Ideals of the Institutional Church in Dante and Bernard of Clairvaux

by Steven Botterill
Ideals of the Institutional Church in Dante and Bernard of Clairvaux
Steven Botterill
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Ideals of the Institutional Church in Dante and Bernard of Clairvaux

ome time in the year 1375, Benvenuto Rambaldi da Imola, professor of grammar at Bologna and friend and correspondent of the recently deceased Francesco Petrarca, gave a course of public lectures on the not yet divine -Comedy of Dante Alighieri.1 In the audience -and probably paying closer attention than most -was an unknown listener whose written notes on the lectures, though mistaken by their first modern editors for a late fifteenth-century text by the man who was in fact the copyist of their unique manuscript, Stefano Talice da Ricaldone, are now recognized as preserving Benvenuto's lecturae Dantis in some- thing very close to their original, spoken, form -a form notably dif- ferent from the orotund, elaborate, blatantly professorial edition that Benvenuto himself published in about 1380.2 Indeed, the so-called "Talice" version of Benvenuto's commentary includes many glosses, opinions, and factual and interpretative asides that the later version suppresses; and among these is the comment which serves as starting- point for this study of the ecclesiological ideal shared by two authors who, though widely separated in time, space, and culture, can none the less be seen as having an intellectual and spiritual affinity that tran- scends mere historical distance: Dante and St Bernard of Clairva~x.~

At lines 1005 of Paradiso XXXII, the character who bears Dante's name turns to his newly, and surprisingly, arrived companion, who bears the name of St Bernard, with a deceptively straightforward doc- trinal inquiry. Who, he asks, is the angel whom he sees before him, paying such spectacular homage to the Virgin Mary? Bernard replies, periphrastically, that it is none other than the angel Gabriel; and Benve- nuto, as recorded by his anonymous admirer, comments thus: "Nunc autor petit Bernardum. Et non mireris si Dantes facit ei tantum hono- rem, quia fuit excellentissimus doctor; sed nunquam fuit canonizatus, quia dixit multa mala de pastoribus Ecclesie. Sed merita sua canoniza- verunt ipsum per totum orbem."4

For once, of course -and this is rare -Benvenuto got it wrong. Bernard of Clairvaux had indeed been canonized long since, by Pope Alexander IIIin 1174, barely two decades after his death;5 and the later what we might call the official -version of Benvenuto's commentary quietly drops this piece of misinformation and, as if to compensate, refers to Bernard more than once as "beatus."6 Such are the benefits of scholarly research. But the "Talice" version of 1375 remains pertinent to

~TALICAVolume 78 Number 3 (2001)

the present argument because, uniquely among the many complete and partial commentaries on the Comrnedia written in the century that fol- lowed Dante's death, it attempts, however sketchily, to account for Bernard of Clairvaux's presence in Paradiso on the basis of his historical renown as a critic of the institutional church and an advocate of eccle- siastical reform.7 The passage just quoted goes on, in fact, to illustrate Bernard's stature in this role, by recounting a lengthy tale of a reproof he allegedly addressed to an erstwhile disciple of his, the Cistercian monk who became Pope Eugenius 111.8 Although this episode seems to belong more to hagiographical tradition than to sober fact -it is not confirmed by anything in the De consideratione, Bernard's manual on the privileges and perils of being Pope, or in any of his several surviving letters to Eugenius -the "Talice" commentary thus inaugurates a critical tradi- tion, which survives more or less intact into our own day, of seeing the historical Bernard's reputation and writings in this field as somehow influential, not only on Dante's conception of Bernard, but also on his thinking about the church, seen both as an ideal to be cherished and as a reality to be deplored. The intention of this article is to consider the ways in which Bernard and Dante, writing in fundamentally different contexts a century and a half apart, approach the question of the Christian church as a human institution; and to wonder aloud, as it were, whether the notion of a direct line of influence on this topic, run- ning from the twelfth century to the fourteenth, from Cistercian abbot to Florentine poet, can reasonably be entertained.g

Neither Bernard nor Dante wrote any work wholly and specifically dedicated to the question of the church as an institution; nor were such formal treatises in ecclesiology at all common in the later Middle Ages. The controversy surrounding the question of relations between the spir- itual and temporal powers had, of course, by the early fourteenth cen- tury, produced a body of polemical literature from both sides, and this was growing exponentially in Dante's lifetime, especially as a result of the clash between Boniface VIII and Philippe IV le Bel, king of France.lo But texts of this kind rarely, if ever, devote much space to considering how the church itself ought to conduct its own affairs or arrange its own, internal, structures and behavior. It cannot have been easy, indeed, for the hornrne rnoyen intellectuel of the later Middle Ages, living and think- ing in a society in which the institutional church's presence was so mas- sive and so blatant, to step back from the immediate reality of that pres- ence and attempt to examine it as a socio-cultural phenomenon, with the detachment and theoretical rigor that such a process would require. Perhaps for this reason, rather than developing a sustained and con- sistent body of theoretical writing about the institutional church, com- parable to that which the rediscovery of Aristotle's Politics in the mid- twelfth century had inspired among thinkers about the theoretical basis of the secular state, ecclesiological writers -Bernard and the Dante of the Commedia among them -usually begin from the ontological plane, registering their appalled reactions to the conuption evident in the life of the church around them, and go on to contrast this sorry state of affairs with an ideal vision of what the church should be -a vision rooted pri- marily in Scripture.11 This ideal, allowing for inevitable but slight vari- ations in detail, is common to the vast majority of late medieval eccle- siastical reformers; and it constitutes the standard against which both Bernard and Dante measure the church as they know it, finding it not just rebuked, but condemned, by the comparison.

The essential features of this ideal vision are easily outlined. It is based on the principles underlying several well-known Biblical texts: the com- mission entrusted by Christ to Peter ("Tu es Petrus .. . [You are Peter. ..I," Matthew 16.18), which guaranteed the latter's pre-eminence among the apostles and his successors' authority over the universal church; the exercise of that church's power in matters both temporal and spiritual, ordained by Christ's promise to Peter (Matthew 16.19) that he would have power to bind and loose on earth and in heaven -a power that descended with the Petrine authority to Peter's successors; and the church-life of the primitive Christian community as recorded chiefly in the Acts of the Apostles, a communal life based on poverty, prayer, and mutual effort and sacrifice for the common good. Added to this were the ethical prescriptions of St Paul, in his letters to various early churches, which reinforced and expanded upon many of the points made in the Gospels and in Acts.

It was thus possible to obtain from the Bible a picture of the ideal church that was at once very different from contemporary reality (for both Bernard and Dante), and explicitly sanctioned by the supreme authority of Christ, its founder. For if Christ gave the church power, through his commission to Peter, he also gave it responsibility the responsibility to live according to his commandments and to incarnate his ideal. To many medieval reformers it seemed that the church of their own day had abdicated a duty that the early church, persecuted and suffering as it was, had more than amply fulfilled. To remedy the situation it might not be necessary to recreate the church-life of the Apostles in every detail -though the Spiritual Franciscans and other extremists were to hold precisely this view -but it was necessary con- stantly to hold the apostolic example in mind, and severely to condemn actions, tendencies, or individuals that seemed to betray its memory or its spirit. For the Dante of Inferno XIX. 115-17 (and elsewhere), as for the Bernard of De consideratione IV. 6,12 the single action that had done most to damage the church's adherence to apostolic tradition was the noto- rious Donation of Constantine; and the individual clerics most worthy of reproof were those popes -Boniface VIII and Eugenius I11 among them -who accepted the Donation's consequences with a saintly resig- nation that looked suspiciously like enthusiasm.

The sources of the reformists' ideal of the church are not only to be found in the Bible. Ecclesiological writers did, of course, extract princi- ples by which the church's life on earth should be governed both from the New Testament and, through the familiar process of typological exe- gesis, from the Old; but patristic and other post-Biblical traditions were also called upon. One significant element harking back to such sources is a strong sense of the church's supernatural function, a sense that it is an institution not wholly or even essentially of this world, and not merely an electoral roll of those living, at any given moment, who accept the tenets of the Christian faith. Rather, the church is a body of all the faith- ful, living, dead, and unborn, who are all yet alive and united, on the supernatural level, in the mystical body of Christ. Thus the church's nature and actions in this world must inevitably be conditioned -at least in the ideal vision of the reformers -by its status as an institu- tion existing simultaneously within and beyond time and space, in the eternal presence of its creator and founder as well as in the temporal world that God created and sent his Son to redeem.

The main inspiration for this idea was found in St Augustine's De civitate Dei, where, among a mass of material on the true Christian life and the superiority of Christianity's claims over those of paganism, emerges the central notion that the life of this world (and therefore that of the church in this world) is, in part at least, a civitas tmena, an earthly city that is to be distinguished, on the eschatological plane, from the civitas Dei or city of God, the supernatural existence for which it is, in some exiguous sense and for those whose citizenship thereof is already affirmed in this life, a preparation.13 Augustine's enormous influence on many later traditions within the overall development of Christian thinking ensured that this conception of the church would be widely diffused. On this view, simply put, the church in this world, being nec- essarily of this world and inseparable from it, and thus partaking to some extent of its earthbound sinfulness, is not identifiable with the church in its ultimate reality. It cannot be fully understood -or reformed -without the recognition that it has a spiritual as well as a physical existence. There are particular buildings to each of which is given the name "church; there is a group of people living on any par- ticular day, some doing good and some failing to do so, who form, for the time being, an institution called "the church"; and then there is the true Church, the body of Christ Himself, which subsumes and tran- scends all human and physical categories and phenomena in the Church Itself, divinely instituted, eternally durable, and spiritually perfect with the perfection of its founder. The existence and importance of this supernatural dimension, which at once accounts for the earthly church's failings and justifies the righteous wrath that they provoke in the reformer, is another facet of the ecclesiological ideal to which both Bernard and Dante -steeped as both were, though with very different

intellectual consequences, in patristic and Augustinian traditions -are eager to subscribe.

Finally, and in stark contrast, the tradition established in the early centuries of Christianity's development had produced an ideal for the church's workings in the world, an ideal that enabled it to achieve some kind of accommodation with the civitas terrena and, especially, to amve at a viable modus operandi in its relationships with secular powers. This ideal had been dealt a severe blow, according to a current of thought that both Bernard and Dante recognize, by the compromise of its fundamen- tal principle enacted in the Donation of Constantine; but the ideal sur- vived, in a variety of forms, to influence many late medieval thinkers. Its fundamental principle is that of the separation of the church from the secular power (originally, of course, the Roman Empire), a principle commonly associated, on the basis of a celebrated passage in one of his letters, with the name of the fifth-century Pope Gelasius 1.14 Recognition that church and secular authority each had their own distinct sphere of competence was still general in Dante's time (except among the most extreme factionalists on either side), but the definition of those spheres, and the attempt to place them in a settled, hierarchical relationship, so that one might exert undisputed authority over the other in the event of a clash of interests or a disputed jurisdiction, had led to many decades' worth of bitter controversy. The attempt to maintain, and even improve upon, the Gelasian scheme had not been abandoned by the early four- teenth century (as Dante's own treatise Monarchia makes plain); but it was gradually being relegated to a largely historical importance as new factors came into play, chief among them the appearance of a group of independent and mutually antagonistic nation-states that were replac- ing the remnants of the unitary Empire basic to the Gelasian structure.

All these elements, then, enter into Bernard's thinking on the institu- tional church, as they do into Dante's; but there is one more point, especially dear to the abbot of Clairvaux, that may perhaps help to define with more precision both the substantial affinity of thought between the two writers and the ways in which, in the end, they can be seen to differ. This is that the church is, ultimately, less important as an earthly institution than as a supernatural body of all believers, and that, therefore, its redemption on earth can best be brought about, not by tinkering with its organizational structures or by better defining its spheres of temporal influence, but through a spiritual process of repen- tance and reform within the soul of every human individual who belongs to it. Bernard's ideal -and here he diverges from Augustine is one of the church as, in this life, a body of saints.15 His interest in orga- nizational matters and administrative reform, though clear enough from the De consideratione and from many of his letters, is always subordi- nated to his demand for an inner re-formation of the individual Christian, which will become the vehicle for the renewal of the church as a whole. Bernard's most extended treatment of this theme is, perhaps surprisingly, found in his Sermons on the Song of Songs rather than in De consideratione or in the analogous discussion of monastic corruption in his Apologia ad Guillelmum; but the meditative intent of the sermons' reflections on a richly allegorical text turns out, in fact, to be better suited to the discussion of this issue than the eminently practical, bluntly didactic, tone of the treatises.

Bernard's forty-sixth sermon In Cantica Canticorum deals with verses sixteen and seventeen of chapter one: ". . . lectulus noster floridus, tigna domorum nostrarum cedrina, laquearia nostra cypressina."16 He explains that the words are those of the bride, singing her wedding-song and inviting her bridegroom to lie down with her, so that she may say, with Peter, "Domine, bonum est nos hic esse" ("Lord, it is good for us to be here"; Matthew 17.4).Bernard goes on to inquire "quid spiritualiter ista contineant."l7 He identifies the "bed" as the church -and, especially, the cloister -rendered "green" by the vitally inspiring lives and writ- ings of the Fathers. The "house" is the community of Christian people, supported by its "beams," the laws of God, which prop up the struc- ture "ne sua quique lege vel voluntate viventes, tamquam parietes incli- nati et maceriae depulsae dissideant a semetipsis, et sic omnis structura aedificii corruens dissipetur."lg The "rafters," set as an ornament to the building, he takes to be "bene instituti cleri mansuetos et disciplinatos mores riteque administrata officia." 19 Bernard's chief concern through- out, in fact, is with the standard of the clergy who are to minister to the communal edifice: "Oportet ergo virum, qui ad ornamentum et decorem assurnitur domus, bonis ornatum moribus esse et, quamvis semper ipse sit intus, bonum tamen testimonium habere et ab his qui foris s~nt."~O

The sermon as a whole reveals both the typical ingenuity and ele- gance of Bernard's homiletic method and his abiding interest in the spiritual state of the individuals who comprise the church in this world. "Sancta mater ecclesia" is conceived throughout as a community of people, individual human beings with human gifts and human respon- sibilities. The church as edifice is a vital metaphor in Bernard's sermon, but it is the people of the church that are the church's reality. Bernard constantly stresses, in fact, the need for fruitful inter-relation among the various groups (lay, clerical, monastic) that make up the church in this world, as an essential pre-condition of its institutional well-being; and he bases these relationships firmly on the spiritual vitality of the individuals of whom those groups are composed. For him, ecclesiastical institutions are validated not only, or even primarily, by authorities external or internal, but by their members' visible commitment to the ecclesiastical ideal, as manifested in the holiness of their lives. There can be no good church where there are no good Christians; and Bernard's prescriptions for the reform of the church as an institution are founded squarely on the necessity of spiritual regeneration among individual Christian believers.

For this reason, most of Bernard's writings that touch on ecclesiastical reform as a practical rather than a theoretical matter are cast in the form of spiritual direction for those most closely involved in the church's life: the Apologia ad Guillelmum, addressed as much to his own monks of Clairvaux as to the Benedictines of Cluny who are its ostensible target; the sermon De conversione [On Conversion], preached before the clergy of Paris; the treatise De moribus et officio episcoporum [On the Behavior and Duties of Bishops], whose title exemplifies Bernard's characteristic approach to church reform through the reform of individuals; and, above all, De consideratione, in which Bernard shows himself willing nay, all too grimly determined -to extend this approach even to the Pope himself. This is not an ecclesiology of the study, of constitutional abstrac- tions or theoretical hypotheses, but the work of a man who knew the condition of his own church intimately -not for nothing had Bernard traveled throughout western Europe, preaching and founding daughter- houses of Clairvaux -who saw simple remedies for the distress of that condition, and who chose to express them in a forceful, practical, and above all personal form.

This aspect of Bernard's thinlung is one that will not seem unfamiliar to readers of Dante's Commedia. Dante himself was, of course, perfectly capable of considering ecclesiological questions in the abstract, and his Monarchia is, for all its urgent intensity, a work that steps back, con- sciously and deliberately, from the grubby political realities of its timee21 But the case of the Commedia, and of Paradiso in particular, is different. Throughout the "poema sacro," Dante's view of sin, judgment, damna- tion, purgation, redemption, and beatitude is conveyed both through closely reasoned argument based on a theological tradition and through penetrating psychological examination of the working-out of theological ideas in the course of human lives. Dante's theology, like his philosophy, can never be separated from the question of how ideas affect the indi- vidual human being, both in the personal circumstances of earthly life and in the life to come, where all is seen, at last, sub specie aeternitatis. As the vast parade of sinners and saved unfolds across the landscape of the Comedy, each speaks up for him- or herself, uttering a unique and unrepeatable form of the human condition, which none the less embodies, with individual particularity but in fidelity to certain universal principles, the ethical situation, whatever it may be, that is the author's immediate local concern.

Dante's response to these situations, as both poet and personaggio, is likewise individually judged and enacted. The character who swoons for pity at the honeyed words of a Francesca da Rirnini is ready, a few hundred lines later, to curse a Filippo Argenti -who might reasonably have pointed out that Francesca is no less clearly a damned sinner than he. Though Dante personaggio speaks courteously to Farinata or Brunetto Latini, in the lower depths of hell he meets such grotesque figures as Bocca degli Abati and Frate Alberigo, towards whom, terrifymgly, "cortesia" consists in being "villano" (Inf. XXXIII. 150). Yet in these same depths is the figure of Ugolino, whom the poet allows to present his own version of his agonizing story in a way that suggests that some trace of nobility or at least of moral ambiguity -can survive even the ultimate physical and spiritual degradation to which a human being can be subjected.

Similarly in Purgatorio, the process of purgation and the salutary effects of repentance are seen, not only as theological concepts, but as spiritual realities, bearing with individual force on the lives of the shades whom Dante encounters. There can, in Dante's conception, be no separation between theology and life, for theology itself is only meaningful when activated in a properly ordered life based on an appropriate relationship with God.

But it is in Paradiso that Dante's approach is closest in spirit to Bernard's. If Dante's Hell may be seen as, in some sense, a negative image or even a parody of the organization of secular society -the city of Dis as infernal counterpart to the city of Florence -so his Heaven is, in part, a depiction of the ideal community that the church on earth should be striving to become. (This is not to deny that Dante's Paradise also offers ideal visions of other terrestrial institutions -the imperial court, for instance, presided over by a Mary sigruficantly called "Agusta" [Par. XXXII. 1191, or the university [Par. XXIV-XXVI] where the final exams are given by Saints Peter, James and John.) Yet if, as we have seen, in the Augustinian tradition the civitas fewena somehow functions, from our terrestrial and time-bound viewpoint, as an adumbration of the civitas Dei, it follows that any description of the latter must carry profound, if retrospective, implications for the former. By describing the spiritual life of Paradise, Dante at once expounds a theological concept derived from ancient Christian tradition and creates an ecclesiological ideal, which is used to comment both obliquely and directly on the condition of the con- temporary institution that is the church as he and his readers knew it.

Although the text of Paradiso frequently stresses that the experience of Paradise is fundamentally indescribable, Dante poefa does, of course, undertake to describe it; and some of the means he employs are striking, especially when set against the disembodied and ethereal images of the life of beatitude common in other medieval, and earlier, texts.Z2 Dante's Paradise, above all, is a realm inhabited by people. Although the souls with whom the character Dante converses have not yet been restored to their bodies, and although most of them are, to his trammeled human vision, perceptible only as dazzling lights, personaggio and reader alike are repeatedly struck by the sheer power of human personality that each celestial spokesperson evinces. As with the sinners in Hell, so the blessed in Paradise are at once uniquely individual and universally representa- tive; and this enables them, taken as a group, to function as a celestial paradigm of the church on earth. For the full meaning of Dante's para- disiacal experience is more than the mere perception of each individual's bliss; it consists in seeing the blessed in their ordered relationship to one another and to God -in seeing them, in short, as a community. The per- fection of the heavenly spheres is achieved through their regulation under God and their concentric relation to each other; and this structural order in Paradise is expressed in a sense of hierarchy working to create harmony, which is the result of every soul's fulfilling God's will for itself, and thereby coming to stand in a proper relation to the universe. The great symbols of this order will be familiar to readers of Paradiso: the dance of the philosophers in the heaven of the Sun, the eagle in the heaven of Jupiter, the shining rose of the Empyrean. In each, a community of indi- vidual souls is arranged in a mutually fulfilling collective structure that embodies the divine will to order on which the whole universe depends.

This, however, is not all. Paradiso's dominant image of an ordered community achieving its proper relationship with God is certainly to be seen as an example and an implicit reproach to the disordered church of Dante's own day; but, in order that this lesson be not overlooked, the implicit reproach on occasion becomes explicit, as one or another of the blessed souls speaks out directly against particular abuses. This charac- teristic feature of Paradiso is only made plausible by the combination of universal and individual resonance just described; for a Bonaventure, in canto XII, or a Benedict, in canto XXII, can thus be seen as having both a particular knowledge of a situation on earth, derived from his docu- mented historical experience, and the authority to condemn it, conferred on him by his status as a resident of the Empyrean.

Nor does Dante's concern with the church as a body of individuals come to an end with the evocation of his ideal Christian community in Paradiso. The practical aspect of the diatribes uttered by Bonaventure and the rest is also skillfully adapted to the requirements of particular cases. Again and again Dante poeta personalizes his approach, appealing by name or periphrasis to those he holds responsible for the church's corruption (Simon Magus [Inf.XIX. 11, Constantine [Inf.XIX. 115-17]), citing exemplary individuals from ecclesiastical history (Peter's list of martyred popes in Paradiso XXVII), praising or denouncing those who will or will not improve the situation (the "veltro" [Inf.100-111 on the one hand, Boniface VIII on the other). Whether the problems involved are the age-old individual afflictions of lust, pride, avarice, and other sins, or -sigruficantly-whether they are the result of historical devel- opments within the institutional church itself, the first step towards recovery, in Dante's eyes, comes with the inner reform of the individual Christians who make up the church. His own epic journey -or rather, that of the character who carries his name -is the most potent symbol of this process. Unless every Christian, in fact, escapes from his own "selva oscura," and overcomes whatever mysterious beasts obstruct his path, he will not attain Paradise in the end; and if he does not, it will be because he has not lived in the earthly church in a manner that truly reflects the ecclesiological ideal made manifest in heaven.

To say that Bernard of Clairvaux and Dante share an ideal of the church as, above all, a spiritual body of individual believers may not appear to be to say very much; for this idea is present in every epoch of Christian thought. But it is unusual to find it emphasized to the degree that it is in both Bernard and Dante, especially since both, for all the chronological distance between them, were writing at a time when the institutional church enjoyed great power and influence in areas outside the purely spiritual. In Dante's time, the most extreme proponents of ecclesiastical reform were regarded as peripheral and eccentric, if not actually dan- gerous or even heretical, by the church establishment; but it has been suggested, seriously and thought-provokingly, that Dante himself was a sympathizer with one such radical grouping, the Spiritual wing of the Franciscan order.23 What makes this suggestion intriguing from our present point of view is that Bernard of Clairvaux was an auctor of con- siderable importance for the Franciscan order in general and its Spiritual wing in particular; and he also appears as a figure of extraordinary res- onance in the writings of that remarkable individual whom the Spiritual Franciscans greatly admired and whom Dante describes as "di spirito profetico dotato" (Par. XII. 141): Joachim of Fiore.

Orthodox Franciscans in the thirteenth century often show them- selves heavily and gladly indebted to Bernard's writings. Bonaventure quotes him more than four hundred times, the Summa theologica attrib- uted to Alexander of Hales nearly three hundred; and Franciscan writers on Marian themes, like Matthew of Aquasparta and Conrad of Saxony, find him especially congenial.24 But the particular use made of Bernard by the Spiritual Franciscans, and by their unwitting patron Joachim, is of more immediate concern to the present argument.

The "calavrese abate Giovacchino," as Dante calls him (Par. XII. 140), was of a slightly later generation than Bernard, being in his early twenties when his fellow-abbot died. His writings are voluminous and fascinating, but they are not, of course, those of a professional theologian or a practic- ing scholastic. He has no time for the painstaking collection of quotations and citation of sources. Instead, Joachim proceeds, by means of a highly idiosyncratic form of typology, to establish connections between various Biblical and historical figures; to show how these are integrated into a divine order (which has several symbols, among them the Tree, the Eagle, and the Ten-stringed Psaltery); and thus to achieve the concord between the Old and New Testaments that gives its name to one of his major texts. This is then presented along with a strong dose of the "spirito pro- fetico" mentioned by Dante, in a strange but powerful concoction.

The essence of Joachim's view of Bernard appears in a minor work, his treatise on the life of St Benedict.25 Discussing the condition of the Benedictine order after its founder's death, Joachim speaks of "futuri . . . signum muneris, quod erat omnipotens Deus . . . collaturus."26 This gift is the birth of a "doctor precipuus, qui esset quasi alter Moyses."27 This, of course, was Bernard. The analogy returns later, accompanied by still more exalted comparisons: Bernard was sent "in spiritu Moysi,"28 just as John the Baptist was, with the same mission of gathering a large number of disciples by his preaching. He was to preach another who would come after him, and, in his case as in John the Baptist's, this other was Christ. Bernard is thus drawn by Joachim into a millenarian tradition of the impending Second Coming of Christ. But the most extravagant image of all is reserved for the last reference to Bernard in Joachim's treatise. No longer merely a spiritual kinsman of Moses or John the Baptist, Bernard becomes worthy of comparison with Christ Himself. As Christ received the Holy Spirit after he emerged from Mary's womb, so that he might baptize, spread his disciples throughout the world, and fulfill his destiny of death, resurrection, and ascension, so the Spirit caused the womb of the Cistercian order to swell, and came down upon its sons, of whom the first was Bernard, so that they might follow Christ in his ministry and preaching, and thus be led through suffering to eventual glory. The expression of this idea is somewhat confused, as is not uncommon with Joachim, but the analogy of Bernard with Christ is clear, as is that of Bernard with Moses; and Moses was often interpreted, of course, as a symbolic forerunner of Christ.

The image of Bernard as "alter Moyses" is further developed in Joachim'sLiber concordie novi ac veteris testamenti [Book of Concord between the New and Old Testamentsl.29 Here Joachim gives a brief account of the foundation of Clairvaux, in a form that suggests he had some familiarity with a reliable biographical source (probably the Vita prima, begun during Bernard's lifetime by his friends and colleagues and widely diffused thereafter, especially after his canonization).30 He then moves swiftly to devise more analogies. Bernard is another Levi, because his mother had six sons and a daughter, as did Leah, the wife of Jacob, and Bernard was his mother's third son, as was Levi. More important, he is another Moses, because he was guided by the Spirit and the hand of the Lord was with him; and, as Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt, so Bernard led countless souls out of the slavery of the world and into Clairvaux. Furthermore, he had by his side another Aaron, Pope Eugenius, to whom he gave another Leviticus, De consideratione. Finally just as the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron after their deliverance, so there was criticism of Bernard and Eugenius after the failure of the Second Crusade.

This clever synthesis argues for an extensive knowledge of Bernard's life on Joachim's part, and for some knowledge of his writings, as well as for a profound respect for his historical achievement. Joachim men- tions De consideratione once more in the course of his book, and again calls it "alter Leviticus," as part of a shorter reference to Bernard as one of the saintly men sent to the leaders of the church "qui securi de charitate et simplicitate sua in libertate spiritus loquerentur ad eos."3l Clearly it is this book, and above all its connotations of ecclesiastical reform, in the image of Bernard as outspoken counselor of popes and prelates, that made the greatest impression on Joachim's thinking about Bernard; the several references to the abbot of Clairvaux in his other works are invari- ably respectful, but much briefer and less developed.32 It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Joachim's image of Bernard as a critic of the institutional church and eloquent prophet of its renewal was passed on to his admirers among the Spiritual Franciscans and thence to Dante or even, though this is to open another can of the proverbial scholarly worms, that Dante found it in Joachim's writings for himself.33

For it must be acknowledged that, however strong may seem the affinity between Bernard of Clairvaux and Dante on the subject of the institutional church, there is no evidence, textual or otherwise, to which we can point as unequivocally sealing the connection. It is clear that both men have an ideal vision of the institutional church, and that both see the church around them as failing to live up to that ideal. It is equally clear that both posit the spiritual rebirth of the individual as a necessary preliminary to the church's renewal, and that both, in the meantime, are prepared to employ their considerable resources of zeal and eloquence in the denunciation of both prevailing tendencies and specific abuses -as their respective papal whipping-boys, Eugenius and Boniface, had good reason to know. But such affinities of thinking and similarities of tone can only be the starting-point of any inquiry into the relationship between Bernard's and Dante's view of the institutional church, at least if the notion of direct influence of the former on the latter is to be introduced into the equation. On a topic as circumscribed as that of ecclesiastical corruption, it is not surprising that any two writers, within a broadly reformist tradition, should find themselves attacking similar abuses with similar degrees of severity. There seems, after all, to be a limit to human ingenuity when it comes to devising new categories of sin. The structure and social role of the medieval church ensured that certain abuses became commonplace, and their manifestations were likely to be essentially similar in widely differing periods and settings. The range of ecclesiastical vices denounced in Dante's Commedia is wide -heresy, simony, avarice, luxury, greed, idolatry, hypocrisy nepotism, sodomy ambition, neglect of priestly and episcopal duty -but most or all of these are likewise denounced, not only by Bernard, but by dozens of other writers in the reformist tradition, including not only the leading Spiritual Franciscans but also the anti-papal controversialists operating at the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

We need, then, to find some more tangible clue -some undeniable parallel in wording or imagery some explicit tribute of disciple to master, some fingerprint of Bernard's on the text of the Commedia -before we can conclude that the affinity between Bernard and Dante on the subject of the institutional church ever actually ripened into influence. And the sad fact is that no such clue has come to light, despite the labors of a number of scholarly investigators, chief among them Edmund Gardner and Alexandre Masseron.34 Not one of the more or less vague verbal resemblances identified by these and others stands up under examina- tion; all can be more convincingly explained as products of the two writers' familiarity with a common tradition, exemplified above all in the text of the Bible.35 Even in the case of the most frequently suggested parallel, the use and interpretation of the "two swords" topos (Luke 22. 35-38) in Dante's Monarchia and Bernard's De consideratione, the Scottish verdict of "not proven" has to be returned.36 Perhaps Masseron, the most enthusiastic (and the most wrong-headed) proponent of a direct influ- ence of Bernard on Dante, whose Dante et saint Bernard is as occasionally useful for its flashes of insight as it is constantly imtating for its reckless propensity to wishful thinking, should, for once, be given the (almost) last word:

Au "dieu fait d'or et d'argent," Dante et saint Bernard jugeaient que l'kglise de leur temps rendait un culte excessif, pour ne pas dire sacrilege, et ils la vituperaient dans le m6me but, qui etait de la ramener ?I sa purete originelle, avec la m6me zele, avec la m6me vigueur parfois outranciere, et presque dans les memes terme~.~~

Unfortunately Masseron's "presque" will not do. There is no irrefutable evidence, in the form of textual parallels, to confirm that Dante had profited from the study of St Bernard's writings on the institutional church. Yet it would be foolish to deny that many passages in the Commedia do recall, in the spirit and tone of their denunciation of the church's moral failings, at least the tenor of the great Cistercian's cele- brated diatribes. Here as elsewhere, when considering the intellectual relationship between these two extraordinary figures, it may in the end, be more profitable to set aside the rigid and anxiety-inducing twentieth-century concept of "literary influence," in favor of a more subtle, more flexible, more genuinely medieval model.

By Dante's time, the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux had become part of the language in which thinking about the institutional church, and much else, was carried on. His historical reputation had become common knowledge, his work had entered the cultural patrimony of the Christian West, his ideas and the linguistic form he gave them had been disseminated in untold thousands of dog-eared manuscripts, scattered throughout Europe, every one of them at some point textually corrupt, many of them no longer even ascribed to Bernard himself. To point to a phrase or an image and say "yes, this is Bernard's and no other's" was already, in Dante's time, well-nigh impossible; and yet, on the institu- tional church as on several other subjects, Bernard was acknowledged as an indispensable authority, an aucfor. Whether or not Dante was aware of this, whether or not he had a volume of opera Bernardi open on his desk as he toiled away at the Commedia, he could not have escaped Bernard's "influence" even had he tried. The unexpected prominence given to Bernard in the astonishing final cantos of Paradiso may be only the most obvious sign that Dante himself knew it.38

STEVEN BOTTERILL University of CalifornialBerkeley

NOTES l0n Benvenuto and his career, see Mazzoni, "Benvenuto da Imola," and La Favia. 2~herespective editions are "Talice da Ricaldone" and Benvenuto [Rambaldi] da Imola. For their complicated relationship and redactional history, see Mazzoni, "Benvenuto da Imola" and Russo, with their bibliographies; and two fundamental articles by Michele Barbi: "Benvenuto da Imola e non Stefano Talice da Ricaldone" and "La lettura di Benvenuto da Imola e i suoi rapporti con altri commenti." 3~ora detailed exploration of the principal aspects of this affinity, see Botterill, Dante and the Mystical Tradition, along with the numerous relevant items in its bibliography. 4"~alice da Ricaldone" 111, 403: "Now the author asks Bernard a question. And do not be surprised if Dante pays him such a tribute, because he was a man of enormous learning; but he was never canonized, because he spoke much evil of the pastors of the Church. But his merits canonized him throughout the world." 5~oran exhaustive study of the context and process of Bernard's canonization, see Bredero 23-60. e.g., Benvenuto V, 474, 478. 70n the Trecento commentators' treatment of Bernard, see Botterill, "Bernard of Clairvaux in the Trecento Commentaries on Dante's Commedia" (now also in Dante and the Mystical Tradition 119-47). 8"~alice da Ricaldone" 111, 403-04. 9AU references to the Commedia are to Dante Alighieri, La Cornmedia secondo I'antica vulgata; those to Bernard's writings are to Bernard of Clairvaux, Sancti Bernardi Opera. Translations from Bernard are my own. 1°An excellent recent introduction to this topic is provided by Watt. In the same vol- ume, Robinson, who concentrates on the years 750-1150, offers a useful prolegomenon to our period. llOn the resurgence of Aristotle in late medieval political thought, see Dunbabin, as well as Ullmann 159-73. 12~ernard,Opera 111 (1963) 453-54. 13see Markus 103-08, 112-13. It should be stressed that the two cities are both already present in the life of this world, each having citizens among the human beings alive at any given moment; it is the intermingling of these two groups -membership in

which is not, of course, immediately obvious to the observer -that constitutes human society. Only beyond this world does the separation between them become clear; so that the life of the blessed constitutes the true civitas Dei, one without any admixture of earthly elements. The standard edition of De civitate Dei is that of Dombart and Kalb.

14~orthe early history of Gelasius' sententia, see Robinson 288-300. The text is in Enchiridion syrnbolorum 119-20 (item #347).

15~orAugustine "the actual community of Christians which constitutes the visible Church is a mixed body, containing the holy and wicked side by side .. .not an elite of the chosen set in the midst of an alien profane world" (Markus 113). Augustine accepts this as a necessary consequence of the way in which the earthly city and the city of God are simultaneously operative, through their respective adherents, in the life of the world as it actually exists; but Bernard clearly denies the necessity and aspires to a more rigorous and exclusive definition of the ecclesiastical body.

16~ernardOpera I1 (1958) 56-61 (56): ". . . our bed is green. / The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir." (This and other translations of Biblical texts are taken from the King James Version.)

17Bernard, Opera I1 (1958) 56: "What spiritual sense these words may contain."

18Bernard, Opera I1 (1958) 56-57: "Lest, living according to some law or will of their own, like sloping walls or crumbling sides they should separate from each other, and thus the whole structure of the building hasten to its own destruction."

19Bemard,Opera 11 (1958) 57: "The gentle and disciplined behavior of the appointed clergy and the ritual duties assigned to them."

20~ernard,Opera I1 (1958) 57: "It is essential that the man who is taken on for the adornment and decoration of this house be himself adorned by decent behavior, and that, although he always dwell within the building, yet clear witness of his virtue be borne even by those who remain without."

210n the Monarchia's controversial relationship to those realities, see Kay xv-xxxi.


23~nextensive bibliography on this subject is provided by Frugoni 167.

24~ereand in the paragraphs on Joachim of Fiore I summarize findings expounded at length in the chapter on "The Image of St Bernard in Medieval Culture," Dante and the Mystical Tradition 13-63.

25~oachim of Fiore, Tractatus.

26~oachim,Tractatus54: "The sign of a future gift that Almighty God would bestow [on the Benedictine order]." 27~oachim,Tractatus 86: "A learned man of great worth, who would be like another Moses."

28~oachim,Tractatus 117: "In the spirit of Moses."

29~oachim of Fiore, Liber concordie novi ac veteris testamenti IV. 38.

300n the composition, difision, and authorship of the Wta prima, and its connec- tions with the process of Bernard's canonization, see Bredero 33-55 and 90-140. 31~oachim,Liber concordie V. 64: "Who, confident in their charity and simplicity, would speak to them freely in the Spirit." 32~eeJoachim of Fiore, Psalterium decem chordarum ff. 232r., 234v; Expositio in Apocalipsim I. 3 (f. 87v.).

33~eeFrugoni for a discussion of the putative connections between Joachim and Dante.

34~eeGardner 11143 and Masseron 253-79.

35~hisseems to me true, albeit in a slightly different context from that of Dante's and Bernard's thinking about the institutional church, even of the two most substantial recent attempts to clinch the Bernard-Dante connection through textual comparison: those of Mazzoni, "San Bernardo e la visione poetica della Divina Commedia," and Pertile, "La puttana e il gigante (PurgatorioXXXII, 148-60)," now also in his La puttana e il gigante. Dal Cantico dei Cantici a1 Paradiso Terreswe di Dante 203-26. The more nearly probative effort is that of Pertile, who does show (Seminario 262-64; Puttana 220-23) some inter- esting and unusual imagery shared by Bernard's commentary on the Song of Songs (sermon XXI) and Purg. XXXII; but even he remains hesitant to call this, without consider- able qualification, evidence of direct influence ("[qorse non sari avventato, di fronte a corrispondenze formali tanto estese e profonde, parlare non solo di intertestualiti, ma di fonte Vera e propria," Seminario 264; Puttana 223). Mazzoni argues, at great length and with enormous erudition, for Dante's direct knowledge of Bernard's sermon De diversis XLII, as well as of the pseudo-Bemardine Littera (or isto to la) aurea;but never manages to show that the similarity of the texts is more than "concettuale" (219). Neither, in other words, produces the kind of evidence called for in this paragraph.

36~ee Botterill, "Not of this World: Spiritual and Temporal Powers in Dante and Bernard of Clai~aux."

37"~ante and St Bernard judged that the church of their time offered an excessive, not to say sacrilegious, degree of worship to the 'God of gold and silver'; and they denounce it with the same intention, which is to recall it to its original purity, with the same zeal, with the same vigor, which they at times carry to an extreme, and almost in the same terms" (Masseron 279).

38~hisarticle began such life as it may have as a lecture delivered several years ago at the Newberry Library in Chicago; I should like to thank my hosts on that occasion (especially Professor Antonio Mastrobuono) for their kindness, and my audience for their attention.


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