THE IDENTITY OF FRA MARINO:
NOTES TOWARDS A COMPREHENSIVE SOLUTION
TO THE RIDDLES OF THE MEDIEVAL GOSPEL OF BARNABAS
NOTES TOWARDS A COMPREHENSIVE SOLUTION
TO THE RIDDLES OF THE MEDIEVAL GOSPEL OF BARNABAS
©Copyright R. Blackhirst 2015
The Gospel of Barnabas is a 400 year old mystery. The following points attempt to provide a comprehensive solution to the mystery. The first step is to identify the people named in the Preface to the Spanish version of the work recovered in Sydney in the 1970s and then to identify who was responsible for naming them. The Preface is not a blind alley as many have supposed but contains the keys to the mystery. In the following proposal I regard the solution to the identity of "Fra Marino" as watertight, and the identification of the person trying to incriminate "Fra Marino" as equally certain. The motives, means, methods and materials involved are open to more speculation and debate but after a study of the background of these two identifications I think the points I raise are the issues relevant to the case. I accept that I have not found an exact focus upon the historical circumstance but I believe I am very close and possibly as close as we can be.
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"And Barnabas had received documents from Matthew, a book of the word of God, and a narrative of miracles and doctrines..."
- The Acts of Barnabas
1. The GB as we have it (in two vernacular manuscripts united by a Preface) was prepared by Cardinal Giulio Santorio, bishop of Sanseverina, a canon lawyer and Inquisitor. It is, however, clear that he did not compose the work but is using a pre-existing heretical text, adapting it to his purposes.
2. The purposes to which Santorio was putting it was the incrimination of Cardinals Marcantonio and Ascanio Colonna following the events of the papal conclave of 1592. In the conclave Santorio was denied the papacy by the vote of Ascanio acting in league with Marcantonio. This was the provocation and cause of the literary plot that has survived as the medieval Gospel of Barnabas.
3. The main target is Marcantonio. Marcantonio was the protege of Pope Sixtus V and head of the Vulgate Commission and later head of the Vatican library. The Preface purports to be by Marcantonio under a nickname, "Fra Marino". This is a key. It points to the comune di Marino, the ancestral Colonna stronghold, about 15km south of Rome in the Castilli Romani region. St Barnabas the Apostle is the patron saint of this location. It is also here that the Colonna commemorate the Battle of Lepanto (1571) in which Don Marcantonio I Colonna led the papal fleets against the Turks. The point of the allusion in the Preface to this "Muslim gospel" is to portray Cardinal Marcantonio as a Turk-lover and so antithetical to his great Turk-slaying namesake.
4. The half-Spanish Ascanio appears in the Preface as "Mustafa de Aranda" who supposedly translates the GB into Spanish. De Aranda refers to his mother's heritage and is also an allusion to a play by Ascanio's close friend Cervantes (who fought at Lepanto) while "Mustafa" refers to the leader of the Turkish naval forces, Lala Mustafa. The allusions to the comune di Marino are remarkably concrete. If we were to sit near the Fountain of the Moors (commemorating the Battle of Lepanto) in St Barnabas Piazza in the comune di Marino we would appreciate that the GB is pointing to exactly that place.
5. The full dramatis personae of the Preface is:
Fra Marino = Marcantonio Colonna, namesake of Don Marcantonio I, hero of Lepanto.
The gentleman of the Ursini Family = Fulvio Orsini, antiquarian and librarian of the Farnese collection.
The lady Colonna = Marchessa Constanza Colonna di Carrivagio
Her deceased husband = Francesco I Sforza Marquis di Caravaggio, from the Sforza of Milan
Her sons = Muzio and Fabrizio Sforza
Pope Sixtus V (otherwise Montalto) = Felice Peretti, mentor of Marcantonio
Mustafa de Aranda = Ascanio Colonna, sponsor of Cervantes and Spanish literati.
This is a single circle of individuals related by family and position. The identifications are mutually reinforcing.
6. The intended readership of the Preface and the extant vernacular versions was King Philip II of Spain and the Spanish Inquisition. Santorio had been the Spanish candidate for the papacy. The Colonna were in the employ of Philip but voted against his candidate. Santorio was painting the Colonna's actions as high treason. To Philip the GB says that the Colonna are in league with his most bitter enemies, the Turks. To the Inquisition it says that the Roman nobility and higher clergy are infected with the most vile species of heresy. (The dressed work should be seen as a type of Inquisition literature and it is important to appreciate that forgery and fake documentation were a standard adjunct to torture especially in the pursuit of errant intellectuals).
7. The specific scenario suggested in the Preface is that Marcantonio has stolen an explosively heretical text and is preparing for its publication, probably (Philip is to understand) by Spanish Jewish publishers exiled in Istanbul. The "faithful" mentioned in the Preface are probably the Spanish Moriscos whom Philip suspected of collusion with the Turks. Marcantonio is responsible for the Italian text and Ascanio (Mustafa de Aranda) for the Spanish text. The purpose of the notice of a Spanish translation is to suggest to Philip that the Colonna were preparing to publish a Spanish version to be smuggled into Spain for the Moriscos. The extant mss. are dressed up as being in preparation for a publisher. (Santorio would report that his office had intercepted Colonna's correspondence and caught him red-handed).
8. Marcantonio was head of the revision of Jerome's Vulgate under Sixtus V, and also appointed to help expurgate the Talmud of anti-Christian references to allow its limited publication. Santorio was opposed to the direction of both of these projects. In the case of the Talmud he wanted it banned altogether while Sixtus V had (alarmingly) ordered Colonna to translate it into Italian. In the case of the Jerome revision Santorio was fearful that evangelical readings would be allowed into the text. The GB puts into Marcantonio's hands material exactly contrary to his professional position and status. The text of the GB reflects material that both Jerome and the Talmudists fought against, as the Preface intimates. This, in short, is why the GB has the appearance of being under "Ebionite" influence. Santorio wanted to place in Colonna's hands material utterly inappropriate for a Jerome and Talmud scholar to have.
9. The Preface suggests that the GB contains traditions of Hebrew commentary excised from Judaism by the Talmudists and gospel narrative excised from the Christian tradition by Jerome. Jerome was contemporary with the finalizing of the Palestinian Talmud and while the Talmudists excised "Christianizing" influences, Jerome fought against "Judaizing" sects and influences. Thus does the GB have the appearance of containing elements of Samaritanism, Origenism, Ebionism, Dositheanism, etc.- traditions anathemized by Jerome and the Talmudists both. Again, Santorio has not composed this material. He has it at hand and is using it against Colonna. The implication in the Preface - and assuming that Santorio was not going to attack Cardinal Colonna armed only with fairy-floss - is that Santorio himself believes the GB to contain remnants of ancient heresy. Colonna could easily defend himself against such a work as the GB if it were merely an empty hoax. (We must appreciate that what Santorio is proposing is akin to saying today that Cardinal Ratzinger is a secret member of Hamas! We can assume that he will bring to this claim the most potent evidence he can muster. Santorio must believe in the potency of the GB as a weapon and be very confident of the incriminating nature of its contents.)
10. While the conclave was the acute provocation, Santorio's motives are extensive. He had a lifelong hatred of the Colonna which presents several sub-motives in his conspiracy against Marcantonio and Ascanio. In part the GB is prepared in self-defense. Marcantonio's brother, Pompeo, had once brought accusations of treachery against Santorio himself, implicating him in a plot to assassinate Pope Pius IV. Santorio had been arrested and interogated but pardoned by Pope Pius V. When he unexpectedly lost the papacy in the conclave of 1592, and his enemies were unexpectedly in power, he was again exposed to the possibility of renewed accusations and had to take measures to cover himself.
11. Further, in the second half of the 16th C Santorio had made his career pursuing Catholic evangelicals from the flush of radical reform prior to the Council of Trent. He was involved in the torture and execution of some. In the case of the famous Vittoria Colonna, a member of the "Neopolitan Group" and sponsor of radical reform groups, he sought to have her remains dug up and burnt. (The Preface has a sinister allusion to this).
12. By extension, Santorio was opposed to the Milanese reforms in which the Milanese reasserted their independence against their Spanish overlords. Again, the Colonna were receiving benefices from Philip but had, since Vittoria, been active supporters of the Milanese revival which was clearly against Spanish interests. Marcantonio's hero and exemplar was Carlo Borromeo, archbishop of Milan. Anna Borromeo was the mother of Don Marcantonio I. The Borromeos were actively involved in the Battle of Lepanto as well. Moreover, Milan, like the comune di Marino, had St Barnabas the Apostle as its patron. The Milanese had revived the veneration of the relics of Barnabas in the 1520s. Carlo Borromeo reaffirmed them in the 1570s. This was by way of reactivating the position of archbishop of Milan which had lain dormant for several generations. Borromeo sponsored the Barnabites and a Barnabas revival in Milan. The Colonna were involved in this. Santorio regarded it as a case of Spain's enemies fostering and permitting heresy in order to undermine Spanish interests in northern Italy. A "Gospel of Barnabas" draws in the wider context of the Milanese Barnabas revival and the Colonna's connections with the Borromeos and Sforza of Milan.
13. The Preface actually portrays a tradition of heresy. It reports a body of heretical literature in various hands and suggests that it is the inspiration behind the anti-Spanish reforms in northern Italy. Santorio wants to expose a tradition of heresy that is supposed to have existed among the Colonna, thrives in Milan, and is associated with the name Barnabas. The Preface reveals one heretical text but reports others. It seems that Santorio was in pursuit of a particular body of literature of which he had one part but knew the other parts were in private (Colonna) hands. Another sub-motive emerges. Santorio had long campaigned for greater enforcement of the Index of Prohibited Books and greater Inquisitorial access to private libraries. The Preface of the GB is also intended to underline that rare manuscript collectors and owners of private collections, such as Marcantonio Colonna (also Fulvio Orsini, mentioned in the Preface) are a nest of heretics and require urgent Inquisitorial investigation. The Colonna's GB was intended to demonstrate the dangers of leaving private collections unregulated. Santorio achieved some success in this. He was granted increased access to private libraries in 1596. It seems that the outcome of his plot against the Colonna did not win Santorio an investigation into the treachery of the conclave, nor a conviction of the Colonna, but it might have had a hand in eventually raising concerns about heretical texts in private libraries and so in that sense was succesful.
14. As well as listing a dramatis personae, the Preface also provides a bibliography. There is a strong likelihood that the other texts mentioned in the Preface and in the GB itself were real texts and were associated with the GB and that in part Santorio is exposing an actual heretical literature travelling with the name Barnabas. This can only be speculation because it is also likely that these same texts were destroyed in the book burnings that followed the purge of private libraries in 1596+.
15. The "glosses on prophets written by prophets" mentioned in the Preface are clearly related to the prophetic content of the GB, especially the three installments of material supposedly written by Daniel. The Preface wants us to understand that these glosses are an example of the Hebrew commentary traditions excised from Judaism by the Talmudists in the time of Jerome.
16. The Preface also describes a body of Ignatian literature from the library of the Sforza of Milan (via the "lady Colonna"). It is in this literature, we are told, that "Fra Marino" first encounters a notice of a "Gospel of Barnabas". This literature appears to be spurious Ignatian literature legitimizing the independent Barnabas tradition (but too anti-Pauline to be useful). This is especially important because it signals the nature of the literature to which the GB belongs and allows us to understand the background of the material that Santorio is deploying against Colonna.
17. The origins of the material must be in Cyprus. The Cypriot Church claimed independence from the Church of Antioch in the 5th C appealing to the apostolic authority of Barnabas (over Paul). The Third Eucemenical Council supported the Cypriot's claims but the Church of Antioch persisted in their designs. At this point the Cypriot's uncovered the relics of Barnabas, along with the books of Matthew he is supposed to have carried with him, and appealed directly to the Emporer Zeno. He approved the relics and upheld the right of the Cypriot's to elect their own archbishops. In the 11th C. the city of Milan followed this lead and imported the Cypriot Barnabas mythology, adding an extra leg to the travels of the apostle to strengthen the claims of Milan to an independent, ancient tradition (the Ambrosian rite). From the 11th C. onwards Milan had on-going links to the Barnabas traditions of Cyprus and there were several influxes of relics (and accompanying material).
18. An essential feature of the Barnabas tradition and the basis for its underpinning of the Ambrosian tradition of Milan is the persistence of the ancient catechumenate. Milan contributed Ambrosian congregationalism to catholic reform but Milanese traditions had also fed such movements as the Anabaptists. Ambrose was unbaptised when elected archbishop of Milan. The GB contains material supposedly relating to an ancient catechumenate. Textually, it draws upon the lectionary traditions of the period from Easter Vigil to Pentecost during which the neophytes were among the congregation. This is an important key to understanding the text of the GB itself and especially its diatesseronic features - the text is drawing upon lectionary traditions pertinent to the catechumenate. The developments of the Lazarus story and the raising of the widow's son at Nain in the GB are initiatory and related to the catechumenate, noting that for this reason Cypriot traditions appropriate Lazarus as well since he supposedly moved to Cyprus after his resurrection from the dead. All of this speaks of the traditions (Cypriot via Milan) reflected in the GB. (It will be noted that the Preface cites prophets, gospel, fathers, as if "Fra Marino" is collecting materials for the preparation of a lectionary. I suggest that rather than in the Syrian diatesseron tradition, the roots of the textual sequences in the GB will be found in Cypriot and Antiochian lectionary traditions and especially in readings from John's gospel during the period leading up to Pentecost.)
19. The pivotal event is again the Battle of Lepanto. Here the Christian league defeated the Turks, but it was at the expense of Cyprus. Cyprus fell to Lala Mustafa's fleets in 1571. The Latin Church of Cyprus fled, many to Milan. (The Barnabas revival in Milan under Borromeo corresponds with the fall of the Cyprus Church). Part of the background to the GB is bitterness over the fact that Christendom had abandoned Cyprus and left the eastern Meditteranean to the Turks. It was effectively the end of the Crusades. The Muslims had won. This was the strategic decision of Don Marcantonio I and the whole strategic premise of Lepanto. The defense of European Christendom would require abandoning all claims to the Near East. Santorio is portraying this as treachery. The Colonna/Borromeo/Cervantes circle commemorate Lepanto as a great Christian victory (the Fountain of the Moors in the Barnabas Piazza in the comune di Marino) when in fact it was a great Turkish victory (from a Cypriot point of view). By extension, Santorio is implying that this circle have undermined the orthodox tradition of Cyprus while importing the Cypriot heresies.
20. Ignatius was first Bishop of Antioch. The Ignatian books described in the Preface to the GB are spurious Ignatian books probably travelling with the relics of Barnabas or associated with the relics or in any case associated with the claims of an independent Barnabas tradition. They purport to be written by Ignatius and his followers (including Irenaeus) confirming the apostolic authority of Barnabas and so his independence from Antioch.
21. The notice that Fra Marino saw the GB cited in a work by Irenaeus is an informative report. A spurious work by Irenaeus, disciple of Ignatius, was part of the literature with which the GB was associated. The GB itself corresponds to the "narrative of miracles and doctrines" that supposedly travelled with Barnabas the Apostle as reported in the Acts of Barnabas, itself a contra-Antioch legitimation text of the Cyprus tradition. This is what the GB is supposed to be. It is supposed to be the long-lost narrative of miracles and doctrines given to Barnabas by Matthew which is why Barnabas appears in the GB "with Matthew" (chpt. 12) and why the text of the GB uses Matthew to contend with Luke.
22. The "Old Book of Moses and Joshua" mentioned in the GB (and to which the Preface points) corresponds to the companion volume to the "narrative of miracles and doctrines", namely a "book of the word of God". We must conclude that someone, at some point, has composed a body of heretical literature in Barnabas' name, which literature attempts to establish legitimacy from Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, and conforms to the literature supposedly travelling with Barnabas the Apostle. Santorio has the central part of this literature, the Gospel or narrative of miracles and doctrines, but the other parts of it are in the hands of Colonna, as the Preface reports. This is what makes such a bold-faced accusation as the one Santorio is making viable. The GB is incriminating because its supporting literature will be found in Colonna's possession (if only Philip would allow the Inquisition to investigate such book collectors and antiquarians).supposedly travelled with Barnabas the Apostle as reported in the Acts of Barnabas, itself a contra-Antioch legitimation text of the Cyprus tradition. This is what the GB is supposed to be. It is supposed to be the long-lost narrative of miracles and doctrines given to Barnabas by Matthew which is why Barnabas appears in the GB "with Matthew" (chpt. 12) and why the text of the GB uses Matthew to contend with Luke.
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The GB was prepared by Cardinal Giulio Santorio to incriminate Cardinals Marcantonio and Ascanio Colonna. His motives were a combination of revenge, self-defense, ideological zeal and political leverage. The work itself - called a Gospel of Barnabas - is supposed to be the "narrative and miracles and doctrines" described as travelling with the apostle Barnabas in the 5th C apocryphal work Acts of Barnabas. The origins of the work are probably Cyprus and it enters Europe along with supporting literature through Milan probably shortly after 1571, its broader context being the fall of Cyprus to the Turks and the strategic shifts of Christendom in the counter-reformation following the Battle of Lepanto. As it survives, Santorio is using the work to incriminate the Colonna and expose a tradition of heresy and treachery among the nobility and high clergy. broader context being the fall of Cyprus to the Turks and the strategic shifts of Christendom in the counter-reformation following the Battle of Lepanto. As it survives, Santorio is using the work to incriminate the Colonna and expose a tradition of heresy and treachery among the nobility and high clergy.
©Copyright R. Blackhirst 2005.