FLORIN WEBSITE © JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAYAUREO ANELLO ASSOCIAZIONE, 1997-2017: MEDIEVAL: BRUNETTO LATINO, DANTE ALIGHIERI, SWEET NEW STYLE: BRUNETTO LATINO, DANTE ALIGHIERI, & GEOFFREY CHAUCER || VICTORIAN: WHITE SILENCE: FLORENCE'S 'ENGLISH' CEMETERY || ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING || WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR || FRANCES TROLLOPE || || HIRAM POWERS || ABOLITION OF SLAVERY || FLORENCE IN SEPIA  || CITY AND BOOK CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII || MEDIATHECA 'FIORETTA MAZZEI' || EDITRICE AUREO ANELLO CATALOGUE || FLORIN WEBSITE || UMILTA WEBSITE || RINGOFGOLD WEBSITE || LINGUE/LANGUAGES: ITALIANO, ENGLISH || VITA
New: Dante vivo || White Silence

Please publish this essay as widely as possible, especially in countries where medical care is privatized for profit and its cost destructive of the human family.

 
 

CRUELTY-AND MERCY

MEDIEVAL MODELS FOR MODERN TIMES
 
 


 


 

{here are two networks in the world today, each unravelling the other. One is Judaeo-Christian and even Islamic, and based upon the quality of mercy. The other is based upon the profit motive, upon greed, and now takes as its sacred texts, Macchiavelli's The Prince , which it misreads, and Darwin's Origin of the Species, which it again misreads. The English word 'kindness ' comes from that for 'nature ', English lacking really a proper word for ' mercy', God's ' loving kindness' for us, Hebrew's hesed. We see this use in Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love. When Portia, in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice IV.1.184-6, gave her speech, condemning Jewish Shylock, 'The quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath ', she was actually quoting Jewish Moses' own words about God's mercy for us, 'My doctrine shall drop as the rain: my speech shall distil as the dew; As the small rain upon the tender herb: and as the showers upon the grass' (Deuteronomy 32). She was attacking in Shylock the modern business world's, the First World's, obsession with the profit motive. One hears it now in the structures of religion, education and medicine, where it does not truly belong. It is for profit only, not seeing people as a resource. Portia is guilty of misreading the Bible's Law and twisting to her own ends Moses' words, for all her legal brilliance. But we need to take up her attack/defence and plead with it for all God's Citizens, all of us as created and coined in God's image.

La Madonna della Misericordia, Bigallo, Firenze, 1342

Niccolò Macchiavelli was writing in a Florence that had been a Republic, dedicated to the love of God and one's neighbour, 'l'amor di Dio e del prossimo '; and proclaiming with that Christian ideal, the other of the pagan Roman Republic, before its days of Empire, of 'Libertas '. But he was now sadly and bitterly and with tongue very much in cheek writing about a Florence which had been taken over by a tyrannical mercantile nouveau-riche family, the Medici. It was openly said in this period, by members of the Church like Thomas Aquinas and Girolamo Savonarola, that such tyrant princes are 'motivated solely by the basest of instincts: rapaciousness, lust, pride and avarice'. Such attributes in this period clearly represented the reverse of all Judaeo-Christian values. Macchiavelli writes in such a way that he seems to be offering 'profitable' advice to his Prince. But he could trust his Florentine citizen readers to understand his bitter sarcasm and satire. He is like Dean Swift in 'A Modest Proposal'. What he is truly saying is from the Bible, from Psalm 118.9, 'Put not your trust in princes'. Rather than being the trusty adviser to merchant princes, Macchiavelli is provoking tyrannicide, which at this period Church theologians, such as Aquinas and Savonarola, were proposing even as a justifiable act. In one paragraph in The Prince Macchiavelli unravels his entire web, stating that once a people has known the taste of freedom, as had Florence as a Republic - of which he himself had been Chancellor - they shall never tolerate the tyranny of a Prince. When Elizabethan plays created a villain, he was a 'Machiavel ', a character totally lacking in all morality and to be despised and in no way admired, one who had deliberately placed himself outside of God's pale, outside of the Kingdom of Heaven, in that of Hell.

JESVS CRISTVS
REX FLORENTINI POPVLI
S.P. DECRETO ELECTVS
were the words democratically chosen to be placed above the Palazzo del Popolo's entry, that Christ was proclaimed King of the Florentine People. The Medici later, on their restoration, changed the wording from 'JESVS CRISTVS/ REX FLORENTINI POPVLI/ S.P. DECRETO ELECTVS' to 'REX REGVM/ DOMINVS/ DOMINANTIVM', to emphasise their tyranny.

But today Macchiavelli's Prince is taught in seminars to business executives in America and in England not as satire, but as straight and brutally frank advice. Such teaching is dastardly. It is a profound misreading of the text. And it damages both the rich and the poor. The rich pay a terrible price for their wealth - that of other's poverty and misery, and that of the loss also of their own health. An earlier economist, David Ricardo, advocated the brutal economics of poverty in Ireland and its population went from six million to three million. That is genocide. My own great grandmother and great aunt died in that Famine, nursing the poor, though themselves rich, of typhus. Caveat emptor, caveat lector, Beware, Buyer, Beware, Reader, this text has a skull and crossbones clearly marked upon it, showing it to be as poisonous - as carcinogenic - as a pack of Marlborough's cigarettes. I took early retirement as a university professor, loving teaching but finding the ambitiousness of the newly-adopted corporate style policies of universities, that the more one published, the higher one's salary would be, to be detrimental to my health. The more I published, the more my salary froze and the more my blood pressure rose! So, instead, I took early retirement and I made the Vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience simply to God. Only to find my colleagues of my own age dying left, right and centre of me; those who survived in fear of their lives from deadly problems associated with the rich life, too much good food, too little exercise, too much anxiety, too little soul-nourishing. My poverty is not misery, but a different wealth; it is my health, my happiness and my salvation. I and a contadino, a peasant, both climb a mountain nearby, and we talk. He has been ordered by his doctor to do so if he wishes to live. Last year he was miserable; this year he is happy and healthy and climbs with a spring in his step, a smile on his lips. I climb it to save bus fare and to carry the groceries up, having no car. Join us!

Charles Darwin in The Origin of the Species gave to Victorians not the model of the Bible, of God creating Man at the beginning of the world, but that of Evolution, of Man as evolving from lower forms of life, clawing his way into 'superior' being, of ' Nature red in tooth and claw', and the ' survival of the fittest', through competition. That, too, my scientist colleagues told me, is actually a misreading of Darwin's text. Yet the business world has adopted it as its pseudo-model, both eliminating competitors and for its marketing copying anything that is addicting: stimulants and cigarettes, cars and petrol stations, fast food stores and hamburgers; not understanding why these are counterproductive, rather than evolving from them into those which are less of the assembly line and more of the body and the soul. Maurice Maeterlink pointed out that some species actually endanger themselves through such pattern adoptions that are hazardous to their bodies and their brains. We are interdependent, our fragile and beautiful eco-sphere the astronauts saw from Space requiring not the elimination of the competitor but co-survival and symbiosis. We are more the delicate blue marble, the Heavenwindow ourselves, of a Della Robbia , than we are of a bloodied Dracula .

Medieval cities saw themselves as such a balancing act, surviving off the agriculture of their hinterland, requiring the love of God and one's neighbour, and liberty, in order to flourish, their commerce being for themselves but also for the common good, the 'Commonwealth', the Res Publica. When tyrants in the Renaissance became wealthy and powerful, to the detriment of others, there could be a creative swirl about them of protest art, such as Michelangelo's bust of the tyrannicide Brutus, and his magniloquent Medici Tombs, but these princes shattered the prosperity of the many, reducing them to misery, and walled themselves up in fortresses against the discontent of their people. They filled their vast slave-built halls with loot, with useless art; they lived as though in soulless museums. But one can stand in Siena's medieval City Hall, its Sala della Pace, and see on the one hand the city, the Res Publica of Siena, at peace and in prosperity, its hinterland safe and yielding a rich harvest, its young people studying in schools and dancing in its streets, on the other, the city ruled by vice, resulting in criminality, poverty, famine, our Kosovos and Baghdads.

In Florence and elsewhere, during the Middle Ages, confraternities came into being whose members would help the deserving poor, the sick and the dying. These confraternities still exist today. One sees the ambulances of Florence's Misericordia parked outside the Duomo. They are manned, and womanned as well, by black-clad lay volunteers, a rosary about their belt, who tend to the sick and the dying, caring for both their physical and their spiritual needs. Seven hundred years ago their members had laid the first stone of that cathedral. Today, at the Cena Domini, on Maundy Thursday, the Cardinal Archbishop of Florence washes the feet of eleven of them as they sit before him on the altar steps.

The Good Men of St Martin, the Buon Uomini di San Martino, another confraternity, started by a Florentine Bishop, are to own only their simple chapel by Dante's house, and a strong box, nothing else. Into that box is placed the money the members will then anonymously disburse and the requests for assistance received from the proud poor. They have been doing so for hundreds of years.

The rich banker father of Dante Alighieri's Beatrice Portinari founded the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, that still exists today. Dante Alighieri's teacher, Brunetto Latino, in his guilt at the cannibalism of Ugolino of his progeny in the Pisan famine the Florentines wrought, helped with founding Orsanmichele as a granary to feed the starving, including the enemy, in famine tide. Florence also established the Bigallo and the Hospital of the Holy Innocents, to take in abandoned babies and to raise them amidst some of the greatest art the world has produced, especially commissioned for them, paintings of the Slaughter of the Innocents, paintings of the Nativity, paintings of the Holy Family.

Andrea Della Robbia, Holy Innocent, Hospital of the Holy Innocents, Florence

Even the criminals going to their execution from the Bargello to the Porta Santa Croce, as they journeyed along the Borgo La Croce saw this image painted in a tabernacle, of Christ's mercy and Mary's, reaching out to them:

(The glass protecting the Tabernacle's fresco is reflecting the building on the opposite side of the street, creating this visionary effect.) Then, under the influence of Cesare Beccaria's book, On Crimes and Punishments (1764), against capital punishment as barbaric and uncivilized, both the Grand Duke of Tuscany (1786) and the Tsar of Russia (substituting for it, exile to Siberia) abolished it, this square in Florence, into which Borgo la Croce opens, now being called 'Piazza Beccaria'.

Rather than adopting the Renaissance and Victorian anti-models of Macchiavelli and Darwin, perhaps we could adopt these medieval models of the Florentine Misericordia and the Buon Uomini di San Martino? Rather than bankrupting families with the care of their ill members, or aborting babies that are unwanted, why not establish hospitals like Santa Maria Nuova and the Hospital of the Holy Innocents, in New York, London, Melbourne. These confraternities and these hospitals are contemporary with Julian and reflect her theology of the love of one's 'even-Christian'. Julian herself, because of such charity, was enabled to write her Showing of Love. Here, in Florence, rich and poor come together to help poor and rich in the times of their greatest need - and in helping others with mercy all set in place a structure which in turn will benefit themselves in their own time of the greatest need. But more than that, in having helped another, each overcomes in part his own selfishness and finds joy, each overcomes his own fear of death and finds love. Here is a model where the city carries out its commerce, and balances it with charity, using the one to fund the other. There could be no better insurance. It also costs the least. This pattern, this model, exists as well with Italian savings banks, which were required by law to disburse a portion of their profits for charity and for culture. Consequently the rich banks earned the respect of the citizens because the citizens also benefitted from their wealth. It was not a lottery system, redolent of the gambling casino, as set up now in England, but an obvious and overt tax on profit for the common good. Such banks in Italy helped fund libraries, book publication, research, scholarly conferences, concerts, art restoration, hospitals and ambulances with grants from their profits, benefitting the communities culturally and medically from whom they profit. It is a model one should love to see adopted in England, in America, in Canada, and in Australia ajonathanjs well. It needs to be restored in Italy, where we lost it under Berlusconi.

'Christ girded himself with the towel of our humanity to minister to that which was sick'. Cyril of Jerusalem

Money is not an end in itself, only a means to an end. Its currency is power. To hoard it up in the hands of the few is to cause the poverty of the many - and the disease of all. This bitter cold winter (now some winters ago) I saw young people sleeping on the snowy pavements of London, without work, without education, without skills, without hope. We need the merciful commonwealth of a Florence to be understood and adopted in other parts of the world, far more than we need misreadings of Macchiavelli and Darwin in thought, word and deed. We could learn lessons of love and prosperity from the Middle Ages. The Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith said that the profits banks make are obscene. It is obscene where money clusters in the hands only of the few, blighting the lives of the many. It is not productive or profitable in that way - except for a legacy of costly museums to pride like Versailles. Far more profitable has been the legacy of libraries of great learning preserved and treasured up for use for century upon century. Books are a different economy - and productive for the soul. People likewise are a different economy. Educate a woman in a Third World nation, which costs little to do, and the life expectancy rises, the infant mortality drops, far beyond what the monetary investment could ever have hoped to achieve. Or give a Third World family an Oxfam donkey. At Nuremberg, the Hippocratic Oath was given this addition: 'I will not permit consideration of race, religion, nationality, party politics or social standing to intervene between myself and my patient'. Balance the two webs productively of greed and charity, cruelty and mercy. Money is a language for power - to do ill or good. Like water and seed, it is needed upon the parched earth that rich harvests may ensue, harvests of learning, of beauty, of skills, of nurturing, of caring, of joy, of love.

he quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. 

y doctrine shall drop as the rain: my speech shall distil as the dew; As the small rain upon the tender herb: and as the showers upon the grass.


Essay originally written 1997
 
 
 

FLORIN WEBSITE © JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAYAUREO ANELLO ASSOCIAZIONE, 1997-2017: MEDIEVAL: BRUNETTO LATINO, DANTE ALIGHIERI, SWEET NEW STYLE: BRUNETTO LATINO, DANTE ALIGHIERI, & GEOFFREY CHAUCER || VICTORIAN: WHITE SILENCE: FLORENCE'S 'ENGLISH' CEMETERY || ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING || WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR || FRANCES TROLLOPE || || HIRAM POWERS || ABOLITION OF SLAVERY || FLORENCE IN SEPIA  || CITY AND BOOK CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII || MEDIATHECA 'FIORETTA MAZZEI' || EDITRICE AUREO ANELLO CATALOGUE || FLORIN WEBSITE || UMILTA WEBSITE || RINGOFGOLD WEBSITE || LINGUE/LANGUAGES: ITALIANO, ENGLISH || VITA
New: Dante vivo || White Silence