jueves, 13 de agosto de 2015

When the municipality was the seat of a bishop ...


by Peter J. Leithart

Augustine Thompson (Cities of God)* strongly disputes the notion that Italian urban communes of the late medieval period were “secular” organizations. They were religious, so much so that the city was defined and named as the seat of the bishop:

“The city: the church. The church: the bishopric. When the north and central Italian cities shook off imperial control and established their unique form of government, the commune, the word they used for city (civitas—citade) said that the municipality was the seat of a bishop. To have a bishop was to be complete as a church, complete as a city. . . . Strictly speaking, the episcopatus, the seat of the bishop, was his cathedral. Therein and -about unfolded the splendid public ceremonies and rites beloved of the poets. Great episcopal liturgies made it the Ecclesia Matrix, the Mother Church, of the diocese. . . At Bergamo in 1187, during an inquest to identify the city’s true Ecclesia Matrix, Canon Oberto of Mapello from San Vincenzo explained that in his church ‘the bishop is chosen, there the holy chrism is made, there ordinations take place, there the scrutinies are performed, and there public penances are given.' His friend the sacristan, Don Lanfranco of Monasterolo, added that San Vincenzo was also the place for baptisms and, more ominously, for excommunications. Baptism made lay Christians, ordination made the clergy. Both orders of people, clergy and laity, were born at the Mother Church, the womb of their city. Over these rites presided the bishop, the pastor of the city church” (16).

The city-bishop's authority didn't end at the city walls but “extended into thecontado, the countryside. The city fathers of Parma used the words episcopatus(bishopric) and civitas (city) as synonyms in their podesta’s oath and in laws and statutes.”


* Amazon review:

We know much about the Italian city states—the “communes”—of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. But historians have focused on their political accomplishments to the exclusion of their religious life, going so far as to call them “purely secular contrivances.” When religion is considered, the subjects are usually saints, heretics, theologians, and religious leaders, thereby ignoring the vast majority of those who lived in the communes. In Cities of God, Augustine Thompson gives a voice to the forgotten majority—orthodox lay people and those who ministered to them. Thompson positions the Italian republics in sacred space and time. He maps their religious geography as it was expressed through political and voluntary associations, ecclesiastical and civil structures, common ritual life, lay saints, and miracle-working shrines. He takes the reader through the rituals and celebrations of the communal year, the people’s corporate and private experience of God, and the “liturgy” of death and remembrance. In the process he challenges a host of stereotypes about “orthodox” medieval religion, the Italian city-states, and the role of new religious movements in the world of Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, and Dante. Cities of God is bold, revisionist history in the tradition of Eamon Duffy’s Stripping of the Altars. Drawing on a wide repertoire of ecclesiastical and secular sources, from city statutes and chronicles to saints’ lives and architecture, Thompson recaptures the religious origins and texture of the Italian republics and allows their inhabitants a spiritual voice that we have never heard before.

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