Roberto Caracciolo da Lecce’s Sermons as a Source for Religious and Intellectual History of Late Fifteenth-century Italy

Thesis author: 
Giacomo Mariani
Year of enrollment: 
Duration of thesis project: 
Sep, 2015 - Sep, 2021
Thesis supervisor: 
Gábor Klaniczay
Thesis abstract: 

My PhD project focuses on Italian culture and religiosity in the second half of fifteenth century. This has been a particularly crucial period for Italy, due to the diffusion the new studia humanitatis, which had reached all parts of the peninsula; due to the contrasts this new culture had with the dominant scholastic culture; due to the lively religious ferments, asking for ecclesiastical reform, but also for the lay participation to theological and doctrinal discussion. What my research proposes is to try and investigate some aspects of this culture and religiosity through the traces we can read of them in a peculiar source, the model sermon collections of the Franciscan preacher Roberto Caracciolo da Lecce (1425-1495).
Roberto Caracciolo has been one of the best known popular preachers of his time and by far the most printed preacher of the fifteenth century (eighty different incunabulum editions of his works are known, for a total of more than three-hundred printed sermons). His works were extremely successful, diffused all over Europe, used for preaching by other friars, and read both by a devout and a more intellectual public.
This kind of source is particularly valuable to investigate contemporary intellectual, cultural and religious history, because of the genre’s characteristic bond with the most urgent peculiarities of contemporary audiences. Sermon collections’ value for studying history of culture and society has best been proven as far as the sermones reportati (those recorded by scribes or members of the audience, best if taken down in shorthand) are concerned, because of their obvious link to a very specific audience (as is the case, for example, for Bernardino da Siena’s reported vernacular sermons, which tell us a whole lot on mercantile urban societies of cities like Florence or Siena). This relationship is less visible in model sermon collections like Caracciolo’s: even if these same sermons were preached to a specific audience before being written down, we cannot appreciate any trace of it. However, these model sermons were clearly written to answer problems and necessities of contemporary audiences. Caracciolo himself states that he had picked up writing his own sermon collections precisely to cover a pressing requirement of arguments and topics for popular preachers which were necessary to convince an audience, like the Italian one of late fifteenth century, that was becoming more and more attentive and “curious” (this had been caused, he says, by the diffusion of the studia humanitatis, by the abundance of scholars in any subject, and by the frequent attendance of people to sermons). Finally, the fortune that these collections met among contemporaries is surely a signal of the success of Caracciolo’s plan.
My work plan is: 1) to read all of Roberto Caracciolo’s sermons enucleating the topics mentioned and taking note of any extraordinary element; 2) to attempt a reconnection of some or all of the extraordinary elements noted to a broader context of debate, linking them to other contemporary sources, particularly theological, philosophical and literary texts (and, obviously, other sermon collections). My attention will concentrate primarily on elements regarding religious and intellectual debates and particularly: 1) “high cultural” theological and philosophical debates, 2) widespread unorthodox or heretical ideas, 3) elements of popular religiosity and superstition.