PETER SCALIGERI, OR DELLA SCALA, BISHOP
According to the authors cited by the Cistercian abbot, Ughelli, and Father James Echard, O. P., Peter Scaligeri, or della Scala, belonged to the noble family of the Scaligeri who were signori or sovereigns of Verona in the thirteenth century. However, he was born in Bergamo. The precise date of his birth is unknown. His parents sent him to the celebrated University of Bologna, where he was a student when Saint Dominic began to establish his Order in that city. History tells us of the great numbers of both pupils and professors who were there drawn to the Friars Preacher by the virtue and magnetism of the man of God.
Young Scaligeri was among the first who entered the new institute, and it is thought that he received the habit from Dominic's own hands towards the end of 1219. At any rate, he had the rare advantage of learning from his Order's founder the true way of first purifying one's own soul by prayer and penance, and then of instructing others and bringing them into the way of salvation. Dominic's plan of apostolate includes a thorough course of studies. In these, for he was an apt and industrious student, Peter made rapid progress. In fact, he soon acquired the reputation of being one of his Order's learned men. His virtue was not less solid than his knowledge.(1)
For many years, because of his rare erudition, Father Scaligeri taught in various houses of the Order in Italy. Classes in both Scripture and theology seem to have been entrusted to his care, for he was perfectly at home with either. Nevertheless, he was a man of great active zeal, as well as possessed of superb eloquence. For this reason, his superiors also often employed him in the ministry of preaching. Possibly now and then he exchanged the class room for the pulpit. At least one writer assures us that he electrified the people throughout the Italian Peninsula with his sermons, and that great good resulted from them. He enjoyed an extraordinary reputation both as an orator and as a professor.
Despite his busy life, Father Peter found time to do considerable writing. Three notable works are known to have been the fruit of his pen. But unfortunately they were composed bef ore the art of printing was invented, and have been allowed to remain in manuscript form. One was a commentary on the Gospel of Saint John (Postilla in Joannem), which Sisto da Sienna, commonly called Sixtus Senensis, O. P., says he saw in the convent of the Friars Minor in Genoa. Another was a commentary on the Gospel of Saint Matthew (Postilla Super Matthaeum). Father James Echard, O. P., found two copies of this postil, one in the library of the Sorbonne, and the other in that of Saint Victor, Paris. The third was a book of sermons for the Sundays and feasts of the year (Sermones de Tempore et de Sanctis per Annum) . It is highly praised by Panvinio in his Illustrious Veronese (De Illustribus Veronensibus), and cited by Father Vincent Bandello, O. P., in his Treatise on the Conception of the Blessed Virgin (Tractatus de Conceptione Beatae Virginia).(2)
So toiled on the venerable Friar Preacher far beyond the period of exertion ordinarily allotted human beings in this world. Neither age nor long years of labor bad lessened his zeal, or impaired his vigor, whether mental or physical. He must have been considered a marvel even in Italy, where longevity is not uncommon. The Church there had no more apostolic harvester of souls. By all was he admired, loved, and esteemed for his learning, judgment, virtue, and kindly disposition. In the language of today he would be called "the grand old man."
All this, there can be little doubt, led to what is almost without a parallel even in the long, varied, and interesting history of the Catholic Church. Possibly Peter had declined the miter more than once before, for he seems to have been one whose heart was set on doing good, rather than on dignities or honors. However, when the bishop of Verona, the Right Rev. Bartholomew, O. S. B., died (1290), the clergy and people of that diocese earnestly begged Nicholas IV to give them the beloved Friar Preacher as their chief pastor. Peter was then nearly ninety years of age, almost seventy a professed religious, and sixty-odd a priest. One would think that they believed he would never die, and that he would always remain the same.
No doubt, Nicholas IV was surprised at the choice. Still, for he held the aged divine in no less love and esteem than did the Veronese, he seems not only to have confirmed the election, but also to have obliged our nonagenarian to accept the unwelcomed dignity. Father Peter was now Bishop Scaligeri. Undaunted by his years, he took up his new burden with the courage of a much younger man, accomplishing no little good for religion in the Diocese of Verona. Among the things that characterized his episcopate was a strong, unwavering defense of the rights of his see, whose privileges he caused to be recognized by his grace, the Most Rev. Raymond Torriani, patriarch of Aquileia. Like his whole life, Peter's short episcopal government was noted for vigilance, zeal, kindness, and gentle rule.(3)
But the end had finally to come to the holy man's life, as well as to his labors. He died on September 12,1295, after an episcopate of about five years, universally regretted by his diocese. Doubtless he outlived all who had received the habit from the hands of Saint Dominic, and profitted by his immediate religious instructions. Of Scaligeri Abbot Ughelli says:
Peter, of the house of the Scaligeri and a member of the Order of Preachers, became bishop of Verona in 129O. He was a man of well-known and tried integrity, as well as possessed of great learning, and one of the first whom the blessed Patriarch Dominic received to the habit of his institute and to his holy way of life at Bologna. As he was a very old man (almost at the end of his life), Peter held the charge entrusted to him for only four years.(4) His death, in 1295, was mourned and lamented by all. Under him Raymond, Patriarch of Aquileia, confirmed all the privileges, rights, . . . etc. [of the Diocese of Verona].(5)
Father Touron closes his sketch of Bishop Scaligeri at this place. He does not tell us what authority the patriarch of Aquileia claimed, or bad exercised, over the Diocese of Verona. We know, however, that in the settled Old World matters of this kind are not easily adjusted; for prerogatives are maintained almost as a part of life itself. That Scaligeri, or della Scala, as he is often called, won his case shows that, despite his age and gentle disposition, he was still a man of strong will and mind, as well as of great influence.
1. ALBERTI, Leander, O. P., De Viribus Illustribus Ordinis Praedicatorum, folio 127; FONTANA, Vincent, O. P., Sacrum Theatrion Dominicanuin, p. 320; PIO, Michael, O. P., Delle Vite Degli Huomini Illustri del Ordine di San Domenico, col. 33; QUETIF-ECHARD, Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum, I, 417; SIXTUS SENENSIS, O. P., Bibliotheca Sancta (?), Book 4; UGHELLI, Italia Sacra, V, 847. Father Touron places all these authorities on the margin at the side of the first paragraph, which shows that they are the sources from which he drew for his sketch. From now on the first note will give merely such general sources, including those of the adapter.
2. QUETIF-ECHARD, op. cit., I, 417. We have filled out Touron's sketch from Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum (loc. cit.). The Panvinio cited there was very likely the well-known Father Onofrio Panvinio, O. S. A. The Scriptores speak also of a third copy of Scaligeri's Commentary on Saint Matthew that has not his name written on it. (Ed. note).
3. This seems to be the opinion of all the writers. (Ed. note).
4. Conrad Eubel (Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi, I, 522), gives February 25,1291, as the date of his appointment, and September 12, 1295, as that of his death. The late writers who, because of his extreme age, would make the bishop of Verona another Peter Scaligeri rather stretch their criticism, and try to judge of the extraordinary by ordinary laws. (Ed. note).
5. Petrus e gente Scaligera ortus, Ordinis Praedicatorum, huic Ecclesiae (Veronensi) Praeficitur anno 1290, vir spectatae integritatis, atque doctrinae, unus ex primis Dominicani Ordinis alumnis qui a Patriarcha Dominica Bononiae ad sanctae conversationis habitum fuerunt recepti. Hie, cum esset pene capularis senex, munus sibi commissum ad quatuor tantum annos administravit, omniumque moerore mortuus est anno 1295; sub quo Raymundus Patriarcha Aquileiensis confirmat omnia privilegia, jura, etc.