lish, Con­ti con­nects the study with re­cent trends in Cent­ral Euro­pe­an stu­di­es (such as tho­se con­centrating on Pel­bar­tus de Te­mes­vár and Os­val­dus de Las­ko). Fo­cus­ing on the third ge­ne­ra­ti­on of ob­ser­vant fri­ars, who pro­du­ced texts that were lar­gely re­prin­ted, Con­ti high­lights the oeuvre of Be­nar­di­no Bus­ti along­si­de ot­her im­por­tant fi­gu­res of the Fran­cis­can fri­ary of St. An­ge­lo in Mi­lan – Mi­che­le Car­cano, An­to­nio da Ver­c­el­li, Bar­to­lo­meo Ca­i­mi, An­ge­lo Car­let­ti da Chi­vas­so, Sa­mu­e­le Cas­si­ni – ac­tive from the last de­ca­des of the fif­teenth cent­ury to the first two de­ca­des of the sixteenth.

The main aim of the book is to analy­ze the fine line bet­ween acts al­lo­wed and for­bid­den by the pers­pec­tive of the Fran­cis­can fri­ars. Groun­ded in the writings of the cho­s­en fri­ars, Con­ti shows the gro­wing ske­ptic­ism con­cer­ning witchc­raft in the­ir works. A path to a mo­de­ra­te stance that the aut­hor na­mes as “pas­tor­al” – Busti’s con­si­li­um con­cer­ning the Jews of Mi­lan is one examp­le of this – is seen as the home to the­se de­ve­lop­ments. Rat­her than pro­du­cing an edi­ted coll­ec­ti­on of ser­mons, the mo­no­gra­ph is a ca­re­ful exa­mi­na­ti­on of the texts, the re­gu­la­ti­on of con­fes­si­on, and be­li­efs abo­ut su­per­s­tit­ion and witchc­raft. Tho­ugh Con­ti sta­tes the book “is not fo­cu­s­ed on the ac­tu­al pre­a­ch­ing ac­ti­vity of the fri­ars on the ground”, the study in­cor­pora­tes a rich cor­pus of ori­gi­nal ser­mons (trans­la­ted by the aut­hor into Eng­lish). In ad­di­ti­on, us­ing pas­tor­al li­te­ra­tu­re such as hand­books for con­fes­si­on, Con­ti pro­vi­des a dif­fe­rent pers­pec­tive to the ge­ne­rally stu­di­ed li­te­ra­tu­re of tri­als and de­mo­no­logy. Alt­ho­ugh this is overtly not his fo­cus, Con­ti does not neg­lect to cons­ider the so­ci­al are­na be­hind the texts, as showed by the exa­mi­na­ti­on of nu­me­rous tri­als held in Nor­t­hern Italy, such as tho­se of Ven­ego­no Su­peri­o­re in Lom­bardy. The book il­lu­mi­na­tes the two ‘myt­ho­lo­gi­es’ of witchc­raft among the Fran­cis­cans, one cen­te­red on be­li­efs cons­idered real, the ot­her un­re­al. The lu­dus ba­ri­lo­ti, the ‘game of the keg’, is lis­ted as real un­der the ‘in­vo­kers of de­mons’ ca­te­gory, with tra­di­ti­o­nal fi­gu­res of wit­ches such as Fi­nic­el­la and San­tuc­cia be­ing the main rep­re­s­en­ta­ti­ves of this re­a­lis­tic app­ro­ach; the lu­dus Dia­nae, ‘game of Dia­na’, ap­pe­ars un­der a dif­fe­rent ca­te­gory (“tho­se who be­li­eve they can sha­pes­hift”) as un­re­al as far as be­li­efs such as the sab­bath, night flight and sha­pes­hift­ing are con­cer­ned. Whi­le the Do­mi­ni­can Or­der was ge­ne­rally moving to­wards the view that wit­ches Sab­baths and night-flights were phy­si­cally real (but Con­ti high­lights that more nu­an­ced ide­as were pre­sent also among the Do­mi­ni­cans), the­se Ob­ser­vant Fran­cis­can fri­ars were go­ing in a dif­fe­rent di­rec­ti­on. Con­ti pro­pos­es an in­ter­est­ing sche­ma that op­pos­es Fran­cis­cans, as pre­a­chers and con­fes­sors to Do­mi­ni­can in­qui­si­tors. The con­dem­na­ti­on of some pre­a­chers’ view by Hein­rich Kra­mer and the op­po­sit­i­on bet­ween Cas­si­ni and the Do­mi­ni­can Vin­cen­zo Dodo cont­ri­bu­te to Conti’s rea­son­ing on this point.

The book con­sists of th­ree parts. Part I, Pre­a­chers and Con­fes­sors at the End of the Fif­teenth Cent­ury (chap­ters 1–3) paints the ge­ne­ral geo­gra­phi­cal, his­to­ri­cal, li­ter­ary, and pas­tor­al backg­round and int­ro­du­ces the Ob­ser­vant Fran­cis­can pre­a­chers and con­fes­sors ac­tive in Mi­lan and the li­ter­ary sour­ces used in the book. Part II, The First Com­mand­ment and Su­per­s­tit­ion (chap­ters 4–5), exa­mi­nes su­per­s­tit­ion from re­li­gi­o­us and in­tel­lec­tu­al view­points, spe­ci­fi­cally th­ro­ugh the fif­teen main ca­teg­ori­es for pas­tor­al pur­pos­es cons­idered by Mi­lane­se fri­ars, who de­emed it a sin aga­inst the First Com­mand­ment. Part III, From Su­per­s­tit­ion to Witchc­raft (chap­ters 6–8), analy­zes the fra­me­work of the fri­ars on su­per­s­tit­ion in re­la­ti­on to witchc­raft, with ca­teg­ori­es such as the in­vo­kers of de­mons, tho­se who be­li­eve they sha­pes­hift and fly at night, and ma­le­fi­ci­um examined.

The chap­ters are as fol­lows. The first one pro­vi­des a broad pers­pec­tive and con­text, be­g­in­ning with the his­to­ry of the Fran­cis­can Ob­ser­vance and conc­lu­ding with the third ge­ne­ra­ti­on of Ob­ser­vant Fran­cis­cans. The se­cond chap­ter fo­cus­es on Ber­na­di­no Busti’s Rosa­ri­um Ser­mo­num (1498), a two-volume com­pi­la­ti­on of eighty Len­ten ser­mons with a cent­ral to­pic of pen­ance and con­fes­si­on, whi­le exa­mining the pas­tor­al con­text (with com­pa­ri­son to Caimi’s In­ter­ro­ga­to­ri­um) and the role of the pre­a­cher wit­hin so­ci­ety. The third chap­ter fo­cus­es on con­fes­si­on and su­per­s­tit­ion, a “dis­tinc­ti­vely mul­ti­fa­ce­ted sin”. The fo­urth pro­vi­des a close analy­sis of Ser­mon 16 of the Rosa­ri­um by Bus­ti con­nec­ted to the Ob­ser­vant Franciscans’s view of su­per­s­tit­ion. The fifth charts the fif­teen ca­teg­ori­es of su­per­s­tit­ion (inc­lu­ding dre­ams, enc­han­ters, ido­latry, in­vo­ca­ti­on of de­mons, ma­le­fi­ci­um, se­ers, tex­tu­al amu­lets, vain ob­ser­van­ces), fo­und in the ser­mon fea­tu­red in the pre­vi­o­us chap­ter, used by the Fran­cis­can aut­hors. The fi­nal th­ree chap­ters are lin­ked by the the­me of how su­per­s­tit­ion turns into witchc­raft. In the sixth chap­ter, Con­ti con­ti­nues with the text by Bus­ti, sho­wing how the core witchc­raft ste­re­otypes (ido­latry, sor­cery, and di­a­bo­l­ism) de­vel­oped whi­le not be­com­ing seen, as the Do­mi­ni­can tra­di­ti­on did, as an or­ga­ni­zed sect. The se­venth shows how old myt­hi­cal and folk­lo­ric tra­di­tions were trans­for­med into su­per­s­tit­ions and exa­mi­nes the re­oc­cur­r­ing quest­ion of what sho­uld be cons­idered real when one can be de­ce­i­ved by a di­a­bo­li­cal il­lu­si­on. The fi­nal chap­ter exa­mi­nes the text and re­cept­ion of Cassini’s Quest­io­nes la­mea­rum, which pla­ced in op­po­sit­i­on to the Do­mi­ni­can view­point the Fran­cis­can view of the Wit­ches Sab­bath be­ing unreal.

The main me­rit of the vo­lu­me is its clear de­pic­ti­on of how of­fi­ci­al and unof­fi­ci­al be­li­efs abo­ut su­per­s­tit­ion and witchc­raft ap­peared in Fran­cis­can pas­tor­al texts, and how the main ar­gu­ments were sys­te­mi­zed in the Ob­ser­vant Fran­cis­can com­mu­nity. Conti’s de­tai­led analy­sis pro­vi­des a new pers­pec­tive on su­per­s­tit­ion and witchc­raft and a clear pic­tu­re of an Ob­ser­vant Fran­cis­can mi­li­eu in Nor­t­hern Italy and Mi­lan firmly ro­o­ted in less fa­mi­li­ar sources.

Borbála Lovas
junior researcher,
"Humanism in East Central Europe", MTA-ELTE Research Group
A szerző az MTA-ELTE
"Humanizmus Kelet-Közép-Európában"
Lendület Kutatócsoport junior kutatója


2015-ben új kö­tet je­lent meg az Eu­ro­pa Sac­ra so­ro­zat­ban, mely­nek té­má­ja a késő kö­zép­ko­ri itá­li­ai, pon­to­sab­ban mi­lá­nói ob­szer­váns fe­ren­ces szer­ze­te­sek har­ma­dik ge­ne­rá­ci­ó­já­nak, az 1590-es évek­től az 1620-as éve­kig mű­kö­dő szer­ze­tes írók­nak a bo­szor­kány­ság és ba­bo­na­ság té­ma­kö­rét érin­tő, a bo­szor­kány­hit va­ló­ság­alap­ját kri­ti­zá­ló mű­vei. Bár Con­ti köny­vé­nek fő­sze­rep­lő­je az elem­zett szö­ve­ge­ket te­kint­ve a Te­mes­vá­ri Pel­bárt és Las­kai Os­vát kor­tár­sá­nak te­kint­he­tő Ber­nar­di­no Bus­ti és böj­ti pré­di­ká­ci­ói, a szer­ző a St. An­ge­lo kon­vent más, ed­dig ha­son­ló­an ke­vés­sé ku­ta­tott és a nem­zet­kö­zi kö­zön­ség szá­má­ra szin­te is­me­ret­len tag­jai, Mi­che­le Car­cano, An­to­nio da Ver­c­el­li, Bar­to­lo­meo Ca­i­mi, An­ge­lo Car­let­ti da Chi­vas­so, Sa­mu­e­le Cas­si­ni mű­ve­it, pré­di­ká­ci­ós és bűn­bo­csá­tó te­vé­keny­sé­gét is be­mu­tat­ja. A gaz­dag for­rás­anyag­gal dol­go­zó an­gol nyel­vű kö­tet rész­le­tes be­te­kin­tést ad az itá­li­ai fe­ren­ce­sek har­cá­ba a do­mon­ko­sok és az ink­vi­zí­ció ál­tal tá­mo­ga­tott és si­ke­re­sen épí­tett bo­szor­kány­ság­fel­fo­gás ellen.


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