Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Confraternities and Mendicant Orders: The Dynamics of Lay and Clerical Brotherhood in Renaissance Bologna

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Confraternities and Mendicant Orders: The Dynamics of Lay and Clerical Brotherhood in Renaissance Bologna

Article excerpt

Andreas Alle was in deep trouble. A long-time brother in the Bolognese confraternity of San Domenico, he had been promoted to syndic when that confraternity merged with the confraternity of the Crocesegnati in 1494. The merger had been in the works for almost a decade, and had gained at least tacit approval from the prior of the Dominican friary and the local inquisitor. In the event, however, a new inquisitor proved unwilling to sanction the merger. The lay brothers had seen three inquisitors come and go since starting their merger talks, and so went ahead with the plan, hoping perhaps that a new inquisitor might see things their way. But there was to be no new inquisitor for twenty years, and the incumbent, Giovanni Cagnati, certainly did not see things their way. The brunt of his disciplinary action fell on Andreas Alle. While the confraternity ratified Alle's authority, the inquisitor issued orders removing him from his post. When Alle refused the inquisitor's demand that he resign, he was summoned before the curia in Rome; ignoring the summons earned him excommunication in November, 1496. The curial court subsequently found in favor of the inquisitor's assertion of authority and so cleared the way for reversing the merger in 1497.(1) Why did this confrontation happen, and what might it tell us of the dynamic between mendicants and the confraternities gathered under their auspices?

This paper will look at the dynamic in four ways: first, a brief overview of the spiritual ethos and membership procedures of the confraternities to demonstrate how closely they modeled themselves on the mendicant orders. Second, a brief review of relations between confraternities and mendicant orders during the former's initial expansion in Bologna in the later thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Third, a closer look at confraternal and mendicant relations through the fifteenth century, when mendicant control is said to have expanded. Finally, comparisons will be made to the situation elsewhere in Italy and in Northern Europe.

The standard source for examining the relationship between lay confraternities and mendicant orders in Italy is Gilles Gerard Meersseman's magisterial three-volume work, Ordo fraterntatis: confraternite e pieta dei laici nel mondo medioevo, published in 1977. Meersseman's close study of lay-mendicant relations is based on extensive archival work but is limited to the Dominican order and the confraternities sponsored and supervised by it. A review of the situation in Bologna and comparisons to other Italian and European centers show that there was no single dynamic between lay and clerical brothers but that different religious orders varied significantly in their relations with confraternities. In Bologna the most amicable relations occurred with those orders which accommodated themselves to two chief characteristics of confraternities--a local focus and lay self-direction--and so reduced their expectations of what confraternities could do for the mendicant house. While all the mendicant orders represented in Bologna had some relationship with lay confraternities, this paper will look only at the Dominicans, the Franciscans, and the Augustinians, since these are the only orders for which there is sufficient documentation from the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries.

First, the spiritual ethos and membership procedures of the confraternities.(2) Throughout this period, the confraternal spiritual ethos was one of regulated private and communal worship which aimed to counter the temptations of the world and to structure a life characterized by inward meditation and outward charity. Confraternal statutes laid out a rhythm of private prayer and self-examination aimed at sanctifying the day and protecting the confratello from evil; these were sometimes modified according to members' education, station, and literacy.(3) In weekly services together, members heard the divine office and engaged in mutual confession of their violations of the brotherhood's statutes. …

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