Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Art or Practice of Contemplation in the Medieval Period

Hadewych/Hadewijch/Hadewig of Brabant c. 1220 – 1260
Ay al es nu die winter cout / cort die daghe / ende die nachte langhe.
Handschrift Gent, UB, 941, f. 49r

Miniature of The Blessed John of Ruysbroeck (1293 or 1294, Ruisbroek – December 2, 1381, Groenendaal)
From Vanden gheesteliken tabernakel, Spieghel der eeuwegher salicheit en Van seven trappen c. 1380
Brussel KB 19.295-97, fol. 2v
He was beatified on December 1, 1908, by Pope St. Pius X.

Peter Paul Metz (1830 - 1912)
Mechthild von Magdeburg (1207- 1282)
Choir stall portrait sculpture (1896)
Kath. Pfarrkirche St. Gordian und Epimachus,
Stadt Leutkirch im Allgäu, Merazhofen,

"The art or practice of contemplation did not, of course, originate in this period [1300 - 1415].

Its origin, in the western tradition, lay in the Augustinian idea that the love of God was the basis of understanding, and in its division by the pseudo-Dionysius into purgative, illuminative and unitive phases; germinating in the solitude idealised by monks and anchorites, and taking form from the prayers and meditations of St Anselm, it had reached explicit expression in the monastic school of St Victor in twelfth-century Paris.

Hugh of St Victor may well have been the first to give the term its first distinct religious meaning, and seems also to have sketched out the stages by which the pilgrim mounts to God. The idea of a journey of the soul towards God had been elaborated by his successor Richard of St Victor, for whom the love and knowledge of God were ultimately identical and, since he did not distinguish natural understanding from mystical knowledge of God, theology and contemplation were in essence the same.

His ‘speculative’ mysticism was the basis of the intellectual approach taken by the Rhineland mystical writers of the fourteenth century to the contemplative experiences of the nuns and beguines under their direction.

A century after Richard, the Franciscan theologian Bonaventure had defined the object of contemplation more specifically, by focusing it on the incarnation and passion of Christ, aspects of his humanity on which Franciscan devotion turned. By making it a subject of the spiritual direction which the friars were developing, he broadened its appeal beyond the monastic world of the Victorines, and opened it to communities of nuns and anchoresses who were bound by a less formal rule; the purgative, illuminative and unitive stages of contemplation which, following the pseudo-Dionysius, he made its framework, marked out what was beginning to be at once a more widely popular and a more deeply individual way of spiritual progress.

At the same time, perhaps under the influence of the friars, loose religious communities or confraternities, whose distinctive mark was devotion to the life and passion of Christ, were springing up especially in the towns of Italy and the Rhineland.

Women were prominent among them, particularly in Germany and the Low Countries, and in many of their surviving utterances the language of secular love poetry is adapted to contemplation: this brautmystik or bridal imagery was characteristic of the poetry of the Dutch contemplative Hadewijch of Antwerp, whose note of ecstatic union with God seems to show that her idea of the return of fallen man to his creator by means of love was derived from her own religious experience, though possibly given form, through the friars, by the literary tradition of the Victorines.

Guided by spiritual directors though she and her contemporaries probably were, their religious experiences were certainly not mere literary devices in the autobiographical writings, letters and notes which many of them composed, and testify to a widespread and autonomous movement.

Occasionally enthusiasm outran the limits of orthodoxy among the loosely controlled communities of beguines, beghards or flagellants, and antinomian tendencies emerged from time to time in groups like the Brethren of the Free Spirit in Germany or the Fraticelli in Italy. In one expression of such emancipation from the pursuit of virtue, The Mirror of Simple Souls evidently written by Marguerite Porète of Valenciennes, who was burned in 1310, contemplation replaced the moral life altogether.

More frequently, however, the influence of friar directors like Henry of Halle OP, the adviser of the contemplative Mechtilde of Magdeburg, was strong enough to maintain the link between the teaching of the schools and spirituality.

Though the religious experience of the contemplatives was authentic, it was increasingly expressed through theological concepts, and sometimes in the very words of their confessors or directors."

Jeremy Catto (Fellow of Oriel College, University of Oxford) Currents of religious thought and expression (Chapter 3) in The New Cambridge Medieval History Volume VI c, 1300 - c. 1415 (2008)

On Friday, 12 September 2008 Pope Benedict XVI in an interview while on his Apostolic Journey to France said:

"I would not dare to say that I know France well. I know it a little, but I love France, the great French culture, especially of course the great cathedrals and also the great French art... the great theology that begins with St Irenaeus of Lyons through until the 13th century, and I have studied the 13th century University of Paris: St Bonaventure and St Thomas Aquinas.

This theology was crucial for the development of theology in the West.... And naturally the theology of the century of the Second Vatican Council. I had the great honour and joy of being a friend of Fr de Lubac, one of the most important figures of the past century, but I also had a good working relationship with Fr Congar, Jean Daniélou and others. ...

Thus, I truly had very profound, very personal and enriching contact with the great theological and philosophical culture of France. This was truly decisive for the development of my thought. But there was also the rediscovery of the original Gregorian chant with Solesmes, the great monastic culture... and of course great poetry. As a man of the Baroque, I am very partial to Paul Claudel, to his joie de vivre, and also to Bernanos and the great French poets of the past century. Thus it is a culture which truly determined my personal, theological, philosophical and human development"

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Province of Saint Anthony

Religious life during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was dominated by the mendicant orders, notably the Franciscans and Dominicans, and their ascendancy also extended to the artistic life of the day.

After an austere and almost iconoclastic start in the early 1200s, there followed a relaxation in some Franciscan practice regarding poverty of architecture and the friars minor no longer took over pre-existing buildings but began to commission their own foundations in a new style of architecture.

Following the death of Saint Anthony of Padua, the second Franciscan saint, the Veneto became an important centre for theological and artistic activity.

Originally known as the Province of the Trevisan March and later renamed as the Province of St Anthony, its boundaries were fixed by the Sarca Valley in the west, by the west bank of Lake Garda, by the area of the eastern Alps excluding the Val d’Adige to the north, by the Isonzo River in the east and the Po River in the south. See below.

Some eighty-six churches are documented, and twenty-five survive, most in an altered or heavily restored state. Three extant churches are particularly noteworthy: San Fermo Maggiore in Verona, San Lorenzo in Vicenza and of course, Sant’ Antonio (known as ‘il Santo’) in Padua

The Santo outshines all its Franciscan and mendicant neighbours. Raised as a great pilgrimage basilica to enshrine the body of Saint Anthony of Padua, its fame in the region was surpassed only by San Marco in Venice, the ducal church, symbol of the republic.

Its significance lies not only in its unusual architectural solutions but in its numerous painted chapels. The second half of the fourteenth century might be termed the golden age of fresco painting at the Santo, as exemplified in the works of Giusto de Menabuoi and Altichiero. Both Giusto and Altichiero had previously been employed by the ruling families of Padua and Verona

Giusto de' Menabuoi c.1320 - 1391
The chapel of Blessed Luca Belludi
St. Anthony's Basilica, Padua

Giusto de' Menabuoi c.1320 - 1391
The martyrdom of Saint James
From the chapel of Blessed Luca Belludi
St. Anthony's Basilica, Padua

Altichiero da Zevio (1330 circa – 1390 circa)
The Crucifixion 1376 -1379
Fresco 840 x 280 cm
The Chapel of St James or San Felice
St. Anthony's Basilica, Padua

Altichiero da Zevio (1330 circa – 1390 circa) and Jacopo Avanzi
Scenes from the Life of St James 1370s
The Chapel of St James or San Felice
St Anthony`s Basilica

The Sermons of St Anthony of Padua

The Caves of St Anthony at Brives

People wanting to look at the Sermons of St Anthony in English should consider The Sermons of St Anthony of Padua translated into English by Paul Spilsbury from the Critical Latin Edition of the Centro Studi Antoniani, Padova, Italia (1979)

It includes: Sermones de Tempore (Sermons For Sundays), Sermones de Sanctis (Sermons For Feast Days), and Sermones in Honorem et Laudem Beatissimae Mariae Virginis (Sermons in Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

In the Second Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent, St Anthony writes amongst other things of his mission as a preacher:

"And Jesus went from there and retired into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan, who came out of those coasts, crying out, said to him: Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David, etc. [Mt 15.21-22]

We are told in the First Book of Kings that:

Israel went out to war against the Philistines, and camped by the Stone of Help. [1Kg(Sam) 4.1]

Israel means ‘the seed of God’, and signifies the preacher (or his preaching) of which Isaiah says:

Except the Lord of Hosts had left us seed (i.e. preaching), we had been as Sodom; and we should have been like to Gomorrha. [Is 1.9]

He should go out to war against the Philistines (Philistine means ‘falling through drink’), the demons who, being drunk with pride, fell from heaven. He goes out to battle against them when, by his preaching, he strives to rescue the sinner from their hands; but this he can only do if he camps by the Stone of Help.

The ‘Stone of Help’ is Christ, who is referred to in this Sunday’s Office reading:

Jacob took a stone, and putting it under his head, slept. [Gen 28.11]

In this way, the preacher should rest his head (his mind) upon Jesus Christ, the Stone of Help; so that he may rest upon him, and in and through him overcome the demons.

This is the meaning of the words, ‘encamped by the Stone of Help’, because he sets the camp of his conversation, and pitches the tents of his preaching, beside Jesus Christ who is his help in time of trouble, and he trusts in Him, and attributes everything to Him.

So, in the name of Jesus Christ, I will go out against the Philistine (the demon), that I may in this preaching avail to free from his hand the sinner made captive by sin; and I trust entirely in His grace, which goes forth for the salvation of His people [cf. Hab 3.14]. "

Guillaume Dufay (August 5, 1397? – November 27, 1474) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the early Renaissance. As the central figure in the Burgundian School, he was the most famous and influential composer in Europe in the mid-15th century. In 1428 he was ordained a priest and he became canon of the cathedral of Cambrai

Amongst his many works is a Mass for St Anthony of Padua (c.1450). Some extracts are below.

St Anthony and His Preaching in France

Vicente Carducho 1576-1638
The Vision of St Anthony of Padua
Oil on canvas, 227 x 170 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Giotto di Bondone 1267-1337
Legend of St Francis: 18. Apparition at Arles
Fresco, 270 x 230 cm
Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi
During a meeting of the order, St. Anthony of Padua was preaching in the cloister at Arles - Giotto shows a generously proportioned Gothic room. Suddenly, Francis appeared. Only St. Anthony, who had just been speaking about Christ, and one other member of the Order notice the apparition. Giotto shows all the others listening with full attention.

Attributed to Jean Boachon
The Life and Miracles of St Anthony of Padua (c.1515)
Oil on wooden panel
74 x 82cm
Musée de Brou, Bourg-en-Bresse

Église Saint-Pierre-du-Queyroix, Limoges

The Sermones Dominicales and the Sermones Festivi of St Anthony of Padua are not as they stand sermons preached by Saint Anthony, although they contain material he preached. They depart from his oral style in important ways, notably in being much longer and more systematic. Antony himself indicates that they contain material, or ‘themes’, for a number of ‘sermons’

We have a number of eye witness accounts of the preaching of St Anthony.

As regards his preaching in France we are dependent on the history of Jean Rigauld, (the first Franciscan archbishop of Rouen) who, however, seems to have been conscientious in recording the accounts of eye-witnesses.

"During the time that he was appointed Custos of the brethren of the Limoges custody, he was in the city of Limoges around midnight on the night of Holy Thursday, in the church called St Peter de Queyroux. This was so that when the Office of Matins was over, which is said there at midnight, he might sow the seed of the word of life to the people gathered in the church."

Rigauld comments on the frequency with which Antony treated the theme of poverty. Already, Anthony often found that there were too many people wanting to hear him to fit into the local church:

"On one occasion, at the church of St Junien in the diocese of Limoges, he was preaching, and the congregation was so large that the church was not big enough to hold it; and so the man of God had to transfer to a wide open space, with the crowd that had gathered. A wooden pulpit was improvised, and the man of God climbed up onto it, remarking that he foresaw that the Enemy might soon cause a disturbance in the sermon, but that they should not be frightened, because no-one would be hurt by it. Not long afterwards, the place the saint was standing on collapsed, to everyone’s surprise, and yet neither he nor anyone else was injured. Because of this, the people were brought to even greater reverence for the man of God, seeing a prophetic spirit strong in him; and when a new place had been made ready, they listened to him with even greater attention."

As well as such popular preaching, Antony was in demand at important clerical gatherings:

"I learned from a reliable account by certain friars that one occasion he was preaching at a Synod at Bourges. Directing his words to the Archbishop in fervour of spirit, he said, ‘It’s you I’m talking to, in the mitre.’ He began to rebuke, fervently and with well-chosen texts of Scripture, certain vices which troubled the conscience of the Archbishop; so that all at once the Archbishop was moved to compunction, and tears, and devotion, that he had not felt before. When the Synod was over, he took him aside and opened his wounded conscience; and from then on was more devoted both to God and to the friars, and was more conscientious about the service of God."

On one occasion he solemnly called together the people of Limoges for a sermon, and the crowd that gathered was so great that every church was reckoned too small to hold such a multitude. He therefore called the people together at a very spacious place, where a pagan palace had once stood, called ‘Creux des Arènes’. There the people could sit down comfortably, and listen quietly to the divine word.

While Antony was speaking, a thunderstorm arose, and the people began to panic, until Antony called them to order.

"The man of God continued his sermon as long as he was pleased, and the people listened attentively. When they got up from the sermon, they found that the ground all around was soaked, but where they had been sitting was completely dry; and they praised the wonderful kindness of God, who is wonderful in his saints. Many friars were still living when I entered the Order of Friars Minor, who had been present at that sermon, and could repeat the gist of his preaching. Their testimony is entirely reliable, because they spoke of what they had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears."

The Franciscans settled at Limoges in 1223. According to the chronicle of Pierre Coral, rector of St. Martin of Limoges, St. Anthony of Padua established a convent there in 1226 and departed in the first months of 1227. On the night of Holy Thursday, it is said, he was preaching in the church of St. Pierre du Queyroix, when he stopped for a moment and remained silent. At the same instant he appeared in the choir of the Franciscan monastery and read a lesson. It was doubtlessly at Châteauneuf in the territory of Limoges that took place the celebrated apparition of the Infant Jesus to St. Anthony

In his biography of St Antony, Fr Leopold de Chérancé gives a sermon which the Saint is said to have delivered in 1226, in the Benedictine abbey of St Martin at Limoges. His authority is the Chronicle of Pierre Coral, Abbot of St Martin at Limoges, Librairie Nationale MS n. 5,452, fol. cix.

If authentic, this seems to be the only record of a sermon as actually preached by the Saint

After preaching in the cemetery of St Paul’s on the text ‘In the evening weeping shall have place, and in the morning gladness’ (Ps 29.67). The occasion may have been All Souls’ Day, or perhaps a funeral, the next day he preached in the Abbey on the excellence of monastic life

"Who will give me wings like a dove, and I will fly and be at rest! [Ps 54.7]

Such is the cry of a soul that is weary of this world and longs for the solitude and peace of the cloister life. It is of the religious life that the Prophet Jeremias spoke when he said:

Leave the cities, ye that dwell in Moab, and dwell in the rock;
and be ye like the dove that maketh her nest in the mouth of the hole in the highest place. [Jer 48.28]

Leave the cities, that is, the sins and vices which dishonour, the tumult which prevents the soul from raising herself to God, and, often, even from thinking of him. Leave the cities, for it is written:

I have seen iniquity and contradiction in the city.
Day and night shall iniquity surround it upon its walls;
and in the midst thereof are labour and injustice.
And usury and deceits have not departed from its streets. [Ps 54.10-12]

There is to be found iniquity against God and man; contradiction against the preacher of truth; labour in the ambitious cares of the world; injustice in its dealings; knavery and usury in its business transactions.

Ye that dwell in Moab, that is in the world which is seated in pride as the city of Moab. All is pride in the world: pride of the intellect, which refuses to humble itself before God; pride of the will, which refuses to submit to the will of God; pride of the senses, which rebel against reason and dominate it… But to leave the world, live remote from the tumult of cities, to keep oneself unspotted from their vices, is not sufficient for the religious soul.

Hence the Prophet adds: Dwell in the rock. Now this rock is Jesus Christ. Establish yourself in him; let him be the constant theme of your thoughts, the object of your affections. Jacob reposed upon a stone in the wilderness, and while he slept he saw the heavens opened and conversed with angels, receiving a blessing from the Lord [cf. Gen 28.11-16].

Thus will it be with those who place their entire trust in Jesus Christ.

They will be favoured with heavenly visions; they will live in the company of angels, they will be blessed as Jacob was, to the north and south, to the east and west [Gen 28.14]. To the north, which is the divine breath mortifying the flesh with its concupiscences; to the east, which is the light of faith and the merit of good works; to the south, which is the full meridian splendour of wisdom and charity; to the west, which is the burial of the old man with his vices. But as to the soul which does not repose upon this rock, it cannot expect to be blessed by the Lord.

And be ye like the dove that maketh her nest in the mouth of the hole of the highest place.

If Jesus Christ is the rock, the hole of the rock, in which the religious soul is to seek shelter and take up her abode, is the wound in the side of Jesus Christ. This is the safe harbour of refuge, to which the Divine Spouse calls the religious soul when he speaks to her in the words of the Canticle:

Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come, O my dove,
that art in the clefts of the rock. in the deep hollow of the wall. [Cant 2.13-14]

The Divine Spouse speaks of the numberless clefts of the rock, but he also speaks of the deep hollow. There were, indeed, in his body numberless wounds, and one deep wound in his side; this leads to his heart, and it is hither he calls the soul he has espoused. To her he extends his arms, to her he opens wide his sacred hide and divine heart, that she may come and hide therein. By retiring into the clefts of the rock the dove is safe from the pursuit of birds of prey, and, at the same time, she prepares for herself a quiet refuge where she may calmly repose and coo in peace.

So the religious soul finds in the heart of Jesus a secure refuge against the wiles and attacks of Satan, and a delightful retreat. But we must not rest merely at the entrance to the hole in the rock, we must penetrate its depths. At the mouth of the deep hollow, at the mouth of the wound in his side we shall, indeed, find the precious blood which has redeemed us. This blood pleads for us and demands mercy for us. But the religious soul must not stay at the entrance. When she has heard, and understood, the voice of the divine blood, she must hasten to the very source from which it springs, into the very innermost sanctuary of the heart of Jesus. There she will find light, peace, and ineffable consolations.

And be ye like the dove that maketh her nest in the deep hollow of the rock. The dove builds her nest with little pieces of straw she gathers up here and there. And how are we to build an abode in the heart of Jesus? This Divine Saviour, who so mercifully gives us the place wherein we are to make our abode, furnishes us at the same time with the materials with which to construct it. O religious soul, dove beloved of Christ, behold those little pieces of straw which the world tramples under its feet. They are the virtues practised by thy Saviour and thy Spouse, of which he himself has set thee an example: humility, meekness, poverty, penance, patience and mortification. The world despises them as useless pieces of straw; nevertheless, they will be for thee the material wherewith to construct thy dwelling-place, for ever, in the profound hollow of the rock, in the heart of Jesus.

(From St. Anthony of Padua, by Father Leopold de Chérancé, O.S.F.C., rendered into English by Father Marianus, O.S.F.C. with an introduction by Father Anselm, O.S.F.C. (Eighth Edition, London, Burns Oates & Washbourne), 83-86.)

It was in Limoges that another astonishing event occurred in the Church of St. Pierre-du-Queyroix. At about midnight on Holy Thursday, St. Anthony was transported among his friars to sing the liturgy since it was his responsibility.

The year 1226 also saw Anthony establishing a friary in Brive. It was here that Anthony found the necessary peace to restore his strength after the exhausting labours of preaching. He withdrew to some caves just outside the town. Here he dedicated himself to penance and contemplation.

After his death, his memory was kept alive among the inhabitants of Brive, and the caves where he stayed have become a place of pilgrimage

Although having been confiscated by the state during the uncertain times following the French Revolution, the sanctuary of Brive was bought back by the friars in 1874 and re-consecrated in 1895. Since then it has become the national centre of Anthonian devotion in France.

Friday, February 26, 2010

St Anthony and his Sermon to the Fishes

Paolo Veronese 1528, -1588
St Anthony Preaching to the Fish
c. 1580
Oil on canvas, 104 x 150 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

Arnold Böcklin (16 October 1827 – 16 January 1901)
St Anthony Preaching to the Fish 1892
Oil on canvas
152 x 105 cm
Private collection

The Fioretti is a collection of legends about early Franciscans of whom Saint Anthony of Padua was one

According to Fioretti 40:

"St Anthony being at one time at Rimini, where there were a great number of heretics, and wishing to lead them by the light of faith into the way of truth, preached to them for several days, and reasoned with them on the faith of Christ and on the Holy Scriptures. They not only resisted his words, but were hardened and obstinate, refusing to listen to him.

At last St Anthony, inspired by God, went down to the sea-shore, where the river runs into the sea, and having placed himself on a bank between the river and the sea, he began to speak to the fishes as if the Lord had sent him to preach to them, and said: "Listen to the word of God, O ye fishes of the sea and of the river, seeing that the faithless heretics refuse to do so."

No sooner had he spoken these words than suddenly so great a multitude of fishes, both small and great, approached the bank on which he stood, that never before had so many been seen in the sea or the river. All kept their heads out of the water, and seemed to be looking attentively on St Anthony’s face; all were ranged in perfect order and most peacefully, the smaller ones in front near the bank, after them came those a little bigger, and last of all, were the water was deeper, the largest.

When they had placed themselves in this order, St Anthony began to preach to them most solemnly, saying:

"My brothers the fishes, you are bound, as much as is in your power, to return thanks to your Creator, who has given you so noble an element for your dwelling; for you have at your choice both sweet water and salt; you have many places of refuge from the tempest; you have likewise a pure and transparent element for your nourishment. God, your bountiful and kind Creator, when he made you, ordered you to increase and multiply, and gave you his blessing. In the universal deluge, all other creatures perished; you alone did God preserve from all harm. He has given you fins to enable you to go where you will. To you was it granted, according to the commandment of God, to keep the prophet Jonas, and after three days to throw him safe and sound on dry land. You it was who gave the tribute-money to our Saviour Jesus Christ, when, through his poverty, he had not wherewith to pay. By a singular mystery you were the nourishment of the eternal King, Jesus Christ, before and after his resurrection. Because of all these things you are bound to praise and bless the Lord, who has given you blessings so many and so much greater than to other creatures."

At these words the fish began to open their mouths, and bow their heads, endeavouring as much as was in their power to express their reverence and show forth their praise.

St Anthony, seeing the reverence of the fish towards their Creator, rejoiced greatly in spirit, and said with a loud voice: "Blessed be the eternal God; for the fishes of the sea honour him more than men without faith, and animals without reason listen to his word with greater attention than sinful heretics."

And whilst St Anthony was preaching, the number of fishes increased, and none of them left the place that he had chosen. And the people of the city hearing of the miracle, made haste to go and witness it. With them also came the heretics of whom we have spoken above, who, seeing so wonderful and manifest a miracle, were touched in their hearts; and threw themselves at the feet of St Anthony to hear his words.

The saint then began to expound to them the Catholic faith. He preached so eloquently, that all those heretics were converted, and returned to the true faith of Christ; the faithful also were filled with joy, and greatly comforted, being strengthened in the faith.

After this St Anthony sent away the fishes, with the blessing of God; and they all departed, rejoicing as they went, and the people returned to the city. But St Anthony remained at Rimini for several days, preaching and reaping much spiritual fruit in the souls of his hearers."

The Sermon to the Fish was obviously based on the story of St Francis` Sermon to the Birds.

The fish, the Creatures of God, set an example to the human race: obedience to God`s will and participation in His purpose.

Obviously the story is a parable, an allegory.

Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911), the Austrian composer and conductor wrote "Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt" – St. Anthony of Padua's Sermon to the Fish (July/August 1893). It was part of his rendition of some of his songs on 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn' ('The Youth's Magic Horn'), a collection of anonymous German folk poems assembled by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano and published by them, in heavily redacted form, between 1805 and 1808

Mahler characterized the “Fish Sermon” as “my satire on mankind”: the swirling piscine congregation listens and swims away “not an iota wiser, even though the holy one has performed for them!”

In an explanation of the song, Mahler declared this to be a satire on humanity that he believed “only a few people will understand,”

He said:

"In the Fischpredigt … the prevailing mood is one of rather bitter-sweet humour. St. Anthony preaches to the fishes; his words are immediately translated into their thoroughly tipsy-sounding language (in the clarinet), and they all come swimming up to him—a glittering shoal of them: eels and carp, and the pike with their pointed heads. I swear, while I was composing, I really kept imagining that I saw them sticking their stiff immovable necks out from the water, and gazing up at St. Anthony with their stupid faces—I had to laugh out loud! And look at the congregation swimming away as soon as the sermon's over: “Die Predigt hat g’fallen/Sie bleiben wie alle” [“They liked the sermon/But remained unchanged”]. Not one of them is one iota wiser for it, even though the Saint has performed it for them! But only a few people will understand my satire on mankind."

Most hear it as a satire on the way typical congregations listen appreciatively, but then return to their lives as if nothing has happened.

But the song probes deeper than this, as Mahler indicates, for it also satirises St. Anthony himself, who seems quite as content to have a congregation of appreciative, uncomprehending fish as he would have been had real people come to his church. And it satirises the smug complacency with which humanity goes through the motions of communication without anything whatever actually being communicated, beyond the roles themselves, of preacher and preached-to.

The pictorial dimension of this song was undoubtedly reinforced for Mahler by his having an engraving of this scene (apparently the one by Arnold Böcklin) on the wall of his Hamburg studio (La Grange, Mahler 883, n53) Bochlin was a Swiss painter who exerted a great influence on the German-speaking countries through the expression of a heightened Romanticism and poeticism.

It is not without significance that Mahler composed his work at roughly the same time as his Second Symphony and before his conversion to Roman Catholicism.

Here is the song as performed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone with Wolfgang Sawallisch, piano.

The translation of the Germany lyrics are:

St. Anthony arrives for his Sermon
and finds the church empty.
He goes to the rivers
to preach to the fishes;

They flick their tails,
which glisten in the sunshine.

The carp with roe
have all come here,
their mouths wide open,
listening attentively.

No sermon ever
pleased the carp so.

Sharp-mouthed pike
that are always fighting,
have come here, swimming hurriedly
to hear this pious one;

No sermon ever
pleased the pike so.

Also, those fantastic creatures
that are always fasting -
the stockfish, I mean -
they also appeared for the sermon;

No sermon ever
pleased the stockfish so.

Good eels and sturgens,
that banquet so elegantly -
even they took the trouble
to hear the sermon:

No sermon ever
pleased the eels so.

Crabs too, and turtles,
usually such slowpokes,
rise quickly from the bottom,
to hear this voice.

No sermon ever
pleased the crabs so.

Big fish, little fish,
noble fish, common fish,
all lift their heads
like sentient creatures:

At God's behest
they listen to the sermon.

The sermon having ended,
each turns himself around;
the pikes remain thieves,
the eels, great lovers.

The sermon has pleased them,
but they remain the same as before.

The crabs still walk backwards,
the stockfish stay rotund,
the carps still stuff themselves,
the sermon is forgotten!

The sermon has pleased them,
but they remain the same as before.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Exulta, Lusitania felix. O felix Padua, gaude

Simone Martini (b. 1280/85, - 1344)
St Anthony of Padua and St Francis
Fresco, 215 x 185 cm
Cappella di San Martino, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi

Puccio Capanna (active 1338-1348 in Assisi)
c. 1344
Chapterhouse, San Francesco, Assisi

The figures of Sts Louis of Toulouse, Paul, the Virgin Mary, Francis, John, Clare, Peter, and Anthony of Padua are lined up at the feet of a gigantic Christ.

Friedrich Pacher (active 1470-80 in Tyrol)
St Anthony of Padua and St Francis of Assisi
Tempera on pine panel, 54,5 x 93,5 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

El Greco 1541-1614
San Antonio de Padua /Saint Anthony of Padua
Oil on canvas
104 cm x 79 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Bartolomé Pérez (1634–1693)
Guirnalda de flores con San Antonio de Padua / Garland of flowers with St Anthony of Padua
1689 - 1698
Oil on canvas
65 cm x 84 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Giambattista Tiepolo (1696 – March 27, 1770)
San Antonio de Padua con el Niño Jesús /St Anthony of Padua and the Baby Jesus
1767 - 1769
Oil on canvas
225 cm x 176 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

St Anthony is traditionally invoked for the restoration of lost things. In art his attributes are a book, a lily, the Christ-Child held in his arms, and a piglet at his feet.

Events in his life include fish rising out of the water to hear him preach, a mule kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament as the saint carried it past, the discovery of a miser's heart in his treasure chest, the restoration of the leg of a young man who had cut it off in remorse for having kicked his mother.

The popular iconography and stories could be considered by some today rather insipid and/or "too sugary" and/or incredible. Possible "typically medieval".

But the Romanesque Basilica di Sant'Antonio in Padua , built to enshrine St. Anthony's relics, is one of Europe's major pilgrimage sites

Recently from Monday 15th to Saturday 20th February 2010, the mortal remains of St Anthony were on display in the Chapel of the Relics of the Pontifical Basilica of the Saint in Padua for the veneration of the faithful. It is estimated that about 100,000 people came to venerate the relics in the Chapel. See below.

On Wednesday, 10 February 2010 Pope Benedict XVI delivered a talk in General Audience on the Life and Works of St Anthony of Padua. It was part of his series on the early history of the Church in Europe.

St Anthony (c. 1195 – 13 June 1231) was one of the first generation of the Franciscan Mendicant Friars. He was a preacher, theologian and teacher.

After a distance of about 800 years the significance of St Anthony is always worth discussing especially in today`s times. But then he is the epitome of values which are eternal and timeless.

His effect on his own times was significant. His Lenten talks to the Pope and the Curia of his time were noteworthy as were his last Lenten homilies to the people of Padua.

His preaching and theology were overshadowed by Scholasticism.

However immediately after the Second World War on January 16, 1946, Pope Pius XII with the Apostolic Letter Exsulta, Lusitania felix ('Rejoice, happy Portugal') ( AAS 38, 1946, 200-204) declared that St Anthony was a Doctor of the Church with the title "Doctor Evangelicus". With half of Europe in a state of conquest and desolation, unable to feed many of its impoverished populace, and a strong feeling on the part of the victors of the War that the vanquished nations should be impoverished so as never to rise again, the declaration of St Anthony as a Doctor of the Church was perhaps opportune.

Now the Holy Father is again setting the example of St Anthony of Padua and his works as an example for today. He goes beyond the superficial and attempts to add depth to a portrait of a man who by his thought, works and deeds electrified large parts of Europe in the thirteenth century. He said:

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Two weeks ago I presented St Francis of Assisi. This morning I would like to speak of another saint who belonged to the first generation of the Friars Minor: Anthony of Padua, or of Lisbon, as he is also called with reference to his native town. He is one of the most popular Saints in the whole Catholic Church, venerated not only in Padua, where a splendid Basilica has been built that contains his mortal remains, but also throughout the world.

Dear to the faithful are the images and statues that portray him with the lily a symbol of his purity or with the Child Jesus in his arms, in memory of a miraculous apparition mentioned in several literary sources.

With his outstanding gifts of intelligence, balance, apostolic zeal and, primarily, mystic fervour, Anthony contributed significantly to the development of Franciscan spirituality.

He was born into a noble family in Lisbon in about 1195 and was baptized with the name of Fernando. He entered the Canons who followed the monastic Rule of St Augustine, first at St Vincent's Monastery in Lisbon and later at that of the Holy Cross in Coimbra, a renowned cultural centre in Portugal. He dedicated himself with interest and solicitude to the study of the Bible and of the Church Fathers, acquiring the theological knowledge that was to bear fruit in his teaching and preaching activities.

The event that represented a decisive turning point on his life happened in Coimbra. It was there, in 1220, that the relics were exposed of the first five Franciscan missionaries who had gone to Morocco, where they had met with martyrdom. Their story inspired in young Fernando the desire to imitate them and to advance on the path of Christian perfection. Thus he asked to leave the Augustinian Canons to become a Friar Minor. His request was granted and, having taken the name of Anthony, he too set out for Morocco, but divine Providence disposed otherwise.

After an illness he was obliged to return to Italy and, in 1221, participated in the famous "Chapter of the Mats" in Assisi, where he also met St Francis. He then lived for a period in complete concealment in a convent at Forlì in northern Italy, where the Lord called him to another mission. Invited, in somewhat casual circumstances, to preach on the occasion of a priestly ordination, he showed himself to be endowed with such knowledge and eloquence that the Superiors assigned him to preaching.

Thus he embarked on apostolic work in Italy and France that was so intense and effective that it induced many people who had left the Church to retrace their footsteps. Anthony was also one of the first if not the first theology teachers of the Friars Minor.

He began his teaching in Bologna with the blessing of St Francis who, recognizing Anthony's virtues, sent him a short letter that began with these words: "I would like you to teach the brethren theology". Anthony laid the foundations of Franciscan theology which, cultivated by other outstanding thinkers, was to reach its apex with St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio and Bl. Duns Scotus.

Having become Provincial Superior of the Friars Minor in northern Italy, he continued his ministry of preaching, alternating it with his office of governance. When his term as Provincial came to an end, he withdrew to a place near Padua where he had stayed on various other occasions. Barely a year later, he died at the city gates on 13 June 1231. Padua, which had welcomed him with affection and veneration in his lifetime, has always accorded him honour and devotion. Pope Gregory IX himself, having heard him preach, described him as the "Ark of the Testament" and subsequent to miracles brought about through his intercession canonized him in 1232, only a year after his death.

In the last period of his life, Anthony put in writing two cycles of "Sermons", entitled respectively "Sunday Sermons" and "Sermons on the Saints" destined for the Franciscan Order's preachers and teachers of theological studies. In these Sermons he commented on the texts of Scripture presented by the Liturgy, using the patristic and medieval interpretation of the four senses: the literal or historical, the allegorical or Christological, the tropological or moral, and the anagogical, which orients a person to eternal life. Today it has been rediscovered that these senses are dimensions of the one meaning of Sacred Scripture and that it is right to interpret Sacred Scripture by seeking the four dimensions of its words. St Anthony's Sermons are theological and homiletical texts that echo the live preaching in which Anthony proposes a true and proper itinerary of Christian life.

The richness of spiritual teaching contained in the "Sermons" was so great that in 1946 Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaimed Anthony a Doctor of the Church, attributing to him the title "Doctor Evangelicus", since the freshness and beauty of the Gospel emerge from these writings. We can still read them today with great spiritual profit.

In these Sermons St Anthony speaks of prayer as of a loving relationship that impels man to speak gently with the Lord, creating an ineffable joy that sweetly enfolds the soul in prayer. Anthony reminds us that prayer requires an atmosphere of silence, which does not mean distance from external noise but rather is an interior experience that aims to remove the distractions caused by a soul's anxieties, thereby creating silence in the soul itself.

According to this prominent Franciscan Doctor's teaching, prayer is structured in four indispensable attitudes which in Anthony's Latin are defined as obsecratio, oratio, postulatio, gratiarum actio. We might translate them in the following manner. The first step in prayer is confidently opening one's heart to God; this is not merely accepting a word but opening one's heart to God's presence. Next, is speaking with him affectionately, seeing him present with oneself; then a very natural thing presenting our needs to him; and lastly, praising and thanking him.

In St Anthony's teaching on prayer we perceive one of the specific traits of the Franciscan theology that he founded: namely the role assigned to divine love which enters into the sphere of the affections, of the will and of the heart, and which is also the source from which flows a spiritual knowledge that surpasses all other knowledge. In fact, it is in loving that we come to know.

Anthony writes further: "Charity is the soul of faith, it gives it life; without love, faith dies" (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi II, Messagero, Padua 1979, p. 37).

It is only the prayerful soul that can progress in spiritual life: this is the privileged object of St Anthony's preaching. He is thoroughly familiar with the shortcomings of human nature, with our tendency to lapse into sin, which is why he continuously urges us to fight the inclination to avidity, pride and impurity; instead of practising the virtues of poverty and generosity, of humility and obedience, of chastity and of purity.

At the beginning of the 13th century, in the context of the rebirth of the city and the flourishing of trade, the number of people who were insensitive to the needs of the poor increased.

This is why on various occasions Anthony invites the faithful to think of the true riches, those of the heart, which make people good and merciful and permit them to lay up treasure in Heaven. "O rich people", he urged them, "befriend... the poor, welcome them into your homes: it will subsequently be they who receive you in the eternal tabernacles in which is the beauty of peace, the confidence of security and the opulent tranquillity of eternal satiety" (ibid., p. 29).

Is not this, dear friends, perhaps a very important teaching today too, when the financial crisis and serious economic inequalities impoverish many people and create conditions of poverty? In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate I recall: "The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred" (n. 45).

Anthony, in the school of Francis, always put Christ at the centre of his life and thinking, of his action and of his preaching. This is another characteristic feature of Franciscan theology: Christocentrism. Franciscan theology willingly contemplates and invites others to contemplate the mysteries of the Lord's humanity, the man Jesus, and in a special way the mystery of the Nativity: God who made himself a Child and gave himself into our hands, a mystery that gives rise to sentiments of love and gratitude for divine goodness.

Not only the Nativity, a central point of Christ's love for humanity, but also the vision of the Crucified One inspired in Anthony thoughts of gratitude to God and esteem for the dignity of the human person, so that all believers and non-believers might find in the Crucified One and in his image a life-enriching meaning.

St Anthony writes: "Christ who is your life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the Cross as in a mirror. There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal. If you look closely, you will be able to realize how great your human dignity and your value are.... Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the Cross can man better understand how much he is worth" (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, pp. 213-214).

In meditating on these words we are better able to understand the importance of the image of the Crucified One for our culture, for our humanity that is born from the Christian faith. Precisely by looking at the Crucified One we see, as St Anthony says, how great are the dignity and worth of the human being. At no other point can we understand how much the human person is worth, precisely because God makes us so important, considers us so important that, in his opinion, we are worthy of his suffering; thus all human dignity appears in the mirror of the Crucified One and our gazing upon him is ever a source of acknowledgement of human dignity.

Dear friends, may Anthony of Padua, so widely venerated by the faithful, intercede for the whole Church and especially for those who are dedicated to preaching; let us pray the Lord that he will help us learn a little of this art from St Anthony.

May preachers, drawing inspiration from his example, be effective in their communication by taking pains to combine solid and sound doctrine with sincere and fervent devotion. In this Year for Priests, let us pray that priests and deacons will carry out with concern this ministry of the proclamation of the word of God, making it timely for the faithful, especially through liturgical homilies.

May they effectively present the eternal beauty of Christ, just as Anthony recommended: "If you preach Jesus, he will melt hardened hearts; if you invoke him he will soften harsh temptations; if you think of him he will enlighten your mind; if you read of him he will satisfy your intellect" (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, p. 59). "

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Papacy in the Thirteenth Century

Giotto di Bondone (1267 – January 8, 1337)
Stigmatization of St Francis (detail) with Dream of Innocent III and the Confirmation of the Rule of St Francis
Tempera on wood
Musée du Louvre, Paris
These two little panels representing the Dream of Pope Innocent III and Confirmation of the Rule of the Order form the predella of the altarpiece, which shows the stigmatisation of St. Francis. The left-hand panel depicts the dream of Innocent III: Francis appears to the pope as the most important pillar of the Lateran basilica, which is on the point of collapse.

Fra Angelico (1395 – February 18, 1455)
Dream of Innocent III: Detail of the predella of the Coronation of the Virgin
about 1434
Tempera on panel
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Master Conxolus (Subiaco, 13th century)
Large "parchment" with the Latin text of the bull by which Pope Innocent III (d.1216) donated revenues to the monastery at Subiaco in 1203. The parchment is held up by St. Benedict and Abbot Romanus (d.1216) on the left and Pope Innocent III on the right
San Benedetto Abbey, Subiaco

Parchment, 538/533 x 416/410 mm, pleat: 40 mm, with a gold seal
ASV, A. A., Arm. I-XVIII, 22
Diploma by Otto IV to Pope Innocent III, where the sovereign makes commitments regarding the elections of prelates, the freedom to appeal to the Apostolic See, the battle against heresies and the Holy See’s free possession of the territories occupied by his predecessors.
In the convent near Spira, the Emperor Otto IV of Wittelsbach, (1209-1218), in his own handwriting confirmed to Innocent III (1198-1216) the donations granted by his predecessors to the Holy See

Tomb of Blessed Pope Gregory X, at the Cattedrale di San Donato, Arezzo

Tomb of Saint Pope Celestine V in the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L'Aquila (before the earthquake)

"The thirteenth century holds a significant place in the history of papal monarchy.

This period saw the papacy reach the peak of the effectiveness towards which it had been moving throughout the twelfth century. However, it also saw the beginnings of the decline of that effectiveness, which was to gather momentum in the later Middle Ages.

The papacy was a unique sort of monarchy in that it claimed jurisdiction in both spiritual and temporal affairs. It claimed primacy of jurisdiction as `monarch of all Churches’, headship of the ecclesiastical world. It did not claim a comparable jurisdiction over the secular world because it did not doubt that a division of spiritual and temporal powers had been decreed by God himself.

But it did claim a right to judge lay rulers and, at its own assessment of need, otherwise to intervene authoritatively in the temporal order.

In addition to these two types of jurisdiction, spiritual and temporal, it laid claim to a third: over a state of its own. By virtue of the Patrimony of St Peter, it possessed in its own right territorial jurisdiction over a central Italian state, wherein the pope ruled like any other European monarch.

During the thirteenth century, each of these three types of papal jurisdiction underwent important change.

In the opening decades of the century, especially in the pontificates of Innocent III (1198–1216), Honorius III (1216–27) and Gregory IX (1227–41), the papacy either initiated, or very quickly associated itself with, the new religious and intellectual movements of the age. Papal government extended its range and improved its quality to an extent unprecedented in earlier papal history. In the political sphere, similarly, it was involved more deeply and widely than previously. It sought to expand and effectively to control the Papal State with a vigour which was new.

Increasingly enmeshed in local Italian affairs, however, the papacy appeared by the end of the century to have lost much of its capacity for creating and encouraging innovative forces.

Its political claims were spectacularly rebuffed by kings strong in the support of their Church and nation. As to the success of its policies in the Papal State and Italy, the withdrawal to Avignon in the fourteenth century is commentary enough.

How popes understood the nature of papal authority, how they exercised it and how it was challenged, particularly in the political sphere, must form the main theme of this chapter.

But the papacy was an elective monarchy in this period. The electoral college, the College of Cardinals, was also the papal equivalent of the councils of contemporary kings, the body of ministers and senior officials concerned with the day-to-day conduct of government. The corporate body of pope and cardinals formed the Roman Church; there were oligarchic tendencies in the working of the papal monarchy.

Problems arise in presenting in outline form a theme of such variety and complexity over so long a period. This chapter has as its organising principle a characteristic feature of thirteenth-century papal government: the use of general councils as a major instrument of policy. There were three of them: Lateran IV (1215); Lyons I (1245); Lyons II (1274).

In these assemblies of the bishops of the universal Church, reinforced by other clerical estates and by representatives of lay powers, the papacy confronted crisis, articulated and publicised what it expected of clergy and laity and sought to win minds and hearts to the support of its policies. To assess the nature and implementation of the programmes initiated at these assemblies is to delineate much of the fortune and misfortune of the papal monarchy in our period.

Between the accession of Innocent III in January 1198 and the death of Boniface VIII in October 1303, eighteen popes ruled the Church. Thirteen were Italian, four were French and one was Portuguese. This mixture of nationalities itself indicates that a variety of routes led to the papacy in this period.

Rise to the headship of the Church could be meteoric: after the death of his wife, Gui Foulques (Clement IV) was priest, bishop, archbishop, cardinal and pope all within a decade (1255–65). It could be even more unexpected: Tedaldo Visconti (Gregory X), archdeacon of Liège, though not a priest, was serving with the crusaders in the Holy Land when elected in 1271. It could be more unpredictable still: Pietro Morrone, a hermit-monk with a reputation for miraculous healing, was well advanced into his eighties when brought down from his cave in the Abruzzi mountains and installed as Celestine V in 1294.

The electoral system, then, could spring surprises. For the most part, however, it ran true to form.

It was service in the Sacred College (as the College of Cardinals came to be called in this period) that counted for most in the choice of popes in this century. The cardinals formed what, from the eleventh century, had been commonly described as the Senate of the Roman Church.

Its role as senate was to counsel and assist the pope in running the affairs of the universal Church. It was aided by this Senate that the popes ordinarily exercised their legislative, judicial and administrative authority. As the Roman senators had been described as part of the body of the emperor, so it became commonplace to describe the College as a member of the pope’s body, sharing his universal pastoral charge, participating in the exercise of the plenitude of his governmental power.

The thirteenth-century cardinals were full-time curial officials. The College was always a relatively small body (some 130 promotions only in the century as a whole; 77 in the period 1198–1268). The cardinals were worked hard in a wide variety of roles. Corporately, they acted with the pope for the despatch of business in consistory.

Individually, they might hold the top ministerial posts, treasurer, penitentiary, vice-chancellor; be commissioned as legates to carry the apostolic authority all over Christendom; be appointed ad hoc to hear legal cases, serve on committees of investigation (of candidates for canonisation, for example), govern provinces of the Papal State, act as protectors of religious orders. They were true sharers in the burden of the papal office (to echo another contemporary description of their role). Convention and common sense dictated that the cardinal-electors should look first for popes from their own ranks, from those with most experience of papal government.

In fact, only three of the eighteen popes of this century had not been cardinals (Urban IV as well as Gregory X and Celestine V). The remaining fifteen had between them amassed an impressive tally of service in the papal curia as cardinals. Nicholas III had been one for thirty-three years, Gregory IX for twenty-nine, Adrian V for twenty-five, Honorius IV for twenty-four, Honorius III for twenty-three, Martin IV for twenty. Five more had between ten and sixteen years. Only four had less than ten years (Innocent III, Clement IV, Innocent V, John XXI). Such figures would lead us to expect an essential continuity of papal policies in this century.

While lengthy membership of the College was the strongest predisposing factor in the making of popes in this period, it was not the only factor at work.

There was a distinct dynastic element in the composition of the College of Cardinals. There was nepotism, if not on any grand scale.

Twelve of the eighteen popes were to create cardinals; eight of them appointed one or two relatives. Innocent III appointed three, as did Boniface VIII. Several of these family creations were to become popes. Innocent III created cardinal the future Gregory IX who promoted the future Alexander IV; all Conti relatives. Innocent IV of the Genoese Fieschi made his brother’s son a cardinal and he was to become Hadrian V. Each of those made cardinal by a relative and subsequently elected pope had proved himself worthy of the office in long curial service.

The prominence in the Sacred College throughout the century of families of the city and Papal State – Conti, Savelli, Orsini, Capocci, Annibaldi, Caetani – was not due simply to popes promoting their own relatives. Among the cardinals created by the French pope Urban IV was an Orsini, a Savelli and an Annibaldi. It was recognised that such families could be of powerful assistance in the papacy’s endemic local problems: the achievement and maintenance of papal security in Rome, the establishment of the authority of the central government in the Papal State.

That there were dangers in these local associations is evident enough. Popes could be tempted to a dynastic policy, subjecting the general good to family aggrandisement. Such, most conspicuously, was the charge against the Orsini, Nicholas III, given its classical form in Dante’s Inferno XIX. More insidious still was the danger of family rivalries springing from purely local and dynastic considerations, escalating into the heart of papal government. Such rivalries would explain electoral delays and no doubt influenced many papal decisions about Italian affairs. The most overt and damaging example of such escalationof family feuding into the papacy itself can be seen, at the end of the century, when Caetani–Colonna quarrels led to the expulsion of the two Colonna cardinals from the Sacred College and their becoming Boniface VIII’s dedicated and ruthless enemies, challenging the legality of his election and even, through a Colonna relative, seriously threatening to take his life.

Nevertheless, despite the importance of family influences within the Sacred College, it can be said with some confidence that no pope in this period was elected as the pawn of any self-interest group or individual. For better or for worse, though the cardinals were rarely totally free from external pressures, occasionally of a severe kind, the real choices were made by the College as a whole and reflect quite closely the composition of the College itself. With the major exception of Celestine V, who abdicated five months after election, they chose men whose quality of life and competence in papal affairs had been well attested in practical experience.

This is not to say that the College, in its capacity as elector of popes, always did its work well. More often than it should have been, it was dilatory in choosing a new pope. There were perhaps extenuating circumstances for the delay of twenty months in finding a successor to Celestine IV (d. 1241), because Frederick II was holding two cardinals captive. There were none, however, for the longest vacancy in papal history – nearly three years between the death of Clement IV in 1268 and the election of Gregory X in 1271. Nor for the vacancy of over two years before finding a successor to Nicholas IV (1292–4). On two other occasions, on the deaths of John XXI (1277) and of Nicholas III (1280), the vacancies lasted six months. These delays, particularly that of 1268–71, led to widespread criticism of the cardinals and a demand for electoral reform which, when introduced in 1274, the cardinals vigorously opposed, thwarting its immediate implementation.

There is one other factor to be considered when examining the making of popes in the thirteenth century: the importance of the accidental. An unusually high proportion of the pontificates of this period were extremely short. Celestine IV died in 1241 before his enthronement, as did Hadrian V in 1276 (even before there was a chance to ordain him priest). Indeed, in the year 1276, no less than four popes held office. Six more popes had reigns of less than four years and a seventh barely achieved a four-year pontificate. Only four pontificates stretched to ten years or more; and all of these fell in the first half of the century."

J.A. Watt The Papacy (Chapter 5) in The New Cambridge Medieval History Volume V (2008)