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Studies in European literature, being the Taylorian lectures 1889-1899, delivered by S. Mallarmé, W. Pater, E. Dowden, W. M. Rossetti, F. W. Rolleston, A. Morel-Fatio, H. Brown, P. Bourget, C. H. Herford, H. Butler Clarke, W. P. Ker online

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Online LibraryTaylor InstitutionStudies in European literature, being the Taylorian lectures 1889-1899, delivered by S. Mallarmé, W. Pater, E. Dowden, W. M. Rossetti, F. W. Rolleston, A. Morel-Fatio, H. Brown, P. Bourget, C. H. Herford, H. Butler Clarke, W. P. Ker → online text (page 16 of 26)
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down on his book-box — that was all. His diet was
spare as his lodging — vegetables, hardly any meat,
a little white wine, toast — his fine palate appreciating
the great varieties of flavour obtained by that excellent
method of cooking. His old friend, Frate Giulio,
attended to him, saw that he was washed, dressed,
brushed, &c. From the convent registers we learn
that two pairs of sheets lasted him twenty years — thanks,
no doubt, to the shake-down. He was a devourer of
books, and he had them bound before he read them.
I suppose most of them were like modern German
editions. Mathematics were his pastime, and these he
kept for the afternoons. Sir Henry Wotton adds some
further touches : ' He was one of the humblest things
that could be seen within the bounds of humanity, the
very pattern of that precept : Quanta doctior, tanto


submissior, and is enough alone to demonstrate that
knowledge, well digested, non inflat. Excellent in
positive, excellent in scholastical and polemical divinity ;
a rare mathematician even in the most abstruse parts
thereof, and yet withal, so expert in the history of
plants as if he had never perused any book but Nature.
Lastly a great canonist, which was the title of his
ordinary service with the state, and certainly in the
time of the Pope's interdict they had their principal
light from him.' Sarpi's manner was excessively cere-
monious and urbane. Times were dangerous, and polite-
ness is an excellent weapon of defence. He talked
little, but possessed the gift of making others talk.
When he did join in the conversation his tone was per-
suasive, not dogmatic. He cared most, as Fra Fulgentio
says, to know the truth — una gran curiosita d'intendere
come realmente le cose fossero passate. And this gave to
his attitude a certain air of aloofness, indifference, dis-
dain, irritating to those who were defending a parti pris,
and led Sarpi to say that nothing so much as the truth
rendered superstitious men obstinate {Osservo quest a
esser la proprieta delta verita che fa piu ostinati gli
animi superstiziosi '). It also induced him to lay down
a rule for his own guidance : ' I never,' he says, ' tell

' a lie, but the truth not to everybody {Non dico mat
buggie, ma la verita non a tutti ^),' not because it is not

' weU to tell it always, but, as he remarks, because not
everybody can bear it.

The temper of his mind was scientific — mathematics
were his favourite study — and the scientific method is
apparent throughout all his work. ' I never,' he writes,
' venture to deny anything on the ground of impossi-

' Lett., ii. i6o. ' See Enq/c. Brit., s.v. Sarpi.


bility, for I am well aware of the infinite variety in the
operations of God and Nature {lo mat non ardisco negare
cosa alcuna riferta sotto titolo d' impossibiliia, sapendo
molto bene V infinita varieta delle opere della natura
e di Dio ^).' In respect of this scientific quality Sarpi
is a very modern man. He is talking about the merits
of the various writers of his day, and whom does he
select for praise as the only ' original authors ' ? Vieta
and Gilbert, two men of science^ — just as we might
say that Darwin and the scientific writers were, in a
sense, the only original authors of our day.

Linked with this genuine love of discovery for dis-
coverj^s sake — this curiosity as to how things really
were, which is perhaps the essence of the scientific
spirit — Sarpi also possessed an exquisite modesty. He
never displays one iota of jealousy, and is absolutely
without desire for notoriety. Yet Galileo acknowledges
assistance in the construction of the telescope from mio
padre e maestro Sarpi. The famous physician Fabrizio
of Acquapendente exclaims, ' Oh ! how many things
has Father Paul taught me in anatomy.' The valves
in the veins were discovered by Sarpi. Gilbert of Col-
chester ranks him above della Porta as an authority on
magnetism. In his treatise on ' L'arte di ben pensare,'
the Method of Thinking Correctly, he certainly antici-
pates the sensationalism of Locke.

Many of his curious inventions, and more of his ideas,
were freely placed at the disposal of his friends, and no
acknowledgment in public ever sought. Indeed Sarpi,
in this respect, lived to the height of his ovra generous
maxim. Let us imitate God and Nature; they give,

1 Lett., i. 229. ' See Quart. Rev., No. 352, p. 379.


they do not lend. Twice only does he assert his
priority. It is important to note the occasion, for it
affords some clue as to Sarpi's personal estimate of the
relative value of his works. Writing to a friend in
France on two different occasions, he exclaims, ' I was
the first to affirm that no sovereign had ever freed the
clergy from allegiance to himself {lo prima del Barclay
scrissi die sebbene quasi tutti i principi avessero con-
cesso esenzioni at cherici, mai perb non si potrebbe
trovare che essifossero per alcuno liberati ; and again : lo,
. pel prima in Italia, fui oso bandire che niuno imperante
sciolse i cherici dal sua potere ').' Sarpi is right to
■ guard his reputation here, for it is precisely on the point
of ecclesiastical politics, and not in the region of science,
however brilliant his accomplishments may there have
I been, that his real distinction rests.

Thus far I have endeavoured to represent some of
the qualities which characterized the mind of Paolo
Sarpi. But let us press a little deeper, and discover,
if possible, his fundamental views of life, his inner
religion, the faith by which he lived. He was a strict
observer of outward forms and ceremonies ; so strict,
indeed, that his enemies were unable to fasten upon
him any charge which they could sustain. The cut of
his shoes was once impugned by a foolish but trouble-
some brother; Sarpi, however, triumphantly demon-
strated their orthodoxy, and it became a proverb in
the Order that even Fra Paolo's slippers were above

. But beneath the surface of these formalities, I think
I that Sarpi was essentially sceptical as to all human
1 presentations of the truth, outside the exact sciences.
' Lett., i. 313, ii. 414.


And, as so often happens, this scepticism was accom-
panied by a stoical resignation to fate, and a profound
belief in the Divine governance of the universe. It was
this scepticism which kept him inside the Church of
Rome, in spite of his dislike to its excessive temporal
claims and worldly tendencies. He never showed the
smallest inclination to change his native creed for any
of the various creeds which the chaos of Reformation
bestowed upon Europe. The temper of his mind —
eminently scientific — prevented him from enjoying that
strong externalizing faith which allowed Luther to
believe that he had engaged in a personal conflict with
the devil. Sarpi was Italian, not German ; he was not
superstitious, and an Italian who is not superstitious
is very frequently sceptical. This scepticism, however,
did not leave him without a religion, its corrosive power
could not reach further than the human formulas in
which men endeavoured to confine the truth. Below
all these lay the core of his faith. In his letters no
phrases occur more frequently than those which declare
his conviction that all is in the hands of God. While
in constant danger of his life he refused to adopt the
precautions recommended by his friends, being con-
vinced that he would not be killed before the appointed
time. When he sees the course of events taking a turn
destructive of his hopes, again he aifirms his confidence
that the issue will be for good. 'What human folly
is this to desire to know the future ! To what pur-
pose ? To avoid it ? Is not that a patent impossi-
bility? If you avoid it, then it was not the future^.'

' Lett., i. 270: 'Che miseria 6 questa umana di voler sapere il
future ! A che fine ? per schifarlo ? Non fe questa la piu espressa con-
traddizione che possi esser al mondo ? Se si schifera non era future ! '


''Fate guides the willing,' he said, 'but compels the
reluctant^,' an aphorism which we may parallel with
Dante's noble line. In la sua volontade e nostra pace,
or with that simpler and divdner, formula of submission.
Thy will be done.

But there was a further principle in the religion
of Fra Paolo, a principle which saved him from the
dangers of fatalism. He was perfectly convinced that
men were the agents of the Divine will, and that it
was man's first duty to act, to take advantage of the
fitting occasion which presented itself almost as a
Divine injunction to use it. This doctrine of the Kaipos,
of the fitting opportunity, is repeated again and again
throughout the letters^. In all human action, he
writes, opportunity is everything. It is well to do
God's service without regard of consequences, hut only
if all the circumstances are propitious. Without that,
such action cannot merit the name of good, and may
even be a hindrance to successful action in the future,
when the season is ripe. Again : As for myself,
being well aware that to use an unpropitious occasion
is little pleasing to the Divine Majesty, I never cease
to make myself more able and more ready to act when
the right moment arrives ; and, like the artificer, I
gather material when not at work. If the time should
never come far me, what I have gathered may be of
service to another.

It is a cold religion, perhaps, but a very strong one ;
vnth a deep taproot of faith and an abundant field for
the play of human practical judgement, for the develop-

' Lett., ii. 126, 429 : ' I fati conducono chi vuole, e chi non vuole
' Lett., i. 269.


meiit of human action. And this is a proof of its
goodness, that in spite of all Fra Paolo suffered — in
body, from Ul-health and the assassin's dagger ; in
tnind, from calumny, from apparent failure, from
isolation — his religion was strong enough to sustain and
strengthen his whole life, and a contemporary observer,
Diodati, was forced to admit that Every blow falls •
paralyzed and blunted on that sweetness and maturity
of affections and spirit, which raise him to a height far i
above all human passions^.

And now, before proceeding to an account of Sarpi's
life-work — to a narrative of what he found to do in the
field of ecclesiastical politics, it will be as well to see
what his views upon this subject were, and what
weapons of offence and defence were at his disposal.

We must bear in mind that throughout the contro-
versy upon which Sarpi was about to engage, it is
not the Church which he is attacking but the Roman
Curia, and the new tendencies which it represented —
new, that is, in so far as they gave a new form to the
mediaeval claims of the Papacy. Sarpi observes that
the Curia would like to give to the Pope not the
primatus but the totatus'^ in the world of ecclesias-
tical politics. He has a distinct name for the policy
which was represented by Spain, the Jesuits and the
Inquisition — he calls it the Dia-catholicon. For the
Jesuits, whom he conceived to be the life and spirit of
the Dia-catholicon, are reserved his most pungent irony,
his most crushing attacks. He hated them because he

' Mor. Kitter, Briefe u. Acten sur Gesck. des Dreissigjdhrigen Erieges,
ii. 131 : 'Tutti i colpi vengono al ammorzarsi e rintuzzarsi in
quella sua dolcezza e maturita d'affetto e di spirito che lo tieno
quasi fuori di ogni commovimenti.' • ' Lett, i. 275.


thought they were not only a serious and unwarranted
danger to temporal princes, and destructive of good
citizenship, but even more, because he was convinced
that they were leading the Church upon a false track ;
confounding the things of earth with the things of
heaven, and introducing disorder into a divinely ordered
world ^.

The political situation stood thus : the Curia could
always rely on the dread of Spain to enforce its supre-
macy upon an unwilling Italy; France was the only
counterpoise to Spain; England and the Protestant
princes of Germany were too far off, and as Sarpi said,
they were quite unknown in Venice; and this com-
bination of Spain and the Curia was developed by the
Jesuits for the furtherance of their special ends. Sarpi
was convinced, as he says, that 'if the Jesuits were
defeated, religion would be reformed of itself^/ And
what his aspirations were in the direction of reform
can be gathered from his letters, from such explicit
passages as this : I imagine, he writes, that the
State and the Church are two separate empires —
composed, however, each of them, by the same human
beings. The one is entirely celestial, the other terres-
trial; each has its proper limits of jurisdiction, its
proper arms, its proper bulwarks. No region is common
to both . . . How, then, can those who walk by different
roads clash together? Christ has said that He and
His disciples were not of this world, and St. Paul has
declared thai our citizenship is in heaven^. Again

' Lett, ii. 6 : ' mescolare il cielo colla terra.' ' Lett, ii. 217.

' Lett., i. 312 : ' lo immagino che il regno e la chiesa siano due
stati, composti peril degli stessi uomini ; al tutto celeste uno, e
terreno I'altro ; aventi propria sovranita, difesi da proprie armi et


Sarpi argues that the Church, being a divine institution,
cannot ever be really injured by the State, vi'hich is
a human institution ^. He wishes to mark the two as
entirely distinct from one another, moving on different
planes. If asked, what then is the field of action left
to the Church, if she is to interfere in no matters
secular and temporal, Sarpi replies that to the Church
he leaves the wide field of influence, through precept,
through example, through conviction. Religion is the
medicine of the mind. As the doctor to the body, so
the cleric to the souP. Let the Church make men
good, voluntarily, freely, of their own accord, through
conviction, and they will not govern wrongly, nor will
they ever run counter to their nursing mother. The
phrases are such as we might expect in the mouth of
a reformer, and yet I think it certain that Sarpi was no
Protestant, in spirit or in form. Diodati, the translator
of the Bible, who had come to Venice with high hopes
of winning Fra Paolo and his followers to an open
secession from Rome, reluctantly admits that Sarpi is
rooted in that most dangerous maxim that God cares
nothing for externals, provided the mind and the heart
are in pure and direct relation with Himself. And so
fortified is he in this opinion by reason and examples,
ancient and modern, that it is vain to combat with
him 3. That is the true word about Sarpi. The

fortificazioni ; di nuUa posseditori in commune ; impediti di muo-
Tersi, comecchessia, scambievolmente la guerra. Come s'avrebbero
a cozzare se procedono per si diversa via ? Cristo ebbe detto che
Easo e i discepoli non erano di questo mondo ; e Paolo santo di-
chiara che il nostro conTersare 6 nei cieli.'

' Lett, i. 275.

' Arte di bmpensare, MS. Marciana, cl. 2, Ital. Cod. 129.

' Eitter, ut sup., 131 : ' Sarpi 6 fisso in una periculosissima


outward forms were so indifferent to him that he would
never have abandoned those into which he was born.
But that did not prevent him from lending his aid to
the party who wished to establish a reformed Church in
Venice. It is impossible to deny that he did so after
reading Dohna's ^ most explicit reports. Sarpi would
gladly have seen perfect freedom for all forms of
worship, provided that the worshippers remained good
citizens. No wonder that, with these principles at
heart, he dreaded every success of the Jesuits; no
wonder that the Jesuits hated and pursued him alive
and dead. Whether Sarpi can be considered a good
churchman or not, depends upon the view we take of
what the Church is and what its functions, the answer
we give as to the headship of the Church. Certainly
he was no churchman at all in the sense intended by
the Curia and the Jesuits, certainly not one of those
qui filii sunt legitimi. And yet Bossuet's assertion
that under the frock of a friar he hid the heart of
a Calvinist, is quite untenable. And the opinion here
expressed is confirmed by a letter to Cardinal Borghese
from the Nuncio, Bentivoglio, no friend to Fra Paolo,
in which he says that, though Sarpi displays a great
alienation from the Court of Rome, and holds views
diametrically opposed to the authority of the Holy See,
yet he shows no inclination to embrace the new heresy ^.
And there we must leave it ; he had his own ideal of
a Church, and expressed it in the passages just quoted.

massima che Iddio non curi 1' esterno, pur che 1' animo e 'I cuore
habbia quella pura e diritta intenzione e relazione a lui . . . £t
in quella 6 in maniera fortificato per ragioni e per esempli anticbi
e moderni che poco s'avanza combatterglielo.'

' Bitter, ut sup., 75-89. '■' Balan, Fra Paolo Sarjii, 39.


I think that, if he had given himself any name at all,
he would have called himself an Old Catholic.

As to the weapon at Sarpi's disposal, his inimitable
and individual style, something must be said before we
come to the actual struggle with the Curia. We have
seen that the bent of Sarpi's mind was pre-eminently
scientific, and scientific is the chief quality of his style.
His manner was precise, parsimonious, hard, positive,
pungent. Never was there a more complete lack of
adornment, a more thorough contempt for rhetoric, in
a writer of so powerful a pen. And yet the whole is
vivified by a living logic, and the reader is caught, and
held delighted, by the compulsion of a method which
is never explained but always felt. That is why Sarpi
may be called the historian's historian ; that is why
Gibbon, Macaulay, HaUam, Johnson, agree in placing
him in the foremost rank. Sarpi is chiefly concerned
in saying his say so directly and simply, that the
comments, the deductions, the lessons become obvious,
are implicit in the very narration. Let me take an
example. Fra Manfredi (one of his colleagues in the
struggle with the Curia) was enticed to Rome upon a
safe conduct, which guaranteed the inviolability of his
person and his honour. This notwithstanding, he was
tried, forced to an ignominious public recantation, hung
and burned. How does Sarpi narrate this event?
' I know not what judgement to make,' he writes ; ' the j
beginning and the end are clear — a safe conduct and \
a "pyre^.' This is what Sarpi meant by Varte del colpire,
the art of striking. The eifect is obtained by the v
simplest juxtaposition of the facts, and no rhetoric

^ Lett., ii. 102: 'lo non so che giudicio fare ; benchfe il principio
e il fine siano manifesti, cioh un salvo condotto e un incendio.


could have more eloquently expressed the writer's

It is a mascuUne^ athletic style; a style of bronze^
polished and spare. Only one decorative variation
breaks the rigid outline of its simplicity: Sarpi possessed
a dry, ironical humour with which he made great play.
Referring to James Vs commentary on the Book of
Revelation, and laughing at his pretentions as a theo-
logical controversialist, Sarpi says : ' I never claimed to
understand the Apocalypse, but then — I'm not a king^.'
When asking for information as to the views of a man
he was about to meet, he says : ' I should like to know
whether one God in heaven is enough for him, or must
he have another on earth ^, like those ffood gentlemen,
the Jesuits ? ' Again : ' Our adversaries are of such a
kidney that they claim to be believed without proof, while
they deny to us what is as clear as the sun in heaven,
and we have to light a candle at midday to let them see
it.' Yet again, ' There is a Scotchman here, who says
he understands the Jesuits : he must be a very clever
fellow.' And, indeed, this incessant slashing at the
Order becomes a little wearisome, and seems exag-
gerated, perhaps, to us who know the course events
have taken, though Sarpi had it firmly in his mind that
his great duty to Church and State was to thwart the
Order, and defeat its policy.

Such was the man who was called upon to defend
what may be considered a test case in the interests of
temporal sovereigns against the persistent claims of
the Papacy. The question at issue has never really

' Lett. , ii. 29 : ' lo non sono tale che profess! publioamente d'
intendere 1' Apocalissi, perchfe ne pur son Re.'

' Lett, i. 210 : ' Ho molto desiderio di sapere . . . se gli basta un
Die in cielo, oppure se lo vuole anche in terra."


been absent from the field of European ecclesiastical
politics. It is a vital question to this day.

Not many weeks ago the walls of Venice were
covered with large advertisements ' Evviva Paolo Sarpi/
and Signor Crispi, the Italian prime minister, while
commemorating the completion of Italian unity by the
capture of Rome, delivered a speech upon the relations
of the Church to the State which was inspired through-
out by Sarpian sentiments, Baedeker, recording the
statue of Paolo Sarpi, remarks with a brevity and
dryness worthy of Sarpi himself, that 'this monument
was decreed by the Republic of Venice in 1633 and
erected in 1893^; and were Austria in possession of
Venice, I believe the monument would be wanting still.

Why was a monument decreed to Sarpi ? Why has
he waited for it so long ? Why are his sentiments the
inspiring sentiments of a modern European Government?

Doubtless Fra Paolo Sarpi is best known to general
fame as an author, as the historian of the Council of
Trent — not, I imagine, because that work is often read,
but because its writer has received such high commen-
dation from competent judges, — Gibbon, Johnson,
HaUam — that his name has become a name which
people ought to know. But it certainly is not his fame
as an historian which won for the obscure Servite
friar the devotion of his contemporaries, of Wotton,
of Bedell, of Sanderson among Englishmen, of Philip
du Plessis-Mornay, Leschassier, Casaubon, Galileo, in
France and Italy ; and has made his name a living
watchword to the present day.

Sarpi has suffered, I think, from being considered
as an isolated phenomenon, as a figure which appears
upon the stage of history, acts vigorously, even pictur-

Q 3


esquely, and disappears again, without any obvious
connexions in the past, with no very definite effect
upon the future. His biographers tell us who he was and
what he did, but they say little to explain his attitude,
they make no effort to place him in his true historical per-
spective. The consequence is that his figure loses some
of its significance for us ; we are at a loss to understand
the weight of his name, the importance of his career.

As a matter of fact Sarpi represents one very definite
line in ecclesiastico-political history, in that struggle for
national independence out of which modern Europe has
been evolved. An analysis of his intellectual parentage,
a statement of his political descent, vrill help us to realize
his place in the procession of thought; and the course of
this inquiry will explain the devotion of some contem-
poraries, the animosity of others, the reverence and the
hatred with which posterity has surrounded his name.

To understand Sarpi's politico-ecclesiastical position
we must go back for a moment to the origin and
development of the temporal power in the Church.
During the early centuries of the Christian era, the
idea of imperial Rome as the unit of society had been
growing weaker, while silently, and almost unknown
to the temporal rulers of the world, the idea of Christian
brotherhood was gaining in strength. The removal
of the capital from Rome to Constantinople, the con-
version of the imperial family to Christianity, the
failure of the Emperors and the success of the Popes
in withstanding the barbarian attacks ; the separation
of the Church from the Empire, brought about by the
iconoclasm of Leo the Isaurian — all these events con-
tributed to establish in men's minds the idea of the
Church as an earthly power at least concurrent with



the Empire. Then came the union of the Pope and
the Franks; the coronation of Pepin as King; the
protection he afforded to Pope Stephen ; the donation
of lands won from the Lombards ; the crowning of
Charles the Great as Emperor in Rome; and there
we have mediaeval Europe established with its twofold
basis of society, the Pope and the Emperor — a scheme
which satisfied the aspirations of mankind by preserving,

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Online LibraryTaylor InstitutionStudies in European literature, being the Taylorian lectures 1889-1899, delivered by S. Mallarmé, W. Pater, E. Dowden, W. M. Rossetti, F. W. Rolleston, A. Morel-Fatio, H. Brown, P. Bourget, C. H. Herford, H. Butler Clarke, W. P. Ker → online text (page 16 of 26)