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  • Salvo Burci. Liber suprastella
  • Andrew P. Roach
Salvo Burci. Liber suprastella. Edited by Caterina Bruschi. [Fonti per la storia dell'Italia medievale.Antiquitates, 15.] (Rome: Istituto storico italiano per il Medio Evo. 2002. Pp. xxxvii, 528. €98.00 paperback.)

This work, purportedly written by a layman in Piacenza in 1235 against local Cathar and Poor Lombard heretics, is well known to historians through the extracts published by Döllinger and later by Ilarino da Milano as well as the [End Page 140] small excerpt translated into English by Wakefield and Evans. An edition of the whole substantial work (it runs to 424 pages) is long overdue, and Caterina Bruschi has provided one of a very high standard.

From the outset it is apparent that Liber Suprastella is not quite what we thought it was. In her introduction Bruschi challenges the idea that it was written in response to a heretical book entitled Stella ("The Star"), arguing instead that the true title was probably Asinthium or "Wormwood" referred to in the Apocalypse. Its lay origin has always made this work particularly interesting to historians, and Bruschi's archival research reveals that there was indeed a Salvo Burci from a family of Piacenzan notaries as well as a Monaco de Cario, in whose house the book was supposedly written and who may have been Burci's patron. Even so Bruschi is surely right to stress Burci's links with the Dominican friars. The abbreviated scriptural references are reminiscent of professional preaching manuals, and the reference to "fratres karissimi mei" (p. 64) hints that Burci had in mind a specific audience, perhaps of friars or a lay fraternity.

Bruschi's edition enables us to identify Burci's primary concerns. Although the whole work is written as a debate with various heretical groups, especially the Poor Lombards and the Cathars known as Albanenses, much of the subject matter is the practical theological issues of pastoral care. These issues such as sanctity of marriage, oath taking, and the status of civil authority were also current within orthodox debate. Burci begins his assault on heretics by attacking their views denying the sanctity of marriage. This was particularly an issue in Italy, which was noted for its secret marriages and minimizing of ecclesiastical involvement in the process. The Fourth Lateran Council had outlawed secret unions, and Italian bishops were trying to enforce marriage as a sacrament taking place in church.

The edition demonstrates that Burci's celebrated passage on Cathar belief in two principles is brief in comparison with the longest sections of the book, which are concerned with oath taking and the use of the temporal sword. The implicit threat to civic authority and economic life by a refusal to swear hovers around Burci's emphatic denunciation of the practice. Given the Italian communal context, it is perhaps expected that he would argue in favor of effective and divinely sanctioned temporal authority; however, the tone is often crisp and pragmatic: "men, that is malefactors, do not fear bishops and priests spiritually because [such] men are not spiritual" (p. 258). Instead he advocates the use of the secular powers to introduce a fear of bodily vengeance. In dealing with heresy, this is not a blueprint for inquisition procedure, but Burci is interested in a two-track approach of robust preaching against heretical doctrine and secular punishment of the obdurate.

There is also evidence of the tensions between wealth and spirituality which bedeviled all spiritual movements of that century. In a careful chapter on "the good rich" Burci justifies the possession of wealth, firstly saying that the [End Page 141] rich could be saved by good works and then justifying the possession of wealth by stating that although the rich have a duty to help the poor in times of shortage, in times of abundance they are allowed to possess their riches.

Dr. Bruschi is to be greatly congratulated for making available a text which will continue to offer insights into thirteenth-century Italian communal life as well as the religious dissenters of the day.

Andrew P. Roach
University of Glasgow


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