The life of Christendom was a life of ceaseless struggle. It was a ruthless struggle, a struggle that never abated nor calmed, but like a hoard of abysmal demons that never rest from tormenting the earth, the enemies of Christendom never stopped with their siege of the government fortress that was to hear the teachings emanating from St. Peter’s throne. “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, For it cannot be quiet, And its waters toss up refuse and mud.” (Isaiah 57:20) Before the Protestant Reformation — in which the Church had to battle a major heretical force outside of itself — the Church had to struggle through very violent divisions within itself. This manifested itself in the Guelf and Ghibelline wars. The Guelfs were those who were loyal to the Church and fought to uphold its political authority. The Ghibellines on the other hand were those who wanted to sever the Church away from politics and upheld very strong anticlericalism. The conversion of Europe was never perfect. There was never a time when all the peoples of Europe were Christian; for even in the days when the Church had immense influence over the state, there was a struggle between those who wanted Christianity to thrive and those who wanted the Faith destroyed (as Christ foretold, there would be tares and wheat)
After Ham mocked his father Noah’s nakedness, Noah awakened and declared a prophecy that is all but overlooked by Christians today: “May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:27). In this one verse, lies the history and the destiny of Japheth. Japheth was the patriarch of the European peoples; Shem left its tent (its temple) when the Jews rejected Christ, and the true religion of God would continue to be advanced through Japheth. “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” (Acts 28:28) “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
Thus all of the Christian empires in history were European. Japheth was destined to be a people of empire (“May God extend Japheth’s territory”), and thus his expansionism would be used to expand the Christian Faith. But even in this, there were those who pushed for Japheth to leave the tent of Shem.
After the death of the Emperor Constantine his son, Constantius II, tried to enforce the Roman Empire to follow the heresy of Arianism, or the rejection of Christ’s divinity. This was a reflection of that very struggle. After so many years of battles with the Church, the Arians made an alliance with the pagan remnant of the Roman Empire against the Church, and the Arians used the pagans as proxies to torment and murder Christians. In Egypt, for example, the pagans seized Christian virgins, stripped them completely naked and clubbed them to death; and anyone who protested was automatically assaulted. In their ambush of the church in Alexandria, one pagan homosexual, who renounced his male identity and dressed himself as a woman, danced upon the altar mockingly calling for the Holy Ghost. Another made himself entirely nude and seated himself on the episcopal chair.
He then gave a speech declaring homosexuality, licentiousness, theft and gluttony as superior to chastity. When Lucian, an Arian bishop, entered the church, the pagans all saluted him, praised his Arianism and proclaimed that he was under the favor of the Egyptian god Serapis. “Welcome, O bishop,” they said, “welcome to you, who deny the Son [Jesus Christ]! Serapis, who loves you, has brought you here!” (1)
This was yet another moment of this struggle between those who wanted the Roman empire to remain Christendom and those who wanted to advance Christendom’s destruction. In the fourth century, a general of German descent by the name of Magnentius revolted against the Roman Empire and murdered one of Constantine’s sons, Constans, and took over the Western half of the empire. When he was in power he tried to reverse what Constantine had accomplished and reopened the pagan temples with the hopes of reviving paganism against Christianity.
This was another moment of the struggle of Christendom. The emperor Julian the Apostate wanted to make paganism powerful again and commenced a horrific policy of persecution against the Church. This was yet another reflection of the struggle. In the 14th century there was a powerful Roman politician named Cola di Rienzi who eventually took over Rome with the hopes of reviving the ancient Roman Empire. While he claimed Christianity, he sided with the anticlerical Ghibellines and the heretical sect, the Fraticelli, and was rightfully identified by Pope Clement VI as a pagan. This, too, was an example of the great struggle between those who want Japheth to remain in the tent of Shem and those who want him to tear it down. In Cola di Rienzi’s story, one finds nationalism and populism, and a similar tale to that of Mussolini himself. It is this history that we will briefly inquire into in this article.
Part 1: the Great Plague and the decline of the priesthood
During the Avignon Papacy, in which the headquarters of the Catholic Church was in France and not Italy, the Great Plague had struck Europe in the year 1347 and wiped out tens of millions of people. The plague, arriving from southern Russia, came at a time when — after dozens of years of the Pope being in France — respect for the Church had been disturbingly reduced. Amidst the advent of the epidemic, blood flowed from the corpses of Englishmen and Frenchmen due the Hundred Years War; and during this atmosphere of horror and violence, Italian states were in bitter tension. The ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles IV, was a pious king although he exerted little effort to establish influence outside of Germany and his native Bohemia.
By the end of 1347 the plague had made its destructive presence in the port cities of Genoa, Pisa, Venice and Constantinople. By February of 1348, the plague arrived in the southern French port of Marseilles. The cities were the most devastated since they had their narrow streets and alleys crowded with people so close to each other as to enable the plague to spread very quickly. Those in the countryside were not as badly hit as the metropolitans. Usually more than a third of a city’s population was wiped out by a bacteria that had a 95 percent death rate. In the city of Siena, more than half of the people died. The chronicler Agnolo di Tura described the horror as such:
“The mortality in Siena began in May. It was a cruel and horrible thing, and I do not know where to begin to tell of the cruelty and the pitiless ways. And it is impossible for the human tongue to recount the awful truth. Indeed, one who did not see such horror can be called blessed. And the victims died almost immediately. They would swell beneath the armpits and in their groins, and fall over while talking. Father abandoned child, wife husband, one brother another; for this illness seemed to strike through breath and sight. And so they died. And none could be found to bury the dead for money or friendship. Members of a household brought their dead to a ditch as best they could, without priest, without divine offices. Nor did the death bell sound. And in many places in Siena great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead. And they died by the hundreds, both day and night, and all were thrown in those ditches and covered with earth. And as soon as those ditches were filled, more were dug. And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands.”
The Pope at the time (1348), Clement VI, was told by his physician — Guy de Chauliac — to keep himself in quarantine. The Pope, in the words of Ziegler, “retreated to his chamber, saw nobody, and spent all day and night sheltering between two enormous fires.” The mortality rate in Avignon (now the center for the Papacy) was over fifty percent; four hundred people were being killed by the plague ever day, and from March 14th to April 27th, 11,000 people were buried in a cemetery that was purchased by the Pope. One third of the college of cardinals in Avignon were killed by the plague and eventually 62,000 people were wiped out.
The horrors of the plague made people so frantic as to accept the conspiracy theory that the cause of the plague was the fault of the Jews. The acceptance of this accusation led to mob violence. Jews were slaughtered by hoards of people inebriated by the conviction that they were indeed enacting justice. The mobs were inspired by a religious faction that came to great influence as the result of the plague. These were the Flagellants, who publicly whipped themselves and exhorted the people to an extreme asceticism. The misery of the plague created an atmosphere of rage, and truly it required a prudent voice to abate the bloodlust of the crowds. Pope Clement VI, fulfilling his duty to direct the flock, condemned the pogroms, declared that anyone who did violence towards the Jews would be excommunicated, and welcomed to Avignon Jews fleeing the mobs. In October of 1349 the Pope issued a papal bull warning against the Flagellants, stating that “beneath an appearance of piety, [the Flagellants] set their hands to cruel and impious works, shedding the blood of Jews, whom Christian piety accept and sustain.”
The plague struck Paris and in the year 1348, 400 people were dying every day in that city. Eventually, a third of Paris’s population was killed. In the winter of 1349, the plague wiped out 30,000 people in London. Even the rite of confession was given flexibility in such a nightmarish time. Ralph of Shrewsbury, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, sent a letter to the priests of his diocese, telling them that they could either hear the sins of parishioners or explain to them that lay people could confess their sins to one another, since it was too dangerous to be around other people. The threat was very real as half of the priests in Ralph’s diocese were killed in 1349.
In May of 1349, a ship from London was seen by onlookers in the Norwegian city of Bergen. The ship did not have the appearance that it was being driven or directed; it was drifting. City authorities ordered that the ship be boarded. When they entered the ship they found everyone inside of it dead. Now the plague was in Scandinavia which, until that point, did not suffer from the contagion. By the end of 1350, King Magnus II would declare: “God for the sins of men has struck the world with the great punishment of sudden death. By it most of our countrymen are dead.” The amount of death in Scandinavia was horrendous as the majority of the people there were wiped out.
In 1351, investigators commissioned by Pope Clement VI to inquire into the of level destruction that the contagion had brought about, reported that the plague killed 23,840,000 people in Catholic Europe, about thirty one percent of the total population amongst whom were half of the clergy. (2) So many priests were wiped out and this led to the decline of the priesthood.
Part 2: the Reconquest of Papal Italy
On December 6th of 1352, Pope Clement VI died from a tumor. The cardinals, before electing a successor to the seat of St. Peter, began to conspire to consolidate more control for themselves over the papal office by making the cardinals into a form of parliamentary power. On December 17th they swore an oath that new cardinals would only be elected by a vote of two-thirds of the already existing cardinals; that no cardinal could be removed or thrown into prison without the consent of two-thirds of the cardinals; that the Pope would be prohibited from granting lands, towns or castles or appoint or get rid of any officers of the papal government without the approval of two-thirds of the cardinals; and that the Pope was to give half of his revenue to the cardinals. It was an attempt at shifting the governmental apparatus of the papacy by tilting the power more towards the College of Cardinals. The next day (December 18th) they elected one of their fellow cardinals, Pierre Roger, who had been the bishop of Noyon and Clermont (he was also a professor of law at the University of Toulouse), to be Pope, and he took upon the title of Pope Clement VI.
At this time, much of Italy was under the control of warlords and tyrants; the air was full of madness and the lands violence. Italy, once controlled by the Papacy, needed to be reconquered. Clement VI commissioned Cardinal Albornoz to be his legate and vicar in the Papal state in Italy for the purpose of reconquering lands that once belonged to the throne of Peter. Albornoz was indeed a fitting pick; for he had experience in the battlefields of his native Spain in the Reconquista against the Moors. He was a veteran of the Battle of the Rio Salado in Tarifa. It was in this battle where the king, Alfonso XI, was about to engage in hand-to-hand combat with the troops of Abu Hasan, and Albornoz — not wanting the king to be slain — grabbed his horse’s reins and stopped him. The Spaniards were in the middle of losing, but it was Albornoz who rallied the spirits of the warriors and shifted the situation from defeat to victory. Hasan believed that he was doing Allah a service by conquering Christian lands for Islam, as we read in the Cronica de Alfonso XI:
“[Abu-L-Hasan] sent his alfaquis throughout all his realms to proclaim that God had given him power in the kingdom overseas … because he wished to serve Muhammad … and in this Muhammad showed great friendship for him … and that he wished to pass over the sea, to serve the law of Muhammad by conquering and seizing the land of the Christians.” (Cronica de Alfonso, XI, 239).
During the fall of 1339 Hasan’s son was defeated and slain by the Christians in their invasion of Spain. But, in the spring of the following year Hasan vanquished and destroyed a force of Castilian and Aragonese naval ships in the straits of the Gibraltar, giving him access to invade Spain. With the assistance of Yusuf I, Hasan began his siege of Tarifa in June of 1340. Alfonso XI readied his soldiers, but he needed help. The king requested the Pope at the time, Benedict XII, for crusading indulgences and funds. The Pope appointed Albornoz to be papal legate in charge of organizing the crusade. Knights from Navarre, Aragon, France and other European countries, came to Spain to partake in Christian holy war. As the Christian forces approached the enemy, the Muslim invaders decided to give up on their siege of Tarifa and got ready for battle on the banks of the adjacent river Salado (hence the title, the Battle of Rio Salado). Albornoz stoked up the flames of the souls of the fighters, declaring:
Today you can serve God
Now ride forth, brothers,
And do not fear to die.”
Enduring through the grueling combat, the Christians took the victory. (3)
But now, under Pope Clement VI, Albornoz was in another mission of reconquest for the papacy in Italy. Around this time Clement VI rejected the oath that he had made with the other cardinals before his election, knowing full well that it was the job of the cardinals to elect a pope and that their authority could not go beyond that, and that the Pope could not give away his power so that cardinals could have more authority.
This event marked the power struggle between the Papacy and the College of Cardinals, between those who upheld the traditional authority of the Pope and those who wished for a more parliamentary and bureaucratic system for the Church. In the midst of the power struggle, Albornoz launched a military campaign to wrest territory from ruthless warlords. One of these tyrants was Giovanni di Vico, a leader of the Ghibelline faction (which meant that he wished for the power of the state to supersede the influence of the Church) who ruled over Viterbo, Vetralla, Orvieto, Narni and a number of other lands in northern Lazio and Umbria. At this time the Church’s headquarters was not in Rome, but in the French town of Avignon. With the absence of the Church in Rome came rebels who warred against the throne of Peter. One of Di Vico’s political rivals was his own brother, Faziolo, who ruled over Viterbo and was loyal to the Pope and who Di Vico would eventually murder. After killing his brother, di Vico took advantage of the Avignon captivity of the Church and took over the papal cities of Viterbo in 1338, Orvieto in 1352, and Corneto in 1353.
When di Vico seized these cities, Pope Clement VI excommunicated him. His opposition to the Church notwithstanding, di Vico’s relation with the Papacy was not always hostile. Pope Clement VI confirmed di Vico’s vicariate at Viterbo, an acknowledgement of his influential position in the Patrimony of St. Peter (a term used to describe the lands, properties, and revenues from various sources belonging to the Holy See). But whatever diplomacy remained was soon dissipated when di Vico rebelled against the Papacy and backed his Ghibelline allies in Orvieto. Di Vico, in 1346, would defeat papal forces led by Bernard du Lac in the battlefield. In the year 1351, di Vico supported the Ghibellines of Narni and Terni to expel the pro-Catholic Guelfs, pulling those two cities into his sphere of influence.
Part 3: The War Against Cola di Rienzi
Cardinal Albornoz was one of the saints striving to restore the strength of Christendom, by regaining the papal lands from the power of warlords. In Florence, an ally of the Church, he rallied 500 cavalry; 100 in Siena and 200 more in Perugia, all together to reconquer for the papal banner. On June 5th of 1354, di Vico acquiesced and recognized the Pope’s authority over Orvieto and Viterbo. But there was another warlord that Albornoz faced: Cola di Reinzi, who aspired to restore the pagan Roman Republic and went so far as to behead those who he suspected of conspiring against his reign. The day he had these people beheaded was chosen in spite of the Catholic faith, since it was was on the feast of St. John the Baptist who was beheaded by Herod. Cola is considered to be amongst history’s earliest populists. He rose and gained the love of the Roman people since he had gained his popularity by being a leader against the city’s elites. All of this was part of his conspiracy: to spark a revolution that would revive Rome’s ancient glory. As one chronicle described him:
“Lord, what a fast reader he was! He was well acquainted with Livy, Seneca, Cicero and Valerius Maximus; he loved to describe the great deeds of Julius Caesar. Every day he would gaze at the marble engravings which lie about in Rome. He alone knew how to read the ancient inscriptions. He translated all the ancient writings; he interpreted those marble shapes perfectly. Lord! how often he would say, ‘Where are those good Romans? Where is their high justice? If only I could live in such times!’”
Cola was an excellent speaker, utilizing his oratory skills to win the hearts of the masses through speeches on the glory of Rome. As the same chronicle recounts:
“Cola de Rienzi began to speak of the power of the Romans. He wove his tales from Livy and told of Biblical deeds; he opened the fount of his wisdom. Lord, how well he spoke! He would exert all his skill in declamation, and would speak so effectively that everyone would be stupefied by his beautiful speeches; he would lift each man off his feat.”
Besides calling for the return of Rome’s ancient imperial splendor, Cola also demanded for the end of papal temporal power. So here we have a charismatic orator speaking of the glory of his fatherland, stoking revolution against ‘the elites,’ exhorting for the revival of some ancient glory day, and speaking of his nation as sacred and fomenting tensions with the Church, making a clear late Medieval image of proto-fascism.
He had ascended to a position of influence through his long education in which he read the works of Roman scholars and poets. His life in stately work began when, in 1343, he was commissioned by Rome’s government to plead to Pope Clement VI in Avignon for the case of the Roman popular party which had gained much support. He was then appointed by the Pope as the notary of the Roman civic treasury and he returned to Rome in 1344 where he began his revolution. He sent for the people to gather in the parliament on the Capitoline Hill where he declared edicts against the nobles — the elites of the city who were led by two of Italy’s very powerful families, the Colonnas and the Orsinis.
For this he received the massive applause of the multitude. The crowd became ecstatic when Cola announced that he would give himself dictatorial powers. The elites — the barons — were driven out of power and Cola accomplished a bloodless coup. A few days later, Cola took upon the title of tribune. He envisioned Rome as being the capitol of a “sacred Italy,” an idea which springs from a nationalistic sentiment and really shows a much older form of blood and soil ideology.
Clement VI issued a bull declaring Cola a pagan and a heretic. Like Garibaldi in the 19th century, Cola sought to unite all of Italy and on August 7th of 1347 he granted Roman citizenship to all the cities of Italy. He wanted to unite the cities of Italy into a confederacy or political league and granted himself the title of “Tribunus Augustus,” with the intention of having an emperor status, part of his fantasy of bringing back the glory days of Rome. He even prepared for the election of a new Roman emperor in his attempt to revive the Roman Empire. Cola was not void of religious ends himself. He wanted the emperor to establish his right over the throne of Rome and to restore the kingdom of God on earth. (4)
Cola saw himself as a messenger of God and gave himself the title of “candidate of the Holy Spirit,” and he had these titles engraved on a marble tablet on the door of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. Cola’s fixation on the idea of himself being an acolyte of the Holy Spirit came from his support for an anticlerical sect called the Fratcelli (“Little Brethren”), better known as the Spiritual Franciscans, who believed that they were living in the era of the Holy Spirit, the third of three cycles the first two being the epoch of the Father and the epoch of the Son. The Fraticelli were fanatically anticlerical and held that the Church should own no property whatsoever. Since the Church did indeed own property, the Church — to the Fraticelli — was evil and not legitimate and event went so far as to argue that the Pope was the antichrist. Since all Catholic priests had followed the Pope, their authority was thus delegitimized and the sacraments had lost all sacredness. (5)
Cola invited his enemies, Stefano Colonna the Elder, other barons of the Colonnas, the Orsini and the Savelli, to a party. But it was a trap. All of those invited were kept as prisoners. Cola wanted all of them to be slaughtered and he had the banquet room decorated with white and red colors to signify the shedding of blood. But several of Rome’s citizens begged Cola to show mercy, and eventually he granted them pardon and let them go.
But these nobles of Rome were not merely going to forgive Cola for what he had done and tolerate his sway over the city. On September 15th, the barons rushed to their castles and fortified the castle of Marino against which Cola, seeing that they were preparing to make war against him, besieged. The Pope grew more suspicious of Cola, especially since the new leader of Rome arbitrarily controlled the territories of Sabina, which were under papal control. Clement VI sent the cardinal, Bertrando di Deux to Rome to meet with Cola. When he arrived Cola appeared before the cardinal arrogantly, dressed in imperial vestment and presenting himself to the sounds of trumpets with scepter in hand and crown on his head. Pope Clement VI declared that Cola had exceeded his authority and demanded that he be content with just being governor of Rome.
On November of 1347 a battle broke out in Rome outside of the Porta Tiburtina, between the forces of Cola and those of the Orsini and Colonna families. Cola’s forces killed the leader of the opposing force, Stefano Colonna the Younger, and gained victory over his enemies. The day after the battle Cola made his son, Lorenzo, into a knight and sprinkled him with water from the ditch in which Stefano Colonna had fallen. Cola then bathed his son in water and the blood of members of the Colonna family slain in the battle, while telling his son: “Thou shalt be a cavalier of victory”. The people of Rome saw such savagery and viewed Cola as more of a tyrant who had forgotten the ways of justice. Cola began to look upon the people with suspicion and had them assemble for parliament. But the damage had already been done, the populace began to deem him as a despot.
He assembled the parliament of the people to whom he proposed a tax on salt. The people were outraged. Shortly after this a council of twenty-nine sages was formed. Cola accused two members of the council of treachery, sparking a maelstrom of a response against him. To appease the masses, Cola stated that he wished to hold the court in the name of the Pope in accordance to a list of orders given to him by a cardinal. He promised to publish these orders, but never did, and thus the anger against him only increased. It was only just a few months ago that the masses praised this man as a hero and a reviver of Roman glory. But now they were expressing their enmity towards him, describing him as the “iniquitous one who wished to tyrannize by force.”
A mob of people came to the Campidoglio filled with spite towards Cola who tried to appease them by detailing to them how much he had done for the city and stated that if they did not like him it was because they were jealous. But the people received his words coldly. Cola began to weep and to the sounds of trumpets and dressed in his imperial garb, he rode on horseback out of the city and shut himself up in the castle of St. Angelo.
In December of 1347 a multitude of people, after bells rang on the Campidoglio, gathered together against Cola and began to shout “Down with the tribune!” (Hughes, Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History, p. 201) Cola fled to the Maiella Mountains, and during his time of exile, would take refuge in a monastery of Fraticelli fanatics.
With Cola absent the city of Rome went into anarchy. Senators Bertoldo Orsini and Luca Savelli were unable to keep an orderly government. Outside vultures, seeing the weakness of the city, decided to pounce to take the power for themselves. There was a German mercenary named Werner von Urslingen who ran a private army that called itself the Great Company and consisted of around ten to twelve thousand fighters. This von Urslingen despised God, was spiteful of pity and a hater of sacredness. The actual motto of von Urslingen was: “Enemy of God, Enemy of Piety, Enemy of Pity”, and he had these words engraved onto his breastplate. (6)
Von Urslingen had recently laid the region of Romagna to waste. In November of 1347, von Urslingen led an army of fifteen hundred men alongside Louis of Hungary (who hired the German mercenary) and conquered Naples. Von Urslingen then led a force of mercenaries and headed towards Rome which was in a state of political instability. On their way they sacked and massacred the population of the town of Anagni. But they did not reach Rome; for after the destruction of the town of Anagni von Urslingen’s army was struck by the Black Plague since another outbreak occurred and thus prevented them from advancing any further.
While Cola was in the monastery he took the time to absorb the false prophecies of a Fraticelli hermit, Fra Angelo, and through this was convinced that (in the words of Falconieri) “he was the instrument chosen by the Holy Spirit to save the world and guide it toward a new age of purity and perfection.” He began writing a manifesto filled with apocalyptic prophecies for the reform of the Church and the regeneration of humanity. (Hughes, p. 201) He wished for the emperor, Charles IV, to hear these prophecies since he began to see him as their fulfillment.
Suddenly, the emperor received a letter from Cola’s biggest supporter, Petrarch, amongst the most famous of Renaissance thinkers. The letter exhorted Charles IV to look to Italy: “Let not solicitude for transalpine affair, nor the love of your native soil detain you; whenever you look upon Germany think of Italy. There you were born, here you were nurtured; there you enjoyed a kingdom, here both a kingdom and an empire; and as I believe I may, with the consent of all nations and peoples, safely add, while the members of the empire are everywhere, here you will find the head itself.” Not too long after receiving this message, Cola was in the emperor’s presence.
Cola travelled to Prague on July of 1350 to present his manifesto to the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles IV, with the hopes of persuading him to establish the ancient regime of Rome. Charles IV gave Cola an audience out of mere curiosity of seeing the man who once ruled Rome with such charisma and sway. Cola was hoping that the emperor could send him to Rome as his emissary. Cola then began to write letters to Charles, the chancellor of the empire and to the archbishop of Prague, Arnest von Parabubitz, and the emperor noticed his bold language and cast Cola into prison.
The Pope, Clement VI, demanded that the emperor give Cola to Church jurisdiction. He told the Archbishop of Prague to either send Cola to Avignon or keep him under control. On February 1st of 1351 Pope Clement VI wrote to the emperor informing him that Cola had been declared a heretic by Cardinal Bertrand de Deux and by the bishop of Tusculum, Anibaldo di Ceccano. A year later (February 24th of 1352), Pope Clement VI wrote to the archbishops and bishops of Germany ordering that they warn the people of Cola’s heresy and to shun him. (7) The emperor sent him to the Archbishop of Prague, who yielded him to Pope Clement in July 1352.
In Avignon Cola was tried before three cardinals and sentenced to death. Cola’s confinement was quite comfortable for a prison. He was locked up in a tower where he had the liberty to study the Bible, read the histories of Titus Livius and several other books.
Meanwhile in Rome, the current leader of the city, Giovanni Cerrone, could not get the warlord Giovanni di Vico to submit to him. Di Vico continued his rebellion and reconquered Viterbi, Toscanella, Corneto, Orvieto and other territories. Eventually Cerrone, unable to subdue di Vico and after losing the support of those around him, left the city, leaving it to the anarchy of the power vacuum. In early 1353, Rome would soon be ruled by Bertoldo Orsini and Stefano Colonna. But these two were hated by the people who, in the 15th of February, 1353, rose against and overthrew them.
While Cola was in prison, Pope Clement VI died and his successor, Innocent VI (who, like Cola, hated the nobles of Rome) believed that he could use Cola to take power over Rome against the nobles and place it again under papal authority. Innocent VI released Cola and appointed him senator of Rome (8) in order to aid Cardinal Gil Albornoz in restoring papal authority to Rome. Albornoz and Cola fought di Vico for Viterbo and the warlord finally surrendered to papal power on the 5th of June. The Papal commander Rodolfo II da Varano, alongside the Hospitaller Fra Moriale (the second in command of Werner von Urslingen), defeated Galeotto Malatesta, making the powerful Malatesta family into an ally of the Pope. Albornoz, backed by Malatesta, defeated the Ghibelline leader Francesco II Ordelaffi and took from him the areas of Cesena and Bertinoro.
Reading the story of Ordelaffi, it makes sense as to why the Church would want him defeated. He was a scoffer and a vitriolic enemy of Christendom, a member of the Ghibelline faction who believed in stripping the Church of her political influence. After he was excommunicated he told his friends: “Well, we are excommunicated, but for all that our bread, our meat and our wine will taste just as well and do us just as much good.” His mockery notwithstanding, he did not take his excommunication with a smile, but with bloodshed. After a bishop announced his excommunication, Ordelaffi took 14 clergymen (seven monks and seven priests), and had half of them skinned alive and the other half hung from their necks. (9) The story, and the history of the Guelf and Ghibelline wars in general, illustrate the constant struggle within Christendom between those who wanted to remain in the tent of Christ and those who wanted to burn it down.
By August 1st, 1354, Cola di Rienzi was ruling Rome again, although this time he was under the watchful eyes of the cardinal legate. He arrived at Rome like a conquering hero, receiving the adoration of the people who gave him joyous shouting. He had helped to defeat the tyrants, the enemies of the Church, and for this was esteemed a great champion of Rome. Cola made an energetic speech, calling himself senator of Rome in the name of the Papacy. But Cola was in a predicament: when he was fighting to retake territory back for papal authority, he had hired an army of mercenaries led by the Hospitaller knight Fra Moriale who he had taken a loan from, and now needed money to pay him and his brothers back.
At the same time the Colonnas and Orsinis were back on the warpath and sacking territory near Rome. When Fra Moriale came to Rome to collect the debt, Cola had him seized and executed. On the day of his execution, Fra Moriale was dressed in a brown velvet jacket, a dark hood was over his head and his hands were bound behind his back as he was led to the chopping block. One of his hands tightly held onto a cross as his head was pressed against the block. “Romans,” he cried out, “I die unjustly; I die because of your misery and my riches.” In one swift move, his head was decapitated. The people, seeing the execution as unjust, were outraged and quickly revolted. Cola fled, but he was soon seized and executed. Thus the reign of Cola di Rienzi ended. (10) Like Mussolini, Cola di Rienzi was attacked and lynched by a mob of disillusioned Italians. Also like Mussolini, Cola made an alliance with the Church to advance his power.
Cola’s aspiration of reviving the Roman Empire and taking down the Church inspired the racialist and pagan composer Richard Wagner when he composed a piece called Rienzi. This composition would later inspire Adolf Hitler who would play Rienzi at his meetings with his pan-German groups. He played Rienzi in his political rallies in Munich and continued to do this custom for the massive Nazi Party rallies in the Third Reich. In the words of Hans Rudolf Vaget, Wagner’s Rienzi:
“served as a kind of signature tune of the Hitler movement and of the political liturgy celebrated annually at Nuremberg. So attached was Hitler to this music that, as Albert Speer reports in his reminiscences, he refused to replace it with any of the laudable pieces composed for the occasion by eager Nazi musicians.”
Here we can see two things. One, the continuation of history and how one historical figure’s actions can influence and expand in the future. Secondly, that there is nothing new under the sun.
“What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
(1) Theodoret. Eccles. Hist. 4.22
(2) See Carroll, The Glory of Christendom, vol. 3, ch. 10, pp. 389 – 394
(3) See O’Callaghan, A History of Medieval Spain, p. 412
(4) See Vicari, “Cola di Rienzo,” in Marrone, Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies
(5) See Cohn, Europe’s Inner Demons, p. 63
(6) Nolan, The Allure of Battle, p. 59
(7) Cosenza, Francesco Petrarca and the Revolution of Cola di Renzo, pp. 234-236
(8) Hughes, p. 201
(9) Emerton, Humanism and Tyranny, p. 168; The Pacification of the Patrimony of Saint Peter, trans. John Wright, in Jansen, Drell and Andrews, Medieval Italy
(10) Caferro, Mercenary Companies and the Decline of Siena, pp. 5,7