In 1353, two Franciscans planned to go on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It was a journey that would prove fatal to both of them.
The story of their fateful decision is available in this work, first in a German introduction and then in an edition of the inquisitorial record, both the work of Alexander Patschovsky, one of the finest historians working today. Patschovsky is heavily involved in the work of editing Joachim of Fiore's work, but has taken the time to finish editing this important document. He brings to it extensive background information that illuminates key elements in the Latin text.
The journey began from a place identified as Sant'Angelo. One of the two friars, Giovanni di Castiglione, described as a presbyter, was already there when the other friar, Francesco d'Arquata, a layman, arrived and, after some conversation, they decided on the pilgrimage. As Patschovsky observes, there is no shortage of Italian towns named Sant'Angelo, but the specific religious leanings of Giovanni and Francesco might lead us to look seriously at Monte Sant'Angelo in Apulia as the place in question. That would put them in contact with Louis of Durazzo, a notorious supporter of radical spiritual Franciscans; and our two Franciscans left on their pilgrimage armed with a book that marked them as such. More of that later, however.
The two proceeded straight up the peninsula but deviated from their route to visit Assisi and take advantage of the Porziuncula indulgence. Then they continued northward to Avignon, a city with which they would eventually become better acquainted; then to Arles and the Via Tolosana, then to Montpellier. It was at Montpellier that they encountered henchmen of the inquisition. It seems that the Dominicans at Carcassonne, where the inquisition was based, had tasked some of their own in Montpellier with the responsibility of filtering out heretics who appeared on the pilgrimage route. Our two Franciscans were taken and their "little book" (as it is repeatedly described) marked them as suspect. In fact, it marked them as more than simply suspect. Once they aligned themselves with the book, it marked them as heretics.
Before the story of Giovanni and Francesco continues, something should be said about that little book, because it could be considered a leading character in the story. From the moment the inquisitors at Montpellier read it, they seem to have understood its importance. We should begin by acknowledging a basic difficulty that inquisitorial documents often complained about: When asked their views, heretics liked to reply, "I believe what the church believes." They were referring to the church as they accepted it, not the church as the inquisitors recognized it; but once they took this path it often became tiresome to smoke them out.
In this case there was little need for beating about the bush. When Giovanni was questioned at Montpellier and asked what he believed, he replied that he believed what the church believed; but then they asked him if he believed what was written in the little book he and his friend had been carrying. Giovanni asked for the book, read from it, and said yes, this was what he believed. He said what was contained there was true and catholic, that he wanted to stand by it until his death, and that he thought Brother Francesco would do the same.
That did it. Giovanni and Francesco were soon on their way to the inquisitorial prison at Carcassonne, where they remained for around eight months. Then they were returned to Avignon for the actual process, which was presided over by Guillaume Court, known as "the white cardinal" because he was a Cistercian, although technically the final authority would have been Pope Innocent VI.
At his hearing on May 2, 1354, Giovanni at first simply said he believed what the church believed, but when his interrogators asked him whether the church he had in mind was the one currently presided over by Innocent VI he simply said he wished to stand by the beliefs he had professed before the inquisitor at Carcassonne and before the inquisitor's locumtenentes at Montpellier even earlier. (Patschovsky translates the word as Stellvertreter. If one wished to stay in a Romance language one might call such a person the inquisitor's "lieutenant.") More important, Giovanni said his beliefs were more fully stated in the little book taken from him at Montpellier by the inquisitor's locumtenens. The cardinal noted that he had such a book in his possession, Giovanni asked to see it, and it turned out to be the one. A reading from it followed.
The book reflected problems in the time of Pope John XXII (1316-34) and contained the responses of some Franciscans who apparently found themselves more or less in Giovanni's current position. Asked if Pope John was a faithful Christian, they replied that they believed what the church believed. Asked if the pope could remove religious men from their orders and place them in other, less perfect orders (e.g., if he could turn a Franciscan into a Dominican), they said "no." Asked if he could dress Franciscans in fancy habits and give them wine cellars and granaries, they said "no." Asked if he could dispense someone who had taken a solemn vow of chastity from his vow and allow him to marry, they again said "no." Could he dispense from evangelical vows? "No." Could he cancel the decrees of a general council? "No."
And there is more, much more. Burning four friars at Marseilles in 1318 signified, in effect, a rejection of the gospel accepted by Christ and Saint Francis. Those four were not heretics, they were holy martyrs. Moreover, Petrus Iohannis Olivi was a faithful catholic and currently resided in heaven, even though the church had "not yet" declared him to be a saint.
All of this is taken from the confession in the little book. Later the cardinal and his assistants directly address Giovanni. Does he wish to renounce these views? He does not. Then they lovingly beg him once, twice, and a third time to renounce his errors, but instead he goes on to denounce Pope John as a perfidious and pertinacious heretic who deviated from the faith in the series of bulls he published in the 1320s, bulls specifically named in the little book.
The focus is on John, but the year is now 1354. There have now been other popes. What about them? Giovanni has little choice except to call them, too, heretics, because they have not corrected John's errors.
Giovanni is saying, in effect, that the institutional church ceased to follow Christ at least by 1318 and has continued on its heretical way ever since; yet, according to the record, the cardinal and his assistants benignly and humbly continue to try reasoning with Giovanni. Then they offer to pray for him. Giovanni replies that their prayers are offered in sin and he, since he walks in salvation and truth, has no need of them. They have more need of his prayers than they of his. Thus he prays to God that they will confirm him and his associates in their opinions while restoring the inquisitors to the truth.
In Giovanni's testimony we find one more mention of the little book. Giovanni is asked where it came from and replies that he got it from Francesco. Asked where Francesco got it, he says he doesn't know.
Francesco's case took a different course for a while but ended much the same. He recanted but then announced that his faith could be found in a certain small book that had been taken from him at Carcassonne. He asked them to return it and they brought the book Giovanni had read from. When the cardinal handed it over, he said, "Behold, Francesco, a small book containing many heresies" (84). That should have been adequate warning, but Francesco proceeded to announce that this was indeed the book that contained his own confession, the confession according to which he chose to live and die.
The little book did indeed contain a confession written by Francesco in which he asserted Christ's absolute poverty as found in the gospels and in the Franciscan rule, as well as in Exiit qui seminat (1279) and in the decrees of the Council of Vienne (1311-12). Just to make it clear, Francesco's confession goes on to state that John XXII was a perfidious and pertinacious heretic. He then goes on to mention the same bulls specifically mentioned by Giovanni, adding that the popes who have followed John since were themselves all heretics.
Was this confession actually written by Francesco, or should we see it as parallel to what we find earlier in the process when Giovanni, before Guillaume Court at Avignon, announces that he wants to stand with his confessions made earlier before the inquisitor at Carcassonne and before his locumtenentes. He says they are contained in the little book. They bring the little book and he rifles through the pages until he finds the place in which are contained what are again referred to as "his confessions," which apparently means the confessions to which he wishes to adhere. These pages are then read out loud by those officially involved in Giovanni's process, and are included at this point in the process itself, yet they are referred to as "the confession of some poor men in the time of Pope John, taken from the Little Book" (60).
Francesco's case is different. What we have at this point is labelled as "the confession of Francesco Arquata, taken from the Little Book" (85). The following words are, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, amen, I, Brother Francesco Arquata. . ." (85). Then we have the confession.
Remember that according to Giovanni it was Francesco who originally had the book. It's impossible to say for sure, but the evidence seems to point to the strong possibility that Francesco assembled the book, including within it not only earlier confessions from Franciscans in the time of John XXII but also his own confession, heavily dependent on those earlier confessions.
Thus we see Francesco at three stages. The confession portrays him as he aspires to appear before the inquisitors, but what he actually does is give in and recant, then pull himself together and return to his original position. Asked to explain why he had now returned to his former opinion, Francesco said his earlier recantation was inspired by temporary weakness. He was trying to avoid the hardship of life in the prison at Carcassonne. He especially referred to the cold. It is worth mentioning that Giovanni too had suffered from what he described as conscious or unconscious neglect there. He mentioned being so thirsty that he had drunk his own urine.
Thus both men were due to be executed, Giovanni as an impenitent heretic and Francesco as a relapsed heretic. Both drew a line somewhere between Pope Nicholas and Pope John, between Exiit qui seminat and the flood of bulls that, in the eyes of the spirituals, turned the Franciscan life into something radically different.
One more central element in the little book should be noted. It contains a martyrology eight pages long, mentioning 113 people, the same figure given two years later by Jean of Rupescissa in his Liber ostensor (1356). Repetition of the number hardly confirms it. Rupescissa probably got it from the little book or at least from one of its keepers. In So Great a Light, So Great a Smoke (2007), Louisa Burnham names a total of 102 executed between 1318 and 1330, but she is listing only those executed in Provence and Languedoc. The 113 total in the little book encompasses a wider geographical area, mentioning executions in England, Germany, Barcelona and elsewhere; but it leaves us with less reason to be confident as to what the victims had in common, what, that is, they believed or did that made them heretics of a particular species. On the other hand, it includes five names from 1348, one execution in Barcelona and another four in Carcassonne. Then the list closes with one more in Toulouse, but without a date.
Of course by 1356 Rupescissa's number should have been at least 115: he should have added Giovanni and Francesco--and perhaps even others. But by this stage it becomes increasingly difficult to decide what criteria are being used to define those who should be included. There was certainly no shortage of heretics in the latter part of the fourteenth century. The question is whether the particular heresies of those listed here actually qualified them for this list.
There is, however, something odd about the whole story. Did Giovanni and Francesco ever simply intend to go on pilgrimage to Compostela? Or, when they reached southern France, had they completed the pilgrimage they really intended to make? It is Giovanni who tells the inquisitor that they planned to go to Compostela; yet almost immediately we find an odd remark: "Although it would be necessary to receive martyrdom for the faith, as they confess in the confessions inserted in this book" (73). Whose voice are we hearing at this point? Is the tribunal still reporting Giovanni's original conversation with Francesco? Or is some member of the tribunal himself struck by the apparent contradiction between the motives presumably involved in a trip to Compostela and the more starkly existential implications of the call to martyrdom sounded in the confessions?
Somehow it all goes back to the little book. There is some question as to why they brought it along, given the fact that it could (and did) mark them as heretics. It is almost as if they were restoring it to its native habitat, the place where it made the most sense. There is also the fact that Francesco apparently wrote himself into it, an odd thing to do if he intended to reach Compostela and return to Italy alive.
Perhaps that is precisely the thing neither of them expected to do. The little book had an important role to play if the trip was about witnessing, going to the place where what they saw as the major drama involved in it had unfolded, then using the book to confront the false church with the sins it had committed there.