BLESSED JOHN DI SCLEDO OF VICENZA (1)
Father John di Scledo, it is admitted, was one of the most noted and saintly preachers of the thirteenth century. To give an idea of his attainments and genuine merit in the beginning of this sketch of his life, we can not do better than quote the words of Father Basil di Scledo. This Camaldolese monk, of the same patronymic and probably belonging to same family, writes:Blessed John di Scledo, a native of Vicenza and a disciple of Saint Dominic, shone for his great virtue from infancy. God endowed him with extraordinary gifts for handling affairs of the highest importance, for adjusting differences, for making conversions, and for defending the rights of the Church. His strong, eloquent preaching and rare erudition brought him no less honor than his exceptional diplomacy. But that which will especially immortalize his name was the sanctity of his life, to which God Himself gave testimony by numerous miracles -- particularly by raising ten persons to life.(2)However, the above is but a scanty outline of what ecclesiastical writers tell us about Blessed John di Scledo. Vicenza, Padua, and Bologna all claim the honor of being his birthplace. But the opinion of historians is in favor of Vicenza. The date of his birth seems unknown. He was a student at Padua, when his attention was attracted to the Friars Preacher by the preaching and miracles of their sainted founder. Dominic himself gave him the habit of the Order. So did he carefully foster the young man's splendid talents, which he was not slow to detect and value.
We may judge of the progress John made from the start in piety and his studies not only from the guide he chose to follow, Saint Dominic, but also from the great deeds which characterize his life. Preaching was the first function given him in his Order. So was it the only one which his other occupations never caused him to interrupt. In 1231, we find him prior of the Convent of Saint Augustine, Padua. He was discharging the duties of this office with all the care which one would expect of even so exact a man, when Gregory IX appointed him one of the three commissaries apostolic nominated to gather information requisite for the canonization of Saint Anthony of Padua, who had lately died in the odor of sanctity. Mention is made of this commission in the bull of canonization itself, the original of which is preserved in the Franciscan convent, Padua.(3)
The disturbances which the Guelfs and Ghibellines continually aroused in Lombardy furnished an ample field for the zeal of the saintly preacher. Fortunately, his shining virtues put him in a position to labor with success for the reconciliation not only of individuals and families, but of cities and republics as well. His superiors often employed him in this sort of work, which, though interesting, was none the less difficult and delicate for that. The Holy See entrusted him with commissions which required great wisdom, courage, firmness, and diplomacy. Not infrequently the people joined their prayers with those of their pastors to procure the mediation of a man, whom they commonly called an angel of peace, and the restorer of public tranquility.
Not merely did John's reputation soon spread throughout the country. It continued to grow, and drew immense crowds to hear his sermons. Ordinarily this obliged him to preach in the fields, or some large, open space. The first time he did this was in Bologna, where he spoke with great force against the malice of those who sowed division among the people, or strove to foment discord through criminal politics. He painted the enormity of the crime and its deadly consequences in such vivid colors that the Bolognese saluted one another in the name of Christ, and otherwise gave clear signs of a perfect reconciliation. This usage, so worthy of Christians, passed from Bologna to all the cities of Lombardy. Later it spread not only throughout Italy, but to other parts of Europe as well.(4)
His sermons against usury produced a similar effect. Until then, those who sought thus iniquitously to increase their riches sucked without pity the substance from the people, and took advantage of the misery or weakness of the poor, that they might build up their fortunes on the ruins of families. While there were doubtless some unscrupulous usurers who were not touched by our blessed's exhortation, they were obliged to give up their illicit commerce in order to save themselves from public indignation. In a few instances, though against the Friar Preacher's wish and intention, the people, irritated by long oppression, wreaked vengeance on professional extortioners.
Civil war between the citizens of Padua had brought frightful desolation to the city. Gregory IX, therefore, wrote to Father John di Scledo, ordering him (or, in the language of the brief, begging him) to repair to that municipality immediately, and to use all the power God had given him to extinguish the flame that was devouring everything. Despite this order., the Bolognese strenuously opposed the departure of the Friar Preacher. Indeed, the Pope was obliged to use all his authority, and even threats, before they could be brought to let leave their midst a man whom they held in such deep veneration, and whose ministry was so beneficial to the community. When they heard of his approach, the Paduans hurried out to meet the renowned Friar Preacher at a neighboring village and to conduct him into the city in triumph.(5)
As soon as he reached Padua, Blessed John assembled the people in the Field of Mars (Campo di Marte), which was later called the Meadow of the Valley (Prato della Valle). His first discourse was on the commencement of peace. The effort met with complete success. He remained a month in Padua. This time he devoted to cementing and perfecting the reconciliation he had effected, both by special conferences with the principal citizens of the city, and by orations which he delivered before the public every day. These latter he spoke in part in order to satisfy the crowds who came from near and far to have the pleasure of hearing him.(6)
Italian authors assure us that he cured every kind of illness, and even at times raised the dead to life.(7) It would seem, in fact, that nothing short of miracles could have enabled him to meet with the success which crowned his efforts against the hot temper and the stubborn spirits of the times. Communities hopelessly at war were suddenly reconciled. Animosities, born of jealousy, irritated by vengeance, deepened by time, and rekindled by pride on the slightest grounds, were quickly brought to an end. Only through the blessing of God on the zeal of his faithful servant would the conditions of peace which he proposed have been so promptly and unanimously accepted by all. They served, for a time at least, to assure the boon for which many longed, but could not obtain, in spite of their good will.
Having accomplished the wish of the Pope at Padua, di Scledo returned at once to Bologna, where he assisted at a general chapter of the Order, and resumed his activities.(8) Among his conversions at this time we may place that of the celebrated John Boncampio, who renounced not only the pleasures of the world, but also the hope of a great fortune, that he might embrace a life of penance, poverty, and privation in the Order of Saint Dominic, whence he was taken to grace the archiepiscopal chair of Bologna..(9) Meanwhile the fear of the Bolognese, lest they should lose their eloquent Friar Preacher a second time, grew in proportion to the services be rendered them day after day. For this reason, some of the leading citizens of the city were deputized to protest against his removal to Jordan of Saxony, then Master General. They represented that di Scledo had preached the word of God among them with great applause and success. They also expressed their fear that all the good they had hoped to obtain from his labors would be lost during his absence, should he be taken from a community to which providence had sent him so opportunely.
The Father General praised the zeal of the delegates. Yet he did not appear to be moved by their arguments. Finally he replied, in his characteristic way:The sowers of seed do not take their beds into the field which they have planted, and sleep there until their work bears fruit. They recommend this to God. Then they go and plant another field. In like manner, perhaps it would be advantageous if your great preacher should go to announce the word of God in other places, thus fulfilling the words of our Saviour, who said: I must go and preach in other cities also. However, I will consult the definitors in the matter. Then I will act in a way that will give you reason to be satisfied.(10)The Bolognese, it would appear, obtained in part what they so ardently desired. But, as the sequel will show, they went too far. Our blessed, whose only rest was a change from one work to another, remained in Bologna. One day, as he was on his way back to the city after preaching in its vicinity, the chief magistrate, together with an immense number of people of every walk in life, met him with a magnificent canopy. The humble religious sought in every way to avoid an honor so little in keeping with his modesty and state of life. It was in vain. The crowd refused to listen to his protests. Thus, in spite of his prayers and resistance, he was conducted into the city with a pomp and amidst acclamations which showed plainer than words the great regard in which the Bolognese held his worth, no less than the extraordinary affection they bore him.
Holy man that he was, the honor thus shown him served only to humiliate di Scledo the more before God. The sentiments of his heart were of the purest and sincerest. But they were hidden. On the other hand, the display forced on him was seen by thousands, some of whom were scandalized rather than edified by the unusual spectacle. One at least of these latter took occasion of the affair to accuse him of presuming to enter the city with all the pomp of a Pope. Gregory IX was told that Father John di Scledo rode a white horse at the time, and that the most distinguished men of Bologna felt themselves honored in carrying a superb canopy over him.(11)
As the accuser was a man of no little authority and reputation, the Holy Father did not doubt the truth of the complaint. He deplored what appeared to be the fall of one whom he had considered a man of God. Determined to punish and humble Father John of Vicenza for what he considered an unpardonable manifestation of pride or vanity, Gregory called a meeting of the cardinals and prelates of the curia for consultation on the matter. One of the assembly, William of Savoy who was bishop of Modena, had the courage modestly to remind the Pope that it was not the custom of the Romans to condemn an accused unheard, especially a man of such resplendent merit and attainments, and a reputation so well established as the Friar Preacher's.
Gregory replied that, since the offense was certain, and the scandal caused by it public, the punishment due to the guilty priest should not be deferred until he could be tried. "Well then, Most Holy Father," subjoined Modena's pious prelate, "have some one give me a Bible." Then, placing his hands on the sacred book, the bishop said:I solemnly swear on this sacred text that, one day, when Father John of Vicenza was preaching to the people, I saw with my own eyes an angel impress a cross on his forehead. This fact I had intended to tell no one. But now I feel obliged to make it known; for it is a question of justifying an innocent man who has been calumniated, and of sparing his judges the possible mortification of recognizing his uprightness only when it is too late.(12)This strong, terse testimony, given by a prelate whose holiness was held in veneration, produced a telling effect. If it did not completely restore the zealous Friar Preacher's former good name, it at least caused Gregory IX and his curia to suspend the unfavorable judgment caused by the accusation, until the matter could be thoroughly examined. The investigation showed di Scledo perfectly free from all fault. Indeed, the trial ended by increasing his renown. He continued to perform miracles, as well as to make conversions, wherever he preached. This fact alone proved that neither his virtue nor his humility were lessened by the praises lavished upon him.(13)
So assert all the Italian authors, some of whom were contemporaries of di Scledo. But this trustworthy testimony did not prevent an Englishman, who wrote in London long years after the event we have just recorded, from making diametrically opposite statements. This man would have us believe that John of Vicenza, through his vainglory, lost his love of God, the esteem of men, and the confidence of the prelates who had held him in the highest regard. However, Matthew Paris throws his envenomed shafts in every direction. He shows scant respect for the most illustrious personages, not excepting even sovereigns and the Vicars of Christ. For this reason, we can not depend on his testimony alone, when he writes ill of any one. This is certainly true in the case of Father di Scledo. It is a matter of no little surprise that Bishop de Spode, who often calls attention to Paris' wanton disregard for others, and refutes a number of his calumnies, was not more on his guard against him in respect to the subject of our sketch.(14)
It would not be difficult to detect the pernicious bias of the British chronicler, even without the frequent briefs which Gregory IX continued to send Father John di Scledo after the above incident. Some of these charged him with the management of affairs of the highest importance to the Church or the tranquility of the people. Others congratulated him on the success of his labors. Sometimes, Claud Fleury tells us, the Pope used this method for consoling the great Friar Preacher because of the calumnies that were spread about him.(15)
It was only natural that his brilliant attainments should arouse the jealousy of the envious. So might it be expected that the powers of darkness would leave nothing untried against one who made such efficacious war against sin and error, in order to deprive him of the influence which his virtues gave him over the minds of the people.(16) However, despite all this, di Scledo ceased not to grow in power and reputation. Sovereign Pontiffs employed him in restoring peace, whether between provinces or cities, and found the appointment a wise one. As Emperor Frederic, in his cunning, took advantage of such divisions to subject the people to himself, Gregory IX made Father John his legate in the Marca d'Ancona. Later he sent him into Tuscany that he might bring the Florentines and Siennese to, conclude terms of peace between themselves.
This latter undertaking was by no means an easy task. The two people held one another in mortal hatred. Besides, the pride and pretensions of the Florentines: rendered them little tractable; while the bitter complaints which the Siennese were continually making against their enemies disposed them still less to listen to any measures of reconciliation. Yet di Scledo met with signal success in his embassy.(17) There seemed to be something in the gentle eloquence of his plea which no one could resist. Perhaps we may say that it was God who spoke through the Friar Preacher.
The jarring factions might be ever so enraged. They might be ever so determined to reject any and every proposition of friendship that should be made to them. Nevertheless, when our Friar Preacher began to represent the blessings of peace, the evils and horrors of war, and the sternness of the divine judgment, all opposition faded away. Even the most stubborn, gained by his virtues or convinced by his arguments, followed the example of the others. All hastened to place their affairs in his hands; for they recognized in him a just and judicial mediator who would give an equitable decision and put an end to their cruel dissensions. The case of Florence and Sienna, just mentioned, is but one of many which he so settled.
The success of his legation to Marca d'Ancona and Marca di Treviso to adjust the regional disputes there was not less prompt, nor less happy. First John called together the people of the two sections separately. Then he held a general assembly composed of their leaders. On both occasions he secured an acceptance of all the terms which he judged necessary to propose, in order to settle their quarrels and have them live in accord. Indeed, his labors in this affair are such a monument to the memory of the apostolic man that we can not do better than translate, in this connection, from Gerard Maurisio, a contemporary Italian author, who says:Meanwhile there appeared a Father John, of the Order of Preachers, a native of Vicenza, and a son of Manelino, a lawyer. He was a man of rare piety, of whom I am going to relate extraordinary things; but they are facts that can be attested. Since the time of our Lord, no other man has ever been known to bring together so many nobles and people through his preaching. These, in order to establish a general peace, he united so effectually in the bonds of divine charity that they sang the praises of Christ as in chorus.Such is the recital of a writer who either saw or heard what he records. Neither can he be considered as unduly favorable to our Friar Preacher. On the contrary, after telling of his heroic deeds, he seems rather to doubt the purity of di Scledo's intentions.(19) Besides, Maurisio served under the standard of the Ghibellines, who sided with the emperor of Germany against the Guelfs, or supporters of the Holy See.
First he went to Padua, where he preached with such force and persuasion on the necessity and blessings of peace that he banished the great discord which reigned in the city. All the citizens agreed to place the settlement of their disputes in his hands, leaving everything to his judgment. Later he journeyed to Treviso on the same mission. The Trevisans followed the example of the Paduans. Belluno and Feltre were next taken in, and their people showed the same docility. The signori of Camino, Conigliano, and Romano came to terms of peace through his influence. Similarly, the inhabitants of Vicenza, Verona, Mantua, and Brescia, together with the count of Saint Boniface and all his followers, accepted with joy the proposals of this restorer of public tranquility.
Indeed, he wielded so strong an influence over hearts that, in every municipality which he visited, the authorities willingly gave him their statutes to correct, permitting him to add or to strike out articles as his judgment dictated. Wherever he found prisoners [who were held merely for debts or political offenses], he had them set at liberty. After he had effected a reconciliation between the inhabitants of the aforesaid places, he appointed the city where, and the time when, they should all come to hear him preach, and to sign a pact of permanent peace. Verona was designated for the purpose.
This meeting was attended not only by the deputies, but also by many of the citizens, of Brescia, Mantua, Verona, Vicenza, Treviso, Feltre, and Belluno, and the signori of Romano and of Camino. There also came Paduans and almost an infinite number of people, both men and women, from other cities, towns, and castles. The patriarch of Aquileia was there, with the bishops of the aforementioned places, Father Jordan of Saxony (the General of the Dominicans), and a great number of other clergy. The marquis of Este and a multitude of officers, soldiers, and persons of every walk in life came without arms, and with no standard except the cross of Christ, in whose name they were assembled. Perhaps, as has been said, not since the days of our Lord has so great a crowd been brought together by the preaching of anyone. Out of reverence for the Saviour the greater number took off their shoes. Many from the cities, however, rode in their carriages.
Though it may appear almost incredible, when John of Vicenza preached to this immense audience, he was everywhere understood with marvellous distinctness. At the end of the sermon, he proclaimed the treaty of general peace.... Those who should violate it he threatened with the anathema of the Church, the indignation of Christ, and the curse of God. To those who should religiously observe it he promised the blessing of Heaven. Then the assembly was dissolved, and all returned to their homes, blessing and thanking God from their hearts.
Under the spellbinding influence of the sacred orator, many who had long been deadly foes gave one another the kiss of peace; for they regarded him as a quasi prophet. So great, indeed, was his renown that the Pope himself held him in deep veneration. Nor should this be considered strange, in view of the many miracles performed by the extraordinary Friar Preacher. I have heard with my own ears the Franciscan Fathers, preaching in the cathedral of Vicenza, declare that he had raised ten dead persons to life.(18)
The ever powerful faction of Ghibellines soon disturbed the peace established by the papal legate. They often sorely tried his virtue. But his strength, like his trust, was in God, through whose grace he always remained the same -- humble and modest in success, firm and unruffled in failure. Unceasingly had he to oppose the violent passions of men. Continually was he obliged to be on his guard against the artifices of the heretics of the day, the malice of the envious, and the trickery of the Ghibelline supporters of Frederic, the German emperor, whose quarrels with the Holy See caused many to distrust those honored with the position of papal legate or nuncio.(20) However, these difficulties served only to reveal in clearer light di Scledo's wisdom and courage. They showed that be was neither to be intimidated by threats, nor led astray by glory and applause.
After preaching in Tuscany and Marca d'Ancona with the success which we have seen, John traversed the various provinces of the Republic of Venice, and visited the larger places of Cisalpine Gaul. Then he returned to Bologna, where meantime a controversy bad arisen between the municipal corporation and the bishop in regard to the city's criminal laws. This disagreement was now soon bridged over by his tactful management. With the consent of the magistrates, he set free those who were held in prison merely because of their debts. Another blessing which his deft hand then procured for the poor of that university town was a considerable reduction in what they owed from their creditors.(21)
The case of a Bolognese officer by the name of Milanti shows at once the power the Friar Preacher wielded over sin-burdened souls, and the influence he enjoyed with the Holy See. This brigand had carried on his career of robbery in many places, but especially in Viterbo. Finally, the Pope excommunicated Milanti, and had the act proclaimed wherever he bad committed his violent excesses. But the highwayman paid no attention to the excommunication; for, long accustomed blindly to follow his passions, he cared as little for the censures of the Church as for the threats of men.
John of Vicenza now successfully undertook the conversion of the notorious robber. Milanti confessed his crimes, and promised to make proper reparation. Thereupon his friends, who were both numerous and powerful in Lombardy, sent deputies to Rome to obtain the removal of the sentence of excommunication. However, either because Milanti's repentance was distrusted, or because it was judged that an example of severity was necessary in order to curb such bold adventurers, the Holy See refused to lift the censure -- unless the Bolognese officer should bind himself, after having repaired the damages he had done to the Church and the people of Viterbo, to pass beyond the seas and spend the rest of his life in fighting against the Saracens. This, of course, meant perpetual exile, to which Milanti could not bring himself to consent. It was then that di Scledo wrote to Gregory IX to intercede in behalf of his penitent. To his letter the Pope replied:We have received your letter with Our customary goodwill towards yourself, and have adopted the sentiments therein expressed. That which We refused even delegates from Lombardy, despite their earnest entreaties, and many others, not withstanding their repeated prayers, in favor of Milanti, . . . We accord you with pleasure. We grant it at your asking as a token of the high esteem in which you are held by the Holy See. Since We have perfect confidence in your judgment and circumspection, We permit you, after satisfying yourself of his proper disposition, to remove the censure from Milanti with Our authority. But he must promise to satisfy his obligations to the City of Viterbo, and to serve the army in Palestine for two years.(22)Conversions equally striking as the above were not of infrequent occurrence. As was but natural, they caused the veneration of the faithful for God's servant to increase ever more. Humble though he was, he realized this esteem, and made use of it for good purposes -- on some occasions to turn sinners from their wayward courses, on others to lead the just farther along in the path of virtue. He also often availed himself of the power thus given him to bold the wavering in obedience to the Holy See, from which not a few were endeavoring to sever their allegiance.
Frederic II regarded the Papal States with a greedy eye, and longed to break, or at least to humble, the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff. One of the greatest obstacles to these designs, as the emperor well knew, was the incessant and extraordinary preaching of John of Vicenza. Frederic, therefore, sought in every way to reduce the valiant defender of the Holy See to silence. It was for this purpose that, in 1241, the powerful ruler wrote a long letter to the Friars Preacher then assembled in general chapter at Paris.
Frederic begins the communication with an attempt to show his great esteem and affection for the Order by showering magnificent eulogies upon it. Then he speaks of the existing troubles and distress of both the Church and Empire. These he does not blush to attribute to the Pope, or the counsel of his ministers. He endeavors to persuade the fathers that he himself had waged war simply for the sake of peace, and that his intentions were of the purest, for he fought for only the general good of religion, the preservation of the laws, and the happiness of the people. From this prelude the emperor proceeds to the real object of his letter. Here he writes:The faithful regulate their conduct by your decisions. Some of those whom you have hitherto guided in the ways of salvation by your preaching have thoughtlessly strayed from the straight path. Be on your guard, and do not seek to change the world by sentiment. Do not lead it to form new convictions opposed to those by which it has always been directed.This letter of Frederic to the general chapter bears the date of February 27, 1241. It was written while the emperor was laying siege to Faenza, in the Papal States. Father Abraham Bzovius (Bzwoski) and Alphonsus Fernandez, two Dominican historians, both bring out the document, but they do not tell us what reply was made to it. However, we may conjecture that, if it was answered at all, Frederic received little encouragement from those whom he sought thus to bribe. Gregory IX died before the close of the year; and we know that under Innocent IV, who was elected Pope in 1243, John of Vicenza continued his signal services to the Church in those stormy times.(24) In a brief to di Scledo, of date June 13, 1247, Innocent speaks in a pathetic manner of the innumerable evils with which Italy is flooded. Then he proceeds to say:
We speak to you in this manner because of the report abroad that there are not wanting among you those who undertake legations, and accept commissions which are inimical to the interests of Ourself and the Empire. This they do, as We understand, in the belief that they thus perform a work pleasing to God and conducive to the salvation of souls. It will be wise on the part of your venerable assembly to suppress these excesses, and to issue a mandate to all the fathers of the Order requiring them to refrain from such activities in the future. In this way, they will be able to apply themselves exclusively to works of piety, to continue to deserve the affection of everybody, and to render services to the public which are truly pleasing to God.
Furthermore, the ministrations of your Order will then deservedly meet with general approval everywhere. So will you avoid censure from those who do not think it seemly that members of so holy an Order should take part in differences, or even quarrels, that are purely personal. Besides, as We are sincerely disposed to favor you in all that may contribute to the welfare and honor of your Order, we hope that you will respond to Our desire to please you.(23)We warn you; We conjure you; We exhort you, in the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ, to strive with all your might, and with all the zeal that our Lord has bestowed on you, to root out heresy from all Lombardy by driving the heretics from the limits of the country. Receive to penance with charity those who sincerely wish to be converted, and to obey the Church in future. Punish the headstrong with all the rigor of canon law. Take vigorous action against their abetters. . . . We expressly forbid any and all of your superiors to employ you in any other occupation, or to substitute another in your place, without the special permission of the Holy See.(25)True servant of his Master that he was' John never failed conscientiously to carry out the orders of the Holy See. Success always crowned his efforts. When he ceased from these labors, for the reason to be given later, we do not know. But we do know that he was engaged in them for long years -- at least until 1259. In that year we find him, as an apostolic preacher and an inquisitor of the faith, acting in the name of Alexander IV, and removing the censures which the people of Vicenza had incurred by breaking the treaty of peace and uniting themselves with the enemies of the Church.
In the Italy of those days the greatest vigilance was necessary to prevent or thwart the plots of factious men. This circumstance, together with the many occupations of Father di Scledo, does not permit us to accept the opinion of some later writers who state that he was also sent during this time as papal nuncio to France and Germany, and that he was provincial of Lombardy. These same authors assure us further that he founded the convents of Reggio, Santa Agata, and San Romano di Lucca.(26)
The earlier writers say nothing of these things. However, it must be admitted, they are lamentably careless in recounting the history of this great man. They often fail to give us dates, to distinguish the periods of di Scledo's life, and to inform us on particulars of which we know little or nothing. They do not even tell the day or the year of either his birth or death, or say where he is buried. This negligence is all the less excusable because they take care to record his brilliant deeds, and to sing the praises of his rare virtues.(27)
The Bollandists, following a crowd of Italian authors, give John the title of Blessed. Nor do they doubt that Rome permitted his cult at Vicenza and Padua -- perhaps at Bologna also. In the history of his order, Augustine of Florence (a Camaldolese monk) does not hesitate to declare that the splendor of his virtues and miracles made him equal to Saint Anthony of Padua. Julius Careamo, a historian of Vicenza, places him among the saints and blesseds of that city.(28) Quoting Father Francis Barbarano, who was a native of Vicenza, a Capuchin, and a reliable historian who was an eye-witness of part of what he wrote, the Bollandists make him say:It is certain that John of Vicenza has always been regarded as a saint -- both during life and after death. It is certain that Sovereign Pontiff s not only permitted his miracles to be published, but also the name blessed to be given to him, and his image to be exposed for the veneration of the people.(29)This likeness, in fact, was still to be seen in the Church of the Crown, Vicenza, late in the eighteenth century. On it was the inscription: "My peace I give you" (Pacem meam do vobis). This was to signify that blessed peace which our Lord merited, and which He alone can give.(30)
All that we have said of the holy life, the great reputation, and the extraordinary deeds of our champion of the faith can be proved by the testimony of two Popes. Fortunately, ten or twelve papal briefs replete with eulogies of him are still extant. Suffice it though to quote from one or two of them. Extracts from them can hardly fail to gratify the reader. In one of date April 28, 1233, Gregory IX thus speaks to di Scledo:From Our heart do We thank the King and Saviour of all ages that, in these late years of malediction and revolt, when heretics in their perversity are making such violent efforts to distort the dogmas of faith and destroy the unity of the Church, the divine goodness has aroused the holy ardor of a young man among the children of Israel. We thank God that, in His providence, He has so inspired this young man, who, through the glory of his miracles, has so victoriously defended the Church and confounded those who do not cease to persecute and calumniate innocence. It affords Us the greatest satisfaction to be assured that you do not need a command ere you take up the cause of piety with zeal and courage. It is an unfeigned pleasure to realize that you enjoy the liberty of the children of God, and that His grace guides you in all things.The reader will doubtless recall the determination of the Bolognese not to allow John of Vicenza to leave their city. It will also be remembered that Gregory IX was obliged to interfere before they would even let him go to Florence and Sienna on the mission of mercy which the Pope wished him to undertake. In this connection Gregory wrote to the citizens of Bologna:
The cries of the Florentines and Siennese have reached Our ears; and Our heart has been deeply touched by the lamentations of those who groan in chains and in the squalor of dungeons. Hunger and thirst are devouring many. The sword has put an end to the misery of others. The blood that has already been shed, that which is on the point of being poured out, and the great suffering of the people appeal to Us for a mediator, or an angel of peace. We should rejoice, therefore, if God inspired you to accept the position of ambassador of Christ, and to hasten to the succor of the two afflicted cities, there to labor for the lives of those who are in danger of death and for the souls of all.
We do not wish to give you a command to this effect; for We know that you are guided by the Holy Ghost, whom all must obey. Still We pray that He who makes use of your ministry to aid and comfort those who are in distress will arouse your compassion in this instance. May He inspire you as to what you should do in behalf of these two cities, whose maddened citizens are destroying one another in merciless cruelty. May He so direct your actions that you will not have cause to join with Us in shedding useless tears over a catastrophe that can not be repaired.(31)The chosen people of God almost destroyed the tribe of Benjamin. This the children of Israel did in their zeal for the law, in fulfillment of the command of God, and in punishment of a heinous crime. Yet they soon showed great sorrow for the loss, and set about repairing it with marvellous ardor. in the same way, with what sentiments of compassion should you be filled by the present deplorable state of the two most renowned cities of Tuscany -- Florence and Sienna! Satan, in his malice, has blinded these people, filling them with such overmastering wrath and hatred that they seek the total destruction the one of the other. Both souls and lives are lost.It was because of this letter that John of Vicenza was finally allowed to repair to Florence, and then to Sienna, where he settled the troubles of the people in the happy manner we have seen. Then he made his report to the Sovereign Pontiff. Gregory at once honored him with another brief. In the document the Pope tells di Scledo that the good news of his extraordinary success reached the papal court before his letter. His Holiness clearly shows his joy over the turn of things, and thanks God, whose justice is always tempered with mercy, and who often punishes that He may amend. Then he adds:
Everything is already in a state of extreme agitation among them. Their cities are in frightful ruins now; and it is to be feared that they will soon become mere wastes. Yet those who strive to do what is right firmly believe (nay, it is the common opinion) that, in order to prevent the last-mentioned disaster, all that is needed is that Our dearly beloved son, John of the Order of Friars Preacher, should come among them and use his efforts for peace. They do not doubt that the God of peace will put an end to their calamities, even root out the seeds of discord, through the instrumentality of a man. who is so pleasing in His sight; just as He made use of John's ministrations among you to accomplish great things for the glory of His holy name and the refutation of heresy.
We therefore, beg you; We exhort you in the name of our Saviour; We enjoin you, for the remission of your sins, to prevent anyone in your city from putting any obstacle in the way of so good a work. Contrariwise, if the Holy Ghost, as We hope He will, uses this devoted man to turn away the misfortune with which we are threatened at close hand, you should applaud and encourage his undertaking. In this way, your good will can not fail to make you participate in the reward of his labors.(32)All that now remains for Us to do is to give Our heart to the Blessed Saviour in prayer that, for the glory of His name and the salvation of souls, He may preserve (nay, increase) in you the gift of miracles which he has bestowed on you. We shall beg Him to keep you in the path of justice so that, laboring with all patience and humility, your works may be crowned with the death of the just.(33)The pressing needs of the Church called for the exertions of the Friar Preacher in more than one place; for his character and reputation seemed to enable him to sway hearts, wherever he went. It would appear, too, that the people of several cities wished to retain him among themselves, or even followed the example of the Bolognese and tried to hold him by force. At least, shortly after di Scledo finished his work among the Florentines and Siennese, Gregory IX wrote to the archbishops and bishops of Italy, forbidding any and everybody to attempt to detain him in whatever place, when he felt that he had done all that was necessary for the good of religion or peace. The purpose of His Holiness in this was that the man of God might be free to go where the Holy Ghost should direct him, or the interest of good call him. Of a character with the brief to the Molognese people, from which we have just quoted, is another to the clergy and magistrates of the same city. It bears date June 28, 1233. In the document Gregory tells them:The deep attachment and special veneration which you have, in Christ our Lord, for the great propagator of His holy name, Our dear son, John of the Order of Friars Preacher, could not but be extremely gratifying to Us. We consent, for the sake of your instruction and consolation, that he shall make his ordinary abode among you. But We can not, without doing what would be wrong and prejudicial to others, permit that they should be entirely deprived of the aid which they have a right to expect from him. Above all, We could not tolerate such a thing in a case of extreme necessity, when We are convinced that his presence would be very helpful to the faithful, as well as pleasing to God.All the other extant briefs which either concern Blessed John di Scledo of Vicenza, or are addressed to him personally, contain similar proofs of the perfect confidence which the Holy See reposed in his accomplishments, integrity, and virtue. It would be to no purpose to give a translation of these letters apostolic here; for they would merely lengthen our sketch of the great Friar Preacher, without really adding any items of importance to what has already been said.
It was with this view that We acted, when, after having added Our exhortations to Our prayers, We expressly commanded you, in the virtue of holy obedience and in the name of the Holy Ghost, to give this Friar Preacher full liberty to follow the impulse of grace and to go into whatever places to which the hand of God might guide him. Your compliance in this matter will bring you new blessings from heaven, no less than the favor of the Holy See.
We have made no distinction against you in this matter. So We do not wish you to be unaware of what has been done in order to procure everywhere the same liberty for this ambassador of Christ, Father John of Vicenza. We are, therefore, very happy to be able to tell you that We have written letters apostolic to Our venerable Brothers, the Archbishops and Bishops, as well as to all the other ecclesiastical superiors, throughout Italy, enjoining them to repress, by the censures of the Church, the rashness of every and anyone who should dare seek to retain the Friar Preacher by force and against his will.
We want all Prelates to punish those who disobey this order with excommunication, and to put the places where the disobedience occurs under interdict. We want them to threaten with Our indignation all cities which presume to spurn this ordinance. Otherwise, if they are so honored, We shall be obliged to deprive them of the dignity of being an Episcopal See.(34)
Suffice it then to say that never have the Popes written to one who was only a religious and a priest in more honorable terms. Never perhaps have they taken such precautions that the various cities and provinces of Italy might be successively benefitted by the preaching of any one man. Nor have the faithful ever shown more complete deference to the counsel of a wise and judicious adviser, greater eagerness to hear him preach, or a stronger desire to retain him in their midst.
Nothing seems more uncertain than the time, place, and manner of di Scledo's death. There seems to be no trace of him after 1259, when, with the authority of Alexander IV he lifted the ecclesiastical censures from his native Vicenza. Some have held that he died a martyr in defense of the Church in Italy during the troublous times in which his career was thrown. Others again tell us that he became a missionary among the infidels of the east, and gave his life in the cause of the faith there. But there is no proof for either statement. Possibly the cause of the lack of information on this important point in his history is to be traced to the well-known carelessness of his Order in keeping annals of its work and members.(35) Despite this unfortunate fact, in his Order at least, the name of Father John di Scledo has ever been a household word for all that is good, holy, and zealous. His memory should be cherished until the end of time.
1. Father di Scledo has never been formally beatified; nor has the Order of Saint Dominic generally been permitted to say mass and recite the divine office in his honor. Thus in calling him "blessed" we merely follow the example of all who have written about him. Perhaps, in accordance with the present law of the Church, "venerable" would be a more appropriate term. He is commonly spoken and written of as John of Vicenza. However, as his family name seems certainly to have been di Scledo, we have preferred to designate him more frequently by that name; for it is more in keeping with the usage of the present time. (Ed. note).
2. Quoted in Acta Sanctorum, XXVIII, 410, No. 3.
3. ALBERTI, Leander, O. P., De Viribus Illustribus Ordinis Praedicatorum, folio 184; BARBARANO, Francis, O. M. Cap., Historia Vicentina; BZOVIUS (Bzowski), Abraham, O. P., Annales Ecclesiastici, col. 262, 306, 410, 411-413, 424-428; CANTIMPRE, Thomas de, O. P., Bonum Universale de Apibus, Book II; FLEURY, Claud, Histoire Ecclisiastique, XVII, 50-51; SIGONIO, Charles, Historiae Ecclesiasticae (Book I De Episcopis Bononiae); SPODE, Henry de, Annales Ecclesiastici.
4. ALBERTI, op. cit., folio 194; MARCHESE, Dominic M., O. P., Sagro Diario Domenicano, IV, 11.
5. FLEURY, op. cit., XVII, 50; GODI, Anthony, Cronica della Cittd di Vicenza; SIGONIO, op. cit., p. 44.
6. MUSCHETA, Valerio, O. P., Vita Beati Joannis de Vicenza, quoted in Acta Sanctorum, XXVIII, 417, No. 26.
7. MUSCHETA, as in the preceding note, and passim; SCLEDO, as in note 2, and passim.
8. This was in 1233. Father Benedict Reichert's Acta Capitulorum Generalium shows that the general chapter of 1233 was held in Bologna. (Ed. note).
9. SIGON10, op. cit., Book II, 118.
10. FLEURY, op. cit., XVII, 50. See note 8.
11. Testimony of Cantimpré cited in Acta Sanctorum, XXVIII, 424, No. 4.
12. Ibid. This translation is ad sensum. (Ed. note).
13. BARBARANO, op. cit., CARCAMO, Julius, Catalogus Sanctorum ac Beatorum Vicentinorum (or Catalogo dei Santi e Beati di Vicenza); MUSCHETA, as in note 6; RAYNER, Anno 1233 (possibly this reference is to Oderic Raynaldi's continuation of the Annales Ecclesiastici by Baronio); SIGONIO, op. cit., Book XVII De Regno Italiae.
14. PARIS, Matthew, Chronica Majora, Anno 1238; DE SPODE, op. cit., Anno 1233.
Evidently Father Touron mistook Matthew of Westminster for Matthew Paris. The last named was a contemporary of Blessed John of Vicenza. However, Touron's censure goes back to him; for Matthew of Westminster, who wrote his Flores Historiarum later, largely followed Matthew Paris, and was long often confounded with him. De Spode likely made the same mistake. Paris evidently wrote his censure of John of Vicenza from the first reports of the Bolognese incident, and he did not take the pains to correct it afterwards, although his Historia Minor often considerably modifies, statements of his earlier work. He was an Englishman, and was specially prone to criticize what happened in other countries. (Ed. note).
15. Bullarium Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum, I, 48, 51, 56, 57, 58, 59, 69; FLEURY, op. cit., XVII, 51.
16. FLEURY, as in the preceding note.
17. DE SPODE, op. cit., Anno 1233, No. 6.
18. Acta Sanctorum, XXVIII, 426, Nos. 15-17; QUETlF-ECHARD, op. cit., I, 151; MAIURISIO, Gerard, Historia Dissidiorum Marchionis Estensis cum Ecelino Romano, p. 40.
19. See Acta Sanctorum, XXVIII, 427, Annotata.
20. QUETIF-ECHARD, op. cit., I, 152.
21. SIGONIO, op. cit., Book II, p. 108.
22. Bullarium Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum, I, 59. We do not know if Milanti actually joined the Christian army in the Holy Land. (Ed. note),
23. Father Touron does not tell us where this letter is to be found. (Ed. note).
24. Gregory IX died on August 22, 1241. Celestine IV succeeded him on October 25, 1241, but died fifteen or sixteen days later. Then, through the intrigues of Frederic II, came a long vacancy. Innocent IV, who succeeded Celestine, was not elected until June 25, 1243. (Ed. note).
25. Bullarium Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum, I, 174.
26. Acta Sanctorum, XXVIII, 411, No. 7.
27. Ibid., No. 8.
28. Ibid., 410, Nos. 1-4.
29. Ibid., 410, No. 2.
30. Ibid., No. 3. Whether this painting is still in Vicenza we can not say. (Ed. note).
31. Bullarium Ordinis Praedicatorum, I, 48.
32. Ibid., 48-49.
33. Ibid., 51.
34. Ibid., 57.
35. An addition of the editor suggested by the Acta Sanctorum and other authorities. The Année Dominicaine (VII, 1 ff) has a splendid article on John di Scledo, in which it says (page 16) that he seems to have been living in 1264. (Ed. note).