- April Blood: Florence and the Plot against the Medici by Lauro Martines
Cape, 302 pp, £17.99, February 2003, ISBN 0 224 06167 4
It is above all the city’s Renaissance art and architecture that draws visitors to Florence. Those calming vistas were no less precious in the 15th century when they were erected against the disorder that plagued the real Florence: the violent, chaotic city that Lauro Martines has brought to life in April Blood, a history of the conspiracy that very nearly took the life of the young Lorenzo de’ Medici before he had a chance to become the ‘Magnifico’ of legend. Martines describes his book as a work of political history, but April Blood is most compellingly political in that it tells the story of a polity, a city state, poised between the last days of a constitutional republic and the republic’s takeover by a dynasty of merchant bankers bent on becoming lords.
Two people assured that takeover over the course of three generations stretching across most of the 15th century: Cosimo de’ Medici, the wily banker who procured himself the ancient Roman title of Pater Patriae, even as he undermined the fatherland’s constitution and circumvented its laws; and his precocious grandson Lorenzo, whose charm, sustained by military force, created a legend of enlightened patronage that belied the parlous state of his finances and those of the city he aimed to rule. Still, the imposition of the Medicean dictatorship onto a free republic did not come easily. Cosimo would suffer exile in 1433, in the prime of his life; and Martines shows how damning this punishment could be, both socially and financially, to a Renaissance man (he also devotes several chilling discussions to Renaissance women and their ever narrowing sphere of independence). Lorenzo was nearly killed in 1478, at the age of 29, by the ambush that provides the anchor for Martines’s book. Yet in 1478, as had also been the case in 1434, a little rigging of local elections, a little diplomacy, some well-placed shock troops and an outrageous capacity to make cold assessments of human nature were enough to turn each man’s misfortune around and make him master of Florence, without benefit of constitution and with only the occasional benefit of elective office.
The failure of the Pazzi Conspiracy gave Lorenzo the perfect excuse to impose authoritarian rule over the remnants of the Florentine Republic. The Pazzi (the literal meaning of their name is ‘crazies’) were an old Florentine family that still nursed ideas of republican government, the system under which they had managed to amass their fortune and engage artists like Filippo Brunelleschi and Andrea Della Robbia to create their strange, sumptuous chapel next to the Franciscan church of Santa Croce. By 1478, three Pazzi patriarchs were encouraged by the unstable political situation in Florence to consider wresting the institutions of government from Medici hands: the old pilot of Medici ambitions, Cosimo, was dead, as was his son Piero, and the next generation, Lorenzo and Giuliano, were young and vulnerable. After secret negotiations with the Pope and the King of Naples, the Pazzi and their allies decided to kill Lorenzo and his brother during Mass in the city’s vast cathedral, a ceremony scheduled to be conducted by Pope Sixtus IV’s nephew Raffaele Riario, a cardinal. As Martines shows, churches were by no means off-limits as locations for murder: the slaying of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral might have passed almost without notice in Italy. Indeed, the Pazzi chose as their signal to act the moment when Cardinal Riario elevated the Host: that is, the precise instant when, according to the Catholic faith that the Pazzi shared with everyone else in the cathedral that day, the Holy Spirit entered the Host to transform it into the real body and blood of Jesus Christ.
As it turned out, the conspiracy succeeded only by half: the conspirators dispatched Giuliano on the spot, but Lorenzo was only wounded: he escaped into the sacristy, and summoned the troop of Milanese mercenaries he had stationed outside the city. As the Pazzi now discovered, Lorenzo may have been young, but he was as hardheaded a warrior as the mercenaries among whom he had grown up: the handsome brutes Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan and Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini. For the next ten years, Lorenzo would contrive savage revenge on his enemies, always in public, always in the most humiliating way possible. It took Il Magnifico a decade to complete the vendetta, but as Martines remarks, the dish of revenge is best eaten cold.
Vol. 25 No. 17 · 11 September 2003
From Mark McLean
That ‘the Holy Spirit entered the Host to transform it into the real body and blood of Jesus Christ’, as Ingrid Rowland has it (LRB, 7 August), was never the teaching of the Church. According to Catholic doctrine, the Host becomes Christ’s body (but not also His blood, although He is entirely present in both elements) at the words of Institution (Hoc est enim corpus meum), which immediately precede the elevation. The point of the elevation was to allow the faithful to adore the already consecrated Host. The explicit invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiklesis) to ‘come upon’ the elements to effect their consecration was entirely absent from the Western rite at this time, and was never thought by either East or West to happen at the elevation of the Host.
University of Aberdeen
From Marta Knobloch
Ingrid Rowland identifies Caterina Sforza as the mother of Grand Duke Cosimo, and Giovanni delle Bande Nere as her last lover. In fact, he was her son and she was Grand Duke Cosimo's grandmother.
From Kendall Wild
At one point Ingrid Rowland says that the Pazzi conspiracy was in 1478 and, later, that some of the conspirators were executed cruelly in 1477.
Editor, ‘London Review’ writes: Our mistake: the three conspirators executed in 1477 were not involved in the Pazzi conspiracy. They had murdered the Duke of Milan in 1476.
Vol. 25 No. 19 · 9 October 2003
From W.L. Smith STD
Mark McLean’s letter (Letters, 11 September) about Ingrid Rowland’s piece on the Medici contains several mistakes. He is apparently ignorant of the classical doctrine of concomitance by which Jesus the Lord is present in the Host (and in the consecrated wine), Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. It is therefore true that ‘He is entirely present in both elements.’ But that this happens immediately through the words of institution/consecration is not proven: Louis Bouyer defended an Eastern view that it is the whole of the Great Prayer that effects the sacramental change. The ancient liturgy of Addai and Mari has no words of institution – for reasons disputed – though it does have a reference to the Lord’s words at the Supper.
As for McLean’s assertion that the Holy Spirit did not enter into the Host to transform it: St Thomas Aquinas discusses, following Aristotle, the multiple ways in which one thing is ‘in’ another. One way is as a cause is ‘in’ its effects. Since the tradition holds that the sacramental transformation is real, though not perceptible, and therefore an operatio ad extra in relation to the Trinity, it proceeds from the triune God as from one principle, so that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are ‘in’ the consecrated elements.
As for his further assertion that there is no epiklesis in the Roman Rite, we now have four eucharistic prayers, three with explicit epikleses of the Spirit. Even in the old Roman Canon, the prayer just before the words of consecration asks that the offering may be rationabilis. That represents spiritualis from Romans 12.1, where the text of the New Revised Standard Version has ‘spiritual’ and the footnote ‘reasonable’. The prayer is an implicit epiklesis: where there is the spiritual there is the Spirit. Noelle Maurice Denis-Boulet believes that the Gregorian editing of this prayer has been influenced by the Egyptian liturgy where there is, at this point, an explicit invocation of the Holy Spirit. The older book Missarum Solemnia by Joseph Jungmann takes a different view of the Gregorian text of the prayer and rationabilis, but nevertheless regards the prayer as an epiklesis of the triune God.
W.L. Smith STD
University of St Thomas, Rome
Vol. 25 No. 20 · 23 October 2003
From Mark McLean
I will take my medicine on the doctrine of concomitance from the good doctor W.L. Smith (Letters, 9 October). I did not mean to imply that the Church taught that Christ is not fully and physically present in the Host, but I find it odd to refer to the Host (as Ingrid Rowland did) as the ‘body and blood of Christ’. I have never seen or heard the Host so referred to in the context of the Mass.
However, I’m less inclined to accept correction on other matters. Although Smith was not to know this, my principal objection to Rowland’s review – missed by the LRB editors – was that it stated that the consecration of the Host was thought to take place by the operation of the Holy Spirit at the elevation. It was merely with the last three of those words that I wanted to take issue. Whatever one’s opinion of how the consecration of the Sacred Species takes place (and I never expressed mine), it has never been seriously proposed that in the old Roman Rite the consecration was thought to be effected at the elevation of the Host. There is certainly no evidence that 15th-century Florentines saw the elevation in this way. The late medieval understanding of the Mass was that the consecration is effected by the words of institution, and that the elevation of the Host gives the opportunity to adore Christ’s body.
I don’t deny that one might consider there to be an ‘implicit’ epiklesis in the Roman rite in use at the time, and I am aware that the most recent Roman rite has introduced an explicit epiklesis to three of the eucharistic prayers. That they have done so is evidence of what I claimed – that an explicit one was lacking in previous Roman rites. Smith admits that a fourth eucharistic prayer in the new rite lacks an explicit epiklesis. It is the one which most resembles the old Roman Canon.
University of Aberdeen